I’ve spent the last month living in Princeton, NJ at Under 23 Selection Camp. About thirty women from across the country applied and were chosen by USRowing to come to NJ and put together three fast boats that will compete at the U23 World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria at the end of July.
It’s hard to describe what selection camp is like to someone who isn’t there or doesn’t row, but more and more I’ve started to think about camp like a month long game of musical chairs. There are only 14 seats available. 7 ports. 7 starboards: A pair. An Eight. A four. Like a game of musical chairs, every rower wants to be sitting in a seat when the camp ends.
In a game of musical chairs, you always have to be on your toes because you never know when the music will end. In the same way, at selection camp you always have to be “on.” The coaches don’t have years of work to base their decisions off of. What you show them in your short time on the water is what they see. If your boat is the slowest, the people in the boats ahead of yours take a slight advantage. They start to puppy guard the chairs. You’ll have to fight to get yourself near a seat again. Wait too long and you’ll lose your chance.
In musical chairs, if you let the people around you intimidate you, they’re going to end up pushing you out of a chair. My first year at camp I was starstruck by the girls I was rowing with. I looked at the big names who had come to camp and politely offered them my seat. Game over.
The metaphor rolls on because sometimes in musical chairs, it’s just not your day. At selection camp there are so many things that are out of your control. Maybe you get sick. Maybe you have a bad erg test. Maybe you have never steered a straight four before. Maybe you run into a sign that isn’t normally there. Everyone at camp is an incredible rower, but circumstances don’t always work favorably. The coaches try to account for stuff like this, but It’s such a short camp that minor setbacks can end up being deal breakers.
It’s possible to put yourself in a very good position to win a seat in both instances, but in the end it’s up to someone else to decide your fate. All you can do is pray that you’re sitting when the music stops.
It’s crazy stressful, but we put ourself in the selection camp “game” not just to win a seat, but to win a regatta.
A huge difference between playing musical chairs and selection camp is that “winning” the game of musical chairs is the end. Winning a seat in a boat is only the beginning of the work.
Unless you’re in a single, you can’t row a boat by yourself. Unity will define a championship crew. If they collaborate they will be bigger than the sum of their parts. If they work individually they might as well just be comparing erg times.
National team selection is bigger than a boat, a seat, a gold medal. It’s a country wide collaboration and a worldwide contest. All of the rowers at selection camp spend the school year to beat each other while we race for our individual teams. At camp we get to sit in boats together. It’s a chance for all of the insane rowers from across the country to be in one spot, learn from each other and build mutual respect.
This is my favorite part of selection camp. Rowing people are so awesome and strange. There’s tons power in every boat and everyone brings something different to the table. If you’re out of musical chairs, too bad, so sad. If you’re out of selection camp, you’ve made friends, learned a bunch and hopefully improved as a rower. It’s a grueling process that will mess with your head and pummel your body, but it’s an experience like no other for those who love rowing.
Part of rowing is learning to play the game. You’re not always going to win, you’re not always going to end up in a seat when the music ends, but you keep rowing because you love it.