Finish Lines

I never met a finish line that I didn’t sprint. Dear reader, do not misunderstand. I do not always finish first, best dressed or most pleasant, but I finish and I finish gasping. In college I rowed all four years for the women’s crew team. For the most part I rowed Varsity Women’s 8 — eight women rowers in the boat plus a coxswain. My junior and senior year I rowed “stroke.” Sitting in the stern, my pair partner and I set the pace for the other rowers. Every woman in the boat counted. Comparatively, my fellow rowers were taller, stronger, had better erg times. The pair in the bow of the boat (our bow babes) generally had the best technique. But I could sprint.

Spring regattas are usually 2ks, or 2 kilometers in length (5ks are autumn races). The race course breaks down into four 500m segments. The first 500m is easy because the start gun goes off and adrenaline jumps rowers right off the starting line. Then the crew settles into a steady state and rows solidly through the 1000m mark. At this point, rowers know they are in the 3rd 500.

The 3rd 500 is horrendous: the race shininess wears off, legs are burning, hands and arms are screaming, there is nothing left in the tank and still half the race remains. No one likes the 3rd 500. But… this segment of the race separates the women from the girls. First, technique surpasses waning energy. There is only so much brute force a rower can exert; those who practiced their technique pull ahead. Second, this is where some rowers mentally give up because they do not know the finish line is closer than they think. Even though they are rowing, these boats get edged out because they quit before the finish line.

Rowers race backwards, so only the coxswain can see the finish line. Rowers rely on the coxswain’s call outs for distance to the finish. Once the boat passes the last 500m flag, energy comes back and rowers start itching for the sprint. Time to take it up! The race is almost finished! Leave it all on the water!!

What some call deadlines, I call finish lines. There are projects where my finish lines are self imposed and it is easy to lose sight of the end. This is when an advisor, colleague, friend or family member steps in and acts as coxswain for me. If I am working on a project and I see the finish line (or due date or move out date) in the distance I kick it into gear because that date is coming whether I’m rowing or not.

Regardless of my preparation, no matter how deliberately and consistently (or not) I’ve worked on a project, I know two things: first, there will always be a 3rd 500; second, when I get to the 3rd 500 and the shininess is gone from my project and I have no more energy, the finish line is closer than I think.

My last two weeks of working in Morgantown are here. At the beginning of the summer I made a list of half a dozen items I absolutely wanted to finish before leaving (so I know I showed up). The items on that list are each within a sprint of getting done.

I haven’t been on the water in years, but I still have finish lines to cross.

PS: The photo above was downloaded from the Lute Crew Facebook page. Mt Rainer can be seen in the distance. When I get back home, I’ll upload a couple of old racing photos. 

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