Friday, March 1, 2024

Reflections on the Water: Rowing Solo at the Sarasota Invitational Regatta Olympic Trial Course

Nathan Benderson Park

The George Alexandru Sarasota Invitational Regatta (SIR), February 23-25, 2024, features three days of youth and masters rowing at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, FL. It is the site of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, the 2018 World Rowing Masters, and the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

The SIR is organized by the Sarasota County Rowing Club (SCRC), of which OutdoorSteve is a member.

Steve’s race, Men’s Novice 1X (1X meaning single person rowing shell)was 1,000 meters.

Time adjustment

The Master’s division is from age 28 up. In order to make it somewhat equal based on age, for example, 28-year-olds racing against 70-year-olds, a calculated value is made to adjust each rower's finishing time.

Races will be 1000m and start via Anchored Starting Pods, meaning a raft anchored.

SIR Venue

SIR is held at Nathan Benderson Park, now a world-class rowing venue and North America's premier 2,000 meter sprint course and regatta center. The course includes a multi-function Finish-Line Tower and state-of-the-art wave attenuation system, now fully in place through the length of the course, making for calmer water in the event of easterly winds. All starts for the three days of racing are from fixed platforms and races are either 1500 meters or 1000 meters.

The Race
As I positioned myself at the starting line of my very first single-scull race, my mind was a whirlwind of advice and strategies. My primary goal was clear yet daunting: finish the race without any incidents. Despite my coaches' emphasis on staying between the line markers, the unfamiliarity of the watercourse loomed large—after all, I had never practiced as a single rower on an Olympic course.

The moment the starter announced “Attention Go!” I propelled forward, slowly adhering to my coach's instructions of half slide, ¾ slide, and full slide. My form was far from perfect, as was slow and unsteady, a fact evident in the video my son, Tim, was filming. My start would have certainly made my coaches wince, however I was in the race.

As I steadily advanced, the absence of my four competitors from my peripheral vision surprisingly bolstered my confidence. The mantra “Steve, concentrate on form” became my guiding principle, pushing thoughts of winning or even placing far from my mind, as I fixated on each simple stroke.

With each stroke, my confidence solidified, my strokes became smoother, and I gradually corrected my course whenever I veered too close to the port side lane markers. The tranquility of the environment struck me—the absence of motors or crowd noise, with only the distant starter announcer's voice permeating the silence.

Finish Line
Guided by the wisdom of my instructors to “stay in the middle of the lane” and “look only straight ahead,” I focused solely on my performance, never once looking back to gauge the distance of my competitors.

As the race progressed, my stroke rate increased, prompted by the beeps signaling my competitors finishing ahead of me. Yet, the support of the crowd, shouting my name, and the distinct voice of my coach, Ray, son Tim, and wife Cathy, spurred me on.

Crossing the finish line was more than just the culmination of the race; it was the realization of a significant personal achievement—I HAD ROWED A SINGLE IN THE SARASOTA INVITATIONAL RACE!

In the aftermath, amidst the relief and pride, I offered a silent prayer of gratitude for a safe race, acknowledging the support of my family, the Sarasota County Rowing Club coaches, and my friends. This experience underscored a vital lesson: it truly takes a team to reach such personal milestones.

As I saluted the American Flag, I reflected on the journey that brought me here, a testament to the power of persistence, focus, and community support.

Click the below video to watch Event #38A Novice 1X  Lane 5

My wife Cathy, in reviewing this blog video, noted my left oar regularly was stronger than my right oar and may have accounted for my scull going port. This observation was later confirmed by Coach Ray as we discussed my pull to port side performance. Again, it takes a team to make a rower.

  • Thank you to my son, Timothy J. Priest for his videos documenting this special day.
  • In the video I thank my coaches: Ray, Joe, Jim, Betsy, and ARK, who all significantly coached me with skills and confidence.
"Everyone must do something. I believe I will go outdoors with family and friends" S. Priest

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    * Never have to say, "I wish I had rowed in a Regatta!" 

(**2023 Florida Shorts Film Festival Award Winner First Place Film Documentary**)

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