|Not long now! Catching up with the Hoos on the eve of Henley Royal Regatta|
What follows is the third installment of our #HoosGoingToHenley series, thanks to Forrest Brown of Virginia, as he and the Cavaliers gear up for the first day of racing at Henley Royal Regatta.
Greetings from Henley! As I write this it is Tuesday, July 30th, the day before the regatta starts. I am sitting in the Chocolate Theater Cafe, a team favorite Henley establishment right on the shore of the Thames, and am enjoying the sight of the ever-increasing chaos and tension in the town as more and more competitors arrive. Every day since we’ve been here the boat tents have been a little more crowded, the traffic has been a little worse, and the number of accents to be overheard has increased. We are getting more excited every day as well!
We first arrived just over a week ago and moved into our training house in Nettlebed, one of Henley’s smaller neighbors. Our hosts, Jay and Charlotte, had never hosted 24 people before, but immediately made us all feel comfortable and welcome. Charlotte runs a catering business and is an amazing cook, and we were lucky enough to get three meals a day from her. We did our best to help with preparation and clean up (at one point I became “Head Chef” for about an hour when she had to run to a client—an experience that literally left me with multiple scars), but our entire stay was an exercise in luxury and relaxation, even if it was a little crowded. Their property contains beautiful gardens and walking trails in the woods—more on that later—and we enjoyed many of our meals outside under a lawn tent. We ended our stay by participating in a “Nettlebed Olympics” organized by Jay, where we competed, in the loosest sense of the term, at sports ranging from golf to darts to badminton to, most distressingly, air rifle shooting. We also all had to wear hats of varying kinds of size, shape, and masculinity while we competed. Jay and Charlotte, thank you for being such fantastic hosts! We have now moved into new homes, organized by boat, for Regatta Week.
|Hoos competing at the "Nettlebed Olympics"|
We got to have some fun outside of our home as well, and last Wednesday after our morning training session we traveled into London to do a little sightseeing. Many of us went to the Ham Bank Hotel for high tea, took pictures in front of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and other landmarks, and enjoyed walking along the embankment and soaking in such a huge and multicultural city. Others went shopping. We concluded our visit with dinner at London Rowing Club as they celebrated their crews going to Henley, and had the privilege of meeting some exceptional people and rowers, including 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the lightweight women’s double Sophie Hosking, the team captain. We were also joined by Charlottesville resident, Rivanna Rowing Club member, and great friend of Virginia Rowing Jack Cann, who is racing at Henley with 1952 Dutch Olympian Robb van Mestag. It was a great day capped by a great night, and best of luck of all London Rowing Club crews!
|London sightseeing with the Cavs|
Saturday night was another team favorite event: pub night, where we had our last few pints before the regatta. Jay had recommended a secluded pub nearby—the only catch was we had to walk there through the woods. Suffice to say I’m thankful rowing does not require an extensive use of maps, because by the time we stumbled into this pub we had taken more than our fair share of wrong turns and had more than a few bad experiences with thorn bushes and actual nettle beds. But once we were there we enjoyed a beautiful view of the foothills, inhabited by the local population of sheep, and a few drinks to comfort us after the journey.
Here is where the story really gets interesting (for me anyway)—as I’m waiting in line at this incredibly secluded pub, I ask the gentleman in front of me for a drink recommendation. I can honestly say I have never internally panicked more than I did when he turned around and I realized I was talking to Andy Serkis, one of my favorite actors and the pioneer of motion-capture filmmaking behind characters such as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and Caesar from the new Planet of the Apes movies. I managed to stumble through some polite conversation when he asked where we were from and in which event we were competing, express my admiration for his work, and get a picture, and he was incredibly gracious and friendly throughout. It was a surprising bonus to a fun night.
But we came to England to row, not meet celebrities, and we’ve had an excellent time training here on the historic Henley course. No matter the context, rowing down the Thames with wooden booms on either side is a thrilling experience, and most of our first few practices were filled with frequent stops to simply take in our surroundings. That the weather has been so beautiful only added to the sometimes overwhelming spectacle. We have been mixing in some full pressure work with a lot of steady state rowing throughout the week, and in the eight have also been lucky enough to “brush” (Henley-speak for scrimmage) crews from Phillips Andover Academy of the U.S., Mercantile Rowing Club from Melbourne, Australia and Leander Club’s entry in the Thames Challenge Cup. Our first four has pieced the Cornell lightweights a few times as well. In every case there was some excellent racing, and so thank you to all crews!
Of course, the most significant piece of the week was the Second Four’s qualifying run for the Prince Albert on Friday. In what they felt was their best piece as a group, they looked excellent coming down the course and actually caught the crew ahead of them in the time trial. But in a qualifying field of 38 crews fighting for 12 spots, racing in ever-changing conditions, their piece proved to not quite be fast enough to earn a spot in the next week’s racing. One of the things that makes Henley so terrible and great at the same time is its abruptness—you spend months training for this one race, pushing your mind and body further than you ever have before, sacrificing time with your family and friends at home, time you could be relaxing on a beach or on a couch instead of working out 5-6 hours a day in the summer heat, and you pour your heart and soul into it only to have it inevitably end in one 6-8 minute piece, a piece only a few crews get the privilege to win.
It’s what makes every moment here so precious, and every race such a gift. For our outstanding four of Chris Mikus, George Williams, Eddie Tiernan, Sam Needham, and fourth-year Xavier Quinn, that experience is over sooner than hoped for or expected. But their season still ended on the Thames, with the sun setting over the English foothills in the distance, with 2,112 meters of course and 176 years of history behind them, and knowing they’d had the privilege to put their best performance down at the most important time. The rest of us will have that opportunity in the next five days. Wahoowa. -FB
All photos © Forrest Brown.
Thanks very much to Forrest for the update, and good luck to the Hoos as they get ready for round one, which will see them race St. Hild/St. Bede and St. Cuthberts. You can watch all of the racing live at this year's Henley Royal Regatta via YouTube, and you can find the 2015 draw here.
Catch up on Parts One and Two of the #HoosGoingToHenley series via our Travelogues page.