September 27, 2001

Stories From My Summer Vacation

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What was the first thing you asked your ol’ Cornell pal the first time you saw him or her when you got back to school?

You said something like, “Talk to me bud, use your words, how was your summer?”

Most excellent. I’m glad you asked.

I wrote this in part to say once and for all to my teammates and others, who knew of my whereabouts this past summer, on how my training with the under-23 national rowing team went.

Sleeves up.

It all started with this call from one of the assistant coaches for the national team in mid-May inviting me to selection camp.

The first thing I did after I hung up the phone was to run upstairs in mild celebration. I managed to interrupt a couple of closed door meetings between people of the opposite sex just to exclaim my joy. Uh ahem. Righto.

This information got shelved for a little while, at least until heavyweight nationals finished.

After a decent showing as a member of a solid 2001 Cornell crew, I went to the New York Athletic Club through June and July, trying to represent the Big Red solo. Ultimately, I wanted to add to my definition of self the title of “World Champion.”

I arrived at camp unsure of myself initially. In part because I was following the steps of former Cornellian and World Champion coxswain Nick Anderson ’98.

Without getting into it too much, weight can be an issue for coxswains. It is something that I have to constantly think about. So after a solid month of dieting and running, it finally became a non-issue and was one less thing that could get me bounced from the camp.

I spoke with a couple of knowledgeable sources about what this summer could potentially hold in store for me before and during camp. Most notably, I spoke with Dan Roock, my coach here at Cornell and the coach for the Under-23 national team the three previous summers; Dan Allen, Cornell’s freshman heavyweight coach and a former coxswain with loads of experience in selection camps; and Steven Segaloff ’92, a 1996 Olympian and another former coxswain who has camp experience.

Steering straight, staying light and not giving the selection coaches any reason to cut me were the main recommendations I took away from them.

So I adopted the motto of “straight and weight” to remind myself of the sage advice I had received.

As camp progressed, I got more comfortable and I began to act like myself again. My personal world famous “-isms” began to make daily appearances during practices.

It is an unspoken rule to not ask about your status to an evaluating coach. Asking questions like that make you look selfish and disinterested in advancing the progress of the rowers themselves. Following suit, the fateful question never struck their scrutinizing ears.

No matter what you are doing, when in the presence of performance evaluators, you begin to look for signs that you are on their good side. Little things like the way they address you or more obvious things like getting the opportunity to drive a boat during practice.

After loads of two-a-days, the Independence Day Regatta and two rounds of cuts, I began to think that I might make it to the Under-23 World Championships in Austria. It was late July and after speaking with the Olympic coach, Mike Teti, I began to feel that I had a good chance to make the boat. He told me how the coxswain seat was going to get picked and things were looking good.

My direct competitors were both fairly able coxswains in that they were equally light and could both steer straight, but I felt that I had a three intangibles in my favor: confidence in my abilities, experience in big races and respect from the rowers themselves.

The verdict?

It was a sad day in Mudville.

In the end, none of the invited coxswains made the team. A spare coxswain floating around with the elite camp ended up driving the boat at the Nation’s Cup in Austria.

Some of the rowers felt bad for us, but heck… I got a free room, free coaching, invaluable experience, a couple more rowing buds, some ideas about post graduation plans and a chance to sit in the same U.S. boat that crossed the finish line first at the 1999 World Championships in St. Catherines, Ontario.

That was the bulk of my summer and it concluded with a paid “vacation” in Los Angeles for all of August. Woe is me right? Getting paid to drink Jamba Juice, eat at In-N-Out and get a tan on Huntington Beach.

Archived article by Donald Lee