By Yazmin Farooq
“Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.” –Dalai Lama XIV
A year has passed since the beginning of this adventure: a team yearning to be respected, eager to add to the Washington Rowing legacy, hungry to write the future. A collection of coaches with diverse backgrounds, yet a singular mission: to build Trust, Teamwork and Toughness. And then give our fledglings the freedom to fly. We eased them into the training, knowing that trust and toughness would take some time to build. I’ve since learned that several felt that had they known what they would eventually be doing, they would never have believed they were capable of it. To their credit, they did the work, and at each step they were rewarded with genuine improvement–on the erg, in the weight room, on the water.
They pushed each other in each of these areas with genuine enthusiasm and the knowledge that they were making the team stronger by making one another better. The harder the work, the more enthusiasm they poured into it. When one of the Washington traditions, the LPR (Long Pair Race), morphed into the XLPR and then the XXLPR, they “Embraced the suck” together. Their mindset and desire, combined with steadily improving performances, kept everyone forging ahead—from the early strokes of the fall, through the cold, dark heart of winter, with wings spreading as the racing season rapidly approached.
My novice coach Jane Ludwig long ago taught me that she gauged her own success on how well she empowered and prepared us. We grew to trust her, but also knew that the lessons we learned would have to be implemented on the racecourse without her. As all rowers know, there’s no halftime break or reset with your coach. Once you head out for the warmup, it’s you and your boatmates on your own. When Jane shoved us off the dock for that first race of our careers, she shoved us out of the nest. She knew that we were ready. It was our opportunity to fly. She had peace of mind that we would take the lessons learned, stick to the plan, more importantly stick together, and then show what we could do.
At the Pac-12’s and again at the NCAA’s, when we coaches shoved each of our boats off the dock for the last time, I genuinely believed that they were going to execute the race of their lives, and that would result in each boat having a performance that they could be proud of, win or lose.
The fourth “T” is Triumph, but not in the way you might think. For all the talk amongst competitors about pushing another crew so hard that you “break them,” the toughest warriors know that first you must triumph over your own fears, over pain, over adversity. This creates an inner conversation, no longer about who you can take out, but about how fast you can make your own boat go, what you can create together that translates into rhythm, run and pure boat speed.
At the Pac-12’s, our novice eight, with several young women who had taken their first strokes ever at the UW, soared past the rest of our conference in their first true test. It was one of my sweetest memories of the year. Washington’s walk-on tradition is as strong as ever. Then, race after race, Washington bowballs pushed into the lead, and never gave it back–from the 3V8 to the V4, then the 2V8, and finally the varsity eight.
Throughout the year, we never talked about winning. We never talked about sweeping. Even at the NCAA’s. We talked about giving, persevering and sticking together no matter what happened outside of our lane. We talked about supporting our teammates within each boat and across all of our boats. Being the best true “Team” at each regatta. Mary Whipple ’02, constantly spoke to our team about their identity as Washington rowers: who we are and what we stand for. When we focused on our identity and what we were prepared to give, magical things started to happen. Opportunities presented themselves, feared opponents became suddenly human, course records evaporated. It was no longer about “Am I in a fast lineup?” but rather “How can I contribute to the lineup I am in.”
Wings became fins when our team swam out to the varsity eight after all three boats rowed into history, sweeping the grand finals, resulting in what Seattle Times writer Matt Calkins dubbed, “Rowing’s Triple Crown.” Watching from shore, my husband overhead an Ohio State parent say, “I have never seen so much joy.”
Women of Washington, you did it. Thank you for dreaming big and following through on your promise to one another. You have added to the legacy. Alums, thank you for paving the way, inspiring us and for all you do to support this team. We are proud to carry on this amazing tradition, one that empowers our student-athletes within the boat and beyond.