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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 19 April 2013

10 April 2013

What does it take to get a small college men’s varsity eight into the second-level and eventually the grand final of the American Specialty Health Cal Cup at the San Diego Crew Classic? The competition has spoken yet again, as if we needed to be reminded. It takes bodies, and it takes time. We are working on the bodies, and time has a way of taking care of itself.

This year with far too few bodies and so very little time, what does it take for the Loyola Marymount University Men's Crew to place thirteenth out of twenty-one crews in the Cal Cup after only two and a half months together? With a varsity eight with five novices, five walking around in the dorms last fall novices, three of them coming aboard in January of this year, for heaven’s sake? What does it take to win their race virtually on the last stroke?

I’ll tell you what it takes. It takes CHARACTER! If you row long enough, races such as I am about to describe tend to come, but they will always be rare and precious.

Saturday afternoon on Mission Bay it was the nursery rhyme Ten Little Indians. Six, actually. Six lined up for the Cal Cup Third-Level Final, Arizona State University, Sonoma State University and San Diego State University having already been eliminated in the morning heats.

California State University Long Beach were pretty much the first to fall off the pace shortly after the start.

And then there were five.

The University of Southern California immediately established a clear lead, followed in order by University of California Davis, California State University Sacramento, Vanderbilt University and Loyola Marymount University, my team, in that order, and all five remained within maybe three-quarters of a length as they crossed the 1,000.

Great racing!

Soon Sac State and LMU began to gradually reel in the crews just ahead. A group of us was watching the move on the Jumbotron, and my good friend and fellow competitor Bill Brown turned to me and said, ‘Holy cow, Peter. They are going to win this!” I crossed my fingers. It seemed a tad early to begin celebrating, but then again Bill knows very well that crews of mine tend to finish very strong.

Davis took a move right at the 1,000, went nowhere, and then immediately started slipping back. They lost only half a length by the 500 to go, but for the rest of the race their chances to win would remain just out of their grasp.

And then there were four.

The real race was on, and somewhere in the third 500, Vanderbilt’s last opportunity to move up also evaporated.

And then there were three.

Going into the last 500, LMU coxswain Jennifer Sonnier told her crew she was even with the Sacramento State coxswain, but the LMU Resolute has a short bow, so they were actually still a few feet behind at the bowballs.

Just at 500 to go, USC finally surrendered the lead to the surging tandem of Sacramento State and LMU, and you could almost hear the air seeping out of the Trojan balloon.

And then there were two.

With both remaining contenders rowing at 37, Jennifer soon told her crew she was even with the Sacramento stroke-oar, but in a Resolute racing shell, that’s barely enough to get its snub-nose ahead. Then with 300 to go Jen announced she had reached the 7-oar, and all seemed to be going the way of the Lions from LMU.

At 250 Sac State took the rating to 43 and then 44 and forcefully took the lead. Bravo! Loyola was at 42. When the boats passed me on the shoreline with 40 meters to go, Sacramento were three feet ahead, and my heart was in my throat. With ten meters to go, Jen called, “I’m on 8! I’m on 8!” meaning she was again even with the Sacramento State stroke-oar. At the line the margin was maybe two feet on the surge.

And then there was one!!!

LMU Crew Legend John Lind is fond of saying that “Rowing Reveals Character!” This past weekend revealed a great deal about the character of the 2013 LMU Men’s Crew.

Coxswain Jennifer Sonnier, senior, Stroke Brendan Henderson, junior, 7 Quin Thames, captain and junior, 6 Theo Jacobsen, sophomore, 5 Taylor Coletta, freshman, 4 Cameron Heath, freshman, 3 Trevor Felix, freshman, 2 Trent Benson, freshman, Bow Jordan Furlong, freshman.

We had won a race these young athletes will tell their children about one day. When they do, I expect things will get exaggerated. It was snowing. They taught the bow pair how to row on the way to the start line. They came back from two lengths down instead of three-quarters of a length. It was the USC Football Team and not the USC Crew. They blew everybody away, instead of the field remaining incredibly close to the end. Despite the mighty battle between LMU and Sacramento State, Davis and Vanderbilt were still overlapping with the winner at the line, and even the Trojans were only a deck further back.

The experience ended with the two leading crews meeting afterwards for handshakes and sincere expressions of mutual respect. I was watching from a distance, hoping they all were drinking in the special moment that had occurred when 18 individuals, no, 54 individuals AND their coaches AND their teammates AND their families AND their alumni had pretended for a little over six minutes that their very lives hung in the balance of a third-level crew race.

Here is an historic photo of the historic 1924 Everest Expedition (sadly missing from this archived copy). That's the immortal Sandy Irvine and George Mallory, both rowers, standing on the left. "Why do you climb Mt. Everest," Mallory was once asked. "Because it's there," he reportedly replied.

Climbing a big mountain can take a lot of time and a lot of effort, or so I am told, but amidst all the preparations, the gathering of supplies, the assembling of the team, the physical training, the setting up of the base camp and then the subsequent higher camps, each one marking the eventual path to the mountain peak, amidst all these intermediate steps there comes the occasional moment when the clouds part and you can see below how far you have come and you can see far above the summit toward which you are striving. This past weekend was one of those moments for the LMU Men’s Crew. I am so grateful to have been a part of it.