Rowers from Y Quad Cities Rowing Association, Taylor English, Delaney Evans, Emma Mask and I all go to the same high school in Iowa, which is right in the middle of the country. Every day— often twice a day, we make the 15-20 minute drive over the bridge and into Illinois, where our boathouse is situated on the banks of the Mississippi River. Here, in March, after months of being confined to the erg room due to frigid winter temperatures, we started our on-the-water training for the coming season. The rough and windy conditions that we often have to row through in the spring help give us experience in all sorts of conditions that we may encounter on race day.
Our team is a close-knit group of junior rowers, the majority from the Iowa side of the river. For the past few years, we’ve had some incredible rowers come out of the small team, going on the attend colleges such as Stanford and Princeton. More importantly, however, is that these rowers were phenomenal role models-- they set a precedent, and with the help of phenomenal coaching, for the past four years, the women’s quad has brought home the National Championship at USRowing Youth Nationals. This year, in California, we kept the streak alive to make it five years running. Being able to build upon what our teammates before us had started was an awesome feeling.
It was only a few weeks before racing at Youth Nationals that we officially decided to buy the tickets for Henley Royal Regatta. In the winter, Henley had been presented as super goal to train towards, but the trip never was set in stone. As our season went on, we had begun posting some times that made us think that we could be competitive overseas. The idea of racing at an event that was so unlike what we were used to— side-by-side racing, solid wooden booms instead of buoys, and banks filled with spectators wearing their Sunday’s finest—was also appealing. While I had been part of a women’s quad that lost in the semifinals of the 2015 Henley Royal Regatta, the experience would be entirely new for the other three girls in the boat.
With tickets purchased and rooming arrangements made, we had a few weeks of solid training before we headed over to England. We flew over a week before the races began in order to practice on the course and get adjusted to the time difference, and we were so fortunate to stay with a wonderful couple in the town of Henley-on-the-Thames. We were able to keep our diet almost exactly as it would be back at home—lots of fruit, chocolate milk, and pasta! In the time we were in England, we really bonded as a group, another element of what made the Henley experience so special.
Three seat Taylor English says that “a great part of the experience was how close we all got. We spent a lot of time training together and bonding at the house, so by the end of Henley we were a really close-knit group. Sharing the victory with close friends made it really special.” Having that bond and trust in each other was especially important on race day.
Racing at Henley was intense; just you versus another boat. Two seat Emma Mask says that this made the atmosphere so unlike anywhere we had raced before. “Having the other crew side-by-side made the races very personal”. We raced some very talented crews: Glasgow Academy, Henley Rowing Club, Latymer Upper School, and Marlow Rowing Club in the final. No race was an easy one, and we really had to dig deep and trust in our training.
Delaney Evans, our incredible bow who steered our boat by touch, says “We weren’t sure how we were going to do against overseas crews but we knew they had aggressive starts. We went into each race with our own race plan, trusting that our strong base pace and endurance would bring us home.”
Being able to represent Y Quad Cities on an international stage at Henley was an incredible opportunity for the four of us. Being able to watch races from the Stewards Enclosure, seeing thousands of people lining the course and floating in boats just a few meters away from the race course, and seeing the town decked out in all of its glory were experiences that will stay with the four of us. The entire atmosphere of the event was unforgettable.
By Caroline Sharis, Y Quad Cities Rowing Association