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07/3 2012

Send-offs

In keeping with my consistent messaging – this will be my last Olympic Games…as an athlete.  Knowing this to be true I have been reflecting a lot on the past while trying my best to enjoy every minute of this final journey.

We rigged and paddled last night in a lightning storm (short row).  This morning we went out for a 16Km row.  It became very clear to me in the row that we have very high expectations of ourselves every time we are near our boat.  Even though our bodies were dealing with the flights and time changes, once we went hands-on the boat we got down to business.  Our focus on how we wanted the boat to run was exact and our ability to work together to stay sharp over the entire row was exciting to me.  We wrung out as much as we could from each stroke we took.

As my good friend Mike always says “We’re in the short strokes now!”

Speaking of Mike and my friends: The night before I left for Europe I was cleaning up the back yard with Bowen when Mira excitedly came around back.  She asked me to follow her around to the front yard, where I found 20 or 30 friends dressed in red & white, holding banners and flags, singing ‘Oh Canada’.  They had come to say good luck and good bye.

I find such strength in our community of friends.  They have given me and my family so much help over these last few years, knowing when we desperately need help but also knowing when we just need space.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have so many friends who care about me and want to see Scott and I succeed at these games (and beyond).

On the way to the airport the group of singers had recruited a few more friends and well-wishers from our community and lined the main road leaving our community, all holding banners and flags again! What an amazing send-off and what a great way for me to celebrate Canada Day.  I wish I had a picture to post – if one exists, please share it with me!

Bit by bit.

Dave

PS. The picture is of the guys from the 4- and 2- cooling down today after our second row in 35 degree heat!

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05/16 2012

Preliminary Entry List for the Lucerne World Cup

I‘m on the road again – for 10 days so far I’ve been living out of my duffel – 11 more days to go.  I thought this was the lightest I’ve packed… turns out I’ll still return home only using half my kit.  I’ve learned though that half a dirty kit packed with half a clean kit means the whole kit will need a wash when I get home.  Ironic!

The entries for Lucerne came out today.  So far there are 16 boats entered from 10 countries.  I assume the number will go up over the next couple of days.  Notably missing are 3 of the 11 qualified countries: USA, Serbia and Hungary.  There are still 2 Olympic spots that will be fought over at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta happening May 21 – 23 in Lucerne.  There are 12 countries vying for those two spots.

Last year at the World Championships the 11 countries to qualify were:

New Zealand, Great Britain, Italy, Greece, Canada, Germany, Australia, Netherlands, United States, Serbia and Hungary.

I’ll keep the website as updated as I can over the next week and a half.

Dave

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04/17 2012

A Tribute to Randy Starkman

Randy was a friend.

It was hard to know how much to share with Randy because I felt like he was a friend first. I came to learn I could completely trust him. I can’t tell you how many times we just chatted for hours, face-to-face or over the phone, about everything and anything. So often he was simply a sympathetic ear that I could vent to, as opposed to a sports reporter looking for a dirty scoop.

Although we first connected around his passion for sport, including rowing, we really connected around our families. I think we shared more stories about our daughters over the last 8 years than we did about sport. When I called a colleague today at the COC she said it perfectly: “Although I’ve never met Randy’s daughter I feel like I’ve known her for years.” That’s exactly how I feel.  We often swapped children’s book titles – we knew each other would appreciate hearing about the victories, small and large, of our girls.

Randy often provided me insight into what to expect in the years and months to come as his daughter is a few years older than mine. No matter what the ‘heads up’ was that he provided, his daughter was as close to perfection as he could imagine.  You could hear his love for her in the words he chose when he shared stories – but more than that you could see it in the way his face lit up and in his body language.

I will miss Randy. I will miss not seeing him each time I’m in Toronto. I will miss not sharing my final ‘Olympic-experience’ with him this summer in London. I know that I speak for so many Canadian Olympic athletes when I say he was one-of-a-kind, trust-worthy and his character was of the highest integrity.

But most importantly, Randy was a friend.

My most sincere and heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with his wife and daughter.

Dave

(Read more Tributes to Randy at the Toronto Star’s website.)

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04/11 2012

Memorable Races from my Rowing Career: 1999 Vienna World Cup, M2-

In the summer of 1999 Morgan Crooks and I were named to the pair for Canada after narrowly winning the Canadian Speed Order Regatta.  Rowing Canada stated that the winner of Speed Orders would be permitted to choose which boat they raced, the 2- or the 8+.  We chose the 2-.

With his hands full preparing Derek Porter (M1X) and the M8+, Deithelm Maxrath (aka Max), the men’s coach at the time, brought Tony Carr on staff to prepare Morgan and myself domestically.  Tony had coached both Morgan and myself in high school and was keen and able to help prepare us for racing.  We only had 2 weeks to figure things out before we headed overseas to race, and Tony’s departing words to us were: “Never doubt yourselves and learn everything you can each step of the way.”

First stop: Vienna.

Morgan and I took heed of Tony’s advice.  We knew enough to keep our heads down – but it was hard knowing that the field was pretty deep.  Entries in the event included the 1996 Olympic Silver Medalists David Weightman and Robert Scott (AUS) and 1997 World Champions Jean-Christophe Rolland and Michel Andrieux (FRA) to name a few.

What else can a young crew do but get stuck in?  And that’s what we did.  We had a rough start to the regatta in the heat and had to race through the reps.  Max was pissed at us for not ceasing the opportunity better – but as the eternal optimist, he refocused us on the rep.  We justified having to race the rep as an opportunity to ‘learn more about ourselves’ as Tony had told us.  We won our rep, and I remember Volker Nolte cheering for us as we walked our boat from the dock to the boat area: “Keep it rolling, Big Boys!”  Max was all smiles too, but he knew we had a big job ahead of us to get through the semis.

The draw for the semifinals came out and we had an unlucky draw – that said, any draw would have felt unlucky for us at that point.  We had to race France, Croatia (World Cup 1 winners) and the USA – who had already beaten us in the heat.  We managed to get the lead off the line and hold it for the first 250 meters…then the field rowed through us!  It wasn’t until the 1000 meter mark that we start to work our way through the field again.  With 500 meters to go we were in third, with 250 we were in second and at the line we got through the Americans by 0.01 seconds – the closet race I’ve ever been in.  The overall finishing order, CAN, USA and Slovenia in third ahead of France and Croatia was a surprise to everyone.

Lining up in a middle lane for the final felt strange – it was a first for me.  We had the USA on one side and GBR on the other.  Slovenia, Greece and Australia were the other boats in the final.  Morgan and I got off the line fast again – leading to the 250.  Almost expecting it, the field rowed through us again.  From there to the 500 we dropped back to 5th, only staying in front of Greece.  We stayed in 5th through the 1000 meter mark.  I was in stroke seat and I remember Morgan saying: “If we’re going to make a move we have to go now!”

In the next 10 stokes we moved past the Slovenians.  We felt super charged – like nothing could stop us!  By 1250 we were in third ahead of the Australians.  Morgan’s calls kept coming and we kept pushing.  With 500 to go we slipped past the Brits and were head-to-head with the USA.  It felt like we were tumbling towards the finish line – a bit like running down hill.

We kept pushing though.  Our last 500 meters were simple: 15/15, 10/10/10, each step trying to go harder!  With 250 left we were moving faster than the Americans and I knew we were going to win.  At the finish line we had beaten Adam Holland and Cyrus Beasley (USA) by just over a second with Stephen Williams and Simon Dennis (GBR) another 0.7 seconds behind them.

That was the first time I had won a Senior World Cup race – and it felt good.  I remember sitting at a street-side cafe later that afternoon with Derek Porter, Marnie McBean, Emma Robinson & Theresa Luke (W2- winners) and Morgan.  Marnie jokingly welcomed us into ‘the winner’s circle’.  At 21 I felt like I had entered a new phase of my rowing career – for the first time I felt I was in control of my destiny.

If you had asked me then if I’d still be chasing after my dream 13 years later I would have laughed!

Dave

 

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04/6 2012

16 Weeks & 2 Days

Time marches on.

I remember when we hit the 1-year count-down to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.  Those games came and went so quickly. That pride Canadians felt now a memory, a sweet taste in our mouths.  It seems like just the other day we hit the 1-year countdown to the 2012 London Olympic Games.  Where have the past 36 weeks gone?

We live workout to workout.  Yes, we have 4-year goals, and we follow strategic plans that carry us year-to-year, month-to-month, but week-in and week-out and day-to-day we have our heads down.  We get into a mindset that allows us to only focus on the work right in front of our noses.  Sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging on – sometimes I feel like a machine that can roll over any obstacle.  That feeling changes depending on what day of the week you talk to me, even what time of the day it is.

I’ve just finished a two hour session that buried me.  It took everything I had to eat after my session, but I did so that I could be ready for the next one.  Now I have a few hours.  I’m going to close my eyes, let my body sink deep into the mattress and when I wake up I’ll be that much closer to being ready for my next session.

At the end of today there will only be 113 days left before the heat in London.

Dave

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11/16 2011

NRC results

NRC’s went well.

The hotel, more aligned with it’s cheaper cousin the motel, did not have WiFi that worked longer than 3 minutes. Someone with less racing experience could potentially find this uncontrollably frustrating and allow that frustration to impact their results… obviously I don’t fall into that category! That’s my excuse this time for not keeping my blog up to date.

The first night at the (h)otel I was visited sometime after midnight by an 8 legged friend. I survived – he became my proof that the sheets were never changed for the duration of my stay.

I told you before that there were 25 boats triggering quarterfinals. No one wants to race quarterfinals in a three-day regatta. Well, one of the training center pairs was injured, preventing that boat from racing. Unfortunately that boat did not scratch until the hour before the first heat, almost preventing a redraw. Fortunately Scott and I know a thing or two about standing up for ourselves and we forced a redraw. Scott had been dealing with a cold, and one less race could make ‘the difference’. All 8 remaining training center boats knew the changes and adjusted accordingly.

The heats changed from ‘five heats of five boats, with four boats advancing directly to the quarterfinals’ to ‘four heats of six boats with only the winner advancing directly to the semifinal’. The difference was significant because it meant that we woke up thinking we were walking into a low pressure situation when actually we were in a ‘must win’ situation.

With the redraw the boats we were racing also changed. We went from having one of our group’s pairs that we thought we could beat to having one of the other group’s pairs that we knew wanted to prove themselves – and what better way to prove yourself than by beating the guys who raced for Canada in the summer?

Add to the mix serious cross-head winds and the ‘fairness committee’ decided to place top crews in the shelter of lanes 1 and 2.

Scott and I got off to a clean start and pushed out to an early lead in the first 200 meters of the race. Then, due to the heavy winds, the other training center boat got their port oar wrapped around a buoy line and came to a full stop. From that point on we had the race under control and were able to flush our legs for the majority of the race course.

The unfortunate thing to note about all the changes we faced with the redraw was that all the national team boats, with plenty of experience, were able to find out what the changes were to the race time and lanes, but the provincial crews did not. As a result, each of the 4 races were slightly delayed due to provincial boats not knowing that they had to be at the start.

The four heat winners advance directly to the semifinal, while the rest of the boats had to race a second race Friday night in order to advance.

The semifinal was drawn for 2 PM on Saturday, which allowed for a luxurious sleep in. Scott’s cold hadn’t worsened, but the extra sleep certainly ensured that remained the trend. By the time we arrived at the course for our pre-race routine the wind from the day before made a turn for the worse. The gusts were so bad that the lightweight women’s singles – heading out for their races just before ours – seemed to be moving sideways faster than they were moving forward!

Once we got onto the course we realized it wasn’t as bad as we thought and that all crews would experience the same conditions (cliche, I know). As luck would have it we drew the boat that we suspected to be the best of the bunch from the group of national team guys training for the 8+. We got to the start line of the semi and vaguely noticed that one of the guys from this possible top boat was wringing out a shirt. Odd – but I was thinking about how perfect my first stroke was going to be. The starter started the race and we were off.

We had a clean start but they got out to an early lead of about 2 seats (6 feet). I was making supplemental calls to our race plan to ensure we didn’t tense up, or worse, hit any water. As we went through the 500 meter mark a gust of wind blew my blade off the square and I caught the water half-caulked. Scott could feel what happened as soon as our legs started to drive and he backed off to allow me to regain my oar. We finished the stroke together only losing about a foot on the other crew through the mistake. A few strokes later I could tell that the momentum was shifting and I called to Scott that we were “INCHING”. Over the next little bit the lead reversed and we had a boat-length lead. We pushed out and were able to control the race all the way to the finish.

Later that night we discovered that the other boat had flipped in the chilly waters of the Welland Canal about 10 minutes before the start of the race. The water that was being wrung out was from the accident. Understandably the other crew was thrown off their game and felt really bad physically at about 2 minutes into the race – about the same time we started to move on them. Scott and I went to bed expecting a whole lot more from that pair the next morning.

The regatta shifted the start time of our race to 8:28 AM because the winds were supposed to pick up throughout the day. The draw had us in lane 4. We expected the two pairs on either side of us to try to take an early lead and hold it as long as possible. With the following wind the waves on the course built as we moved down the course. We were prepared to race from behind, but we also knew that we couldn’t let go of too much because it would be harder to get it back in the rougher water.

We took the lead on the first stroke and we never gave it away. By the finish we turned the lead into 6 seconds. We put ourselves into a great position in which the other crews had to try to make up ground in the roughest portion of the race course. We relaxed and rowed over the conditions watching as the other crews tried to mount their attacks. It couldn’t work.

Thanks Scott for racing so well! It was a great weekend of racing. I felt like we built our momentum over the three days and had a series of races that we can be proud of, and use to build towards the Olympics.

I’d like to put a special thanks out Andrew Berk, Sean Payne, Heather Griffiths and Mike Wilkinson for getting my knee ready to race.

Dave

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11/9 2011

Welland 2011 (NRCs)

“It’s time” has sat on this website as the last blog entry for the past 2 months. Seconds before I left the hotel room in Bled for the final I scribed it in order to build suspense towards my next entry. Along with the great race I expected, the entry never came. We finished 5th, well out of the medals.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the events that unravelled in Bled. In the end, the best thing an athlete can do with a poor showing is learn from it and put it behind them – so that’s what I’ve done. We’ve had some great training since, and now I find myself on an Airbus 321 en route to Ontario for Rowing Canada’s National Rowing Championships (NRCs). It’s our small boat regatta, our ranking and our 2nd performance requirement for federal funding.

There are 25 pairs racing. 4 pairs from the Victoria Training Centre (VTC) Small Boat Group (SBG), the group I train with, and 5 from the guys fighting for a spot in the 8+ (the 8+ group). The other 16 are development and provincial teams from all across Canada.  I have an innate respect for the rowing skills of the 8 pairs I know I’ll face this weekend, and know better than to count out any adversaries I’ve never faced before. As such I walk into this weekend with my eyes wide open.

My first race in on Friday morning. I will update my blog afterwards.

Dave

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09/3 2011

It’s time

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09/2 2011

Job 1: The Pair is Qualified

heading-to-recovery-stationThank you for all the emails, Tweets and FB comments.  Yes, Scott and I have secured a berth in the men’s pair event for Canada at the 2012 London Olympics Games.  At this regatta in Bled, the top 11 boats earn a berth in London, with 2 spots open at a late qualifier next May in Lucerne.  By finishing second in the semi and advancing to the A final we have secured one of the top 6 spots.

In 2007 the boys who raced the pair for Canada finished in 12th position, 1 short of qualification, forcing Scott and I to qualify the boat late in the 2008 racing season in Poland.  Needless to say it was very stressful and I am glad to have accomplished this very important, and sometimes overlooked step now.

Our focus can shift slightly now to having our best piece of the season tomorrow in the final.

A bit of trivia for you: in 1999 Morgan Crooks and I managed to secure a spot in the pair for the 2000 Sydney Olympics but the M8+Lake Bled missed qualifying by 1 spot.  Morgan and I joined our team mates in the M8+ for the 2000 season and had to race the late qualifier to secure a berth for the boat.  We managed to win the qualifier, Croatia finished second and the Germans did not qualify an 8+ by finishing third.  Sydney was the first Olympic Games in which Germany did not race an 8+.

Does anyone know where my 2000 qualification medal lives?

Our final goes off at 12:52 PM (CET) tomorrow, 3:52 AM (PT).  Wish us luck!

Dave

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08/30 2011

Semi Draw for Friday

can-m2-heat

Racing the heat in Bled

We’ve just discovered that the evening is a great time to row here in Bled.  The sun was just starting to set over the mountains at the finish line of the rowing course when we launched.  There were probably only a dozen or so boats out on the entire course – it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

We had a great row.

We got back to the basics with a few drills; stroke progression, Russian-catch drill, legs only, and of course a little pause-drill are our staples.  Off the pause at half slide we’d square before heading up to the catch – that feeling of ultimate readiness for the catch is such a confidence builder, even for this rower!

Before we headed down for our row Terry (Paul) showed us the draw for the semi finals.  In our semi we have (in alphabetical order) France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, and the United States of America.  In the other semi Australia, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, The Netherlands and Serbia (also in alphabetical order) will face off.  There are 11 qualification spots open for London to these 12 crews.  The top 3 from each semi will advance to the final, while the bottom 3 will go to the B final.

Launch Docks

Launch Docks

There are so many things that I love about this sport.  I love the quiet mornings in a light mist when you hear the noise of bubbles along the bottom of the shell.  I also love the feeling during a long training piece that has ‘that rhythm’ that feels unstoppable.  I also love racing.  Friday is going to be very stressful and difficult, but it’s going to be so much fun…

Best,

Dave

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