Saturday, November 24, 2007
The day I hit my stride
We had a great time on the Hudson River Expedition. Each member of the team has highlights to share; one of mine comes from Day 4. I had a good conversation the night before with Vittorio about how I could further improve my stroke. I cannot stress enough, just how lucky I was to row with Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi – they are among the best in the world…and very patient. Vittorio’s counsel was that I had good footing and great form, but that it was time to start pushing harder with each stroke. I recently took a crash-course in fencing and learned that footwork is everything to a fencer; once you get the footwork down, then you can start swinging that sword around. From what I’ve learned in Venetian rowing, I can tell you that footing is of equal importance.
The next day, when I stepped into the gondola, I had one goal: to push hard enough that everyone on board would notice a difference. This would require me to “reinvent” my stroke a bit, to evaluate each aspect of the way I’d been rowing up to that point. We rowed for a while in the narrow portion of the river just north of West Point. A few spectator boats came up alongside the gondola to take photos, and, as is common when boats go by and cameras come out – Bepi went nuts. He’s a very competitive guy and we all learned quickly that usually when another boat goes by, it’s time to race. Next, we rowed to the Bear Mountain Bridge with the bells of West Point chiming. This section of the row was, in a word, idyllic; a perfect moment that seemed to stretch for miles.
We took a break about 500 yards from the Bear Mountain Bridge. This is an impressive bridge, in fact according to The Hudson River water Trail Guide by Ian H. Giddy, “When the bridge opened in 1924 its 1,632 foot span was longest of its kind in the world, beating the previous record holder, the Williamsburg Bridge by 32 feet.”
Carrying US Route 6 and US Route 202, the Bear Mountain Bridge is one of the more photographed bridges on the Hudson.
After our break we started down-river and while passing under the bridge, we heard, and eventually spotted a guy way up at the base of the roadway where the bridge meets land. He was singing something that sounded like O Sole Mio.
Leaving the bridge behind us, the pace among the rowers quickened. The wind conditions were favorable and I was rowing hard. Bepi sensed this and increased the power. With the benefit of hindsight I’m still not sure if it was his way of saying “ok, now that you’ve found your stroke, let’s have some fun”, or “oh yeah? Let’s see what’cha got, kid”. We rowed for miles at this hot-and-heavy pace. Looking back at the charts and times that night, I realized that in this stretch of river we were averaging over 6 miles per hour (4 was standard for this group). I had hit my stride by changing the way I followed Bepi’s rhythm and by concentrating on a longer stroke.
As we got about a half mile from the Peekskill Yacht Club, it became a sprint to the finish.
Bepi had established an aggressive stroke at a fast pace and was shouting “LUNGA!” (long – as in longer strokes).
From there it just got faster and more powerful until, about 80 yards before entering the Yacht Club marina (the obvious mental finish line for all of us), when I felt like my arms would explode, but kept rowing. A hundred feet from the end, Bepi shouted “A LA MORTE!”, meaning “to the death” (a phrase often jokingly used by the team).
We careened into the marina and executed a fast stop, known as a “schiare” as club members and support staff watched in amusement.
There have been times in my rowing career that I can pinpoint as moments of change where I can look back and say “that’s when it happened”. For years I’ve gratefully credited Mark O’Brien, Angelino Sandri, Nereo Zane, and the late Arturo Moruccio for facilitating these moments. Now I thank the three Venetians on the team for another moment of change.