(from an email I sent to coaching friends)

Thought I’d share a neat experience I had with my West Springfield crews yesterday. Here in Virginia, like much of the east coast, it is still pretty chilly. We row on the Occoquan Reservoir and it has little current so up until last weekend it was frozen solid with a layer of ice about 3-4 inches thick in most places! Over two days the water thawed and the beautiful still water was revealed to us once again… right on!

So yesterday we set out onto the water for the first time this year. . . just me and my two varsity crews. We carved a gentle arc off the dock and headed downstream towards the race course that fronts the end of the reservoir. For a moment we stop on the finish line, not another soul around, surrounded by trees and water held still by gentle waiting tension. Quiet filled with anticipation. Perfect. We sit quietly thinking about where we want to be, at this finish line in May. This is our season. . . then we row on. Skills and drills, shaking off the dust.

We are moving along, the quiet gurgle and swoosh of water going by the hulls and launch, when the gentle gurgle becomes intermixed with the subtle ethereal tinkle of breaking ice. What we thought to be reflections in the water is the thinnest layer of ice. You can just make out the crystals like a woven mat on the dark water’s surface. The bows of the shells cut a path and make a faint sound against the ice like the ripping of metallic cardboard. The sound is deepened by the launch as it splinters it under its weight. We row through it and on everyone’s face this smile has appeared: “WOW!” The excitement of being on the water is amplified by the magic of the moment. This is a snap shot, a memory.

Scanning farther ahead I can see nothing else, so on we go with practice. 500m, 1000m, 1250m’s up the course and the sound appears again. As a coach I have the edge of concern as I think of equipment and crew, but I relax and scan ahead as the boats glide along separating water, frozen and not, aside. One boat is a little ahead and they row with no hint of disturbance. The silver skin of our Quantum 8+ next to me blends into the water and seems to become part of it. All smiles again and we keep going. . . until one of the oars skips on the ice.

Oops. Then another stroke, clack [skip]. Eyes are a little wider, and smiles are drifting to looks of disbelief. I’m chuckling, urging them to move on. With a shrug two seat gives it a shot, winds up, and brings her hatchet down into this thicker skim of ice then levers it past. Her puddle frozen in place. One by one the bow four gives it a try. Clackcrack [punch], lock, SEND! And the crew is through and on its way again. Heads shake, smiles get wider. Another snap shot.

The crews surge on picking up speed. The quiet of the river and closing dusk surrounds us like a comforting blanket, bringing a first practice to a close. We move on our way to bigger and better things. . . lost puddles frozen in time.

Have a great spring season (if you are rowing/coaching) and enjoy the moment!