Patrick C. Crowell
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The women's double sculls race was off. The rowing team from Orlando, Adel Blair and DeeDee Lane, stroked to the middle of the six-boat pack. It was the Masters National Championship Rowing Regatta, this year held in Birmingham, Alabama. DeeDee had rowed and trained with Adel for two years before her first Masters Nationals event, where she and Adel had won the age group A, women's double championship. This was DeeDee's second championship race. So far, defending their title wasn’t going as well as hoped.
“Settle!” Adel commanded. As the “stroke,” she dictated the pace for the race, which she and DeeDee notched downward after the blistering start in order to avoid burning out. The other boats did likewise. Adel had been a competitive rower at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Like many college rowers devoted to the sport, she had turned to masters rowing after college and law school. Her will to compete was insatiable and by this time she had quin-peated as the women's, age group A, singles national champion. She knew what she was doing.
It was a combination of her size and strength, flawless technique and courageous heart that had given birth to her victories. Inherited from her deceased father, Adel’s internal drive compelled her to impeccable conditioning. She was five-foot-eleven and sinewy from head to toe. Though ripped like an aerobics instructor, she had her also deceased mother's model-like face and figure. Her wavy, calico hair was pulled back into a flapping ponytail as she rowed, accentuating cat-like, hazel eyes, set off by elfin brows. Her golden skin was flushed from the effort she was putting forth.
Adel’s partner was short. Barely five-foot-two; DeeDee had not been a college athlete. Until taking up rowing as a late-bloomer, she’d done nothing athletic in her life except cheerleading in high school at her small hometown in Iowa. She had soft, towhead hair and blue eyes, and was exceptionally cute. After high school she’d gained a little weight, but when she began rowing in earnest with Adel, she achieved an athleticism that she had never before experienced.
"Why do you row with her?" a coach had once asked Adel. "Her technique isn't great, she’s not that strong and she's too short to match the length of your strokes."
"She has something most people don't," Adel replied, "incredible heart. I learned that before I taught her to row."
DeeDee had been a legal secretary employed by a corporate client of Adel's. She’d been sexually harassed and raped by the executive vice president of the legal department. When she sued, Adel represented the company. As the case developed, Adel learned what a fighter DeeDee was, and the truth. Persevering through an emotionally taxing case, and winning a settlement of a million and a half dollars, DeeDee had become independently wealthy while gaining Adel’s respect.
The two had forged a strong bond at the end of the case, and DeeDee had become Adel's legal secretary. Adel had left the law firm that employed her and formed her own two-lawyer firm with her boyfriend, Michael McKerrin. A huge burn case against an electrical equipment manufacturer settled for seven and a half million dollars and she, too, became very wealthy in a relatively short time. Though they were both well off, they still desired to work, and doing it together made it all the better. Rowing together completed their partnership.
Notwithstanding their physical differences, they compromised to form an exceptional rowing team; their strokes melding as one in the double-sculls shell. Adel stroked the boat in the "two seat" with DeeDee in the bow, and DeeDee timed her strokes perfectly in order to match Adel's. Because her legs, abdomen and arms were much shorter, the length of her stroke through the water was less. To compensate, she carefully slowed herself on the boat’s sliding seat, allowing her body to reach full compression at a slightly slower rate than Adel. That way their "catch"—when the oar blades sank into and grabbed the water—would be timed perfectly. With timing at the catch, forceful drives through the water, and DeeDee's slow slide in the bow, the boat from Orlando built and maintained speed along with the competition.
"Starboard!" DeeDee yelled. As the bow person, she steered the boat and made strategy calls. Their boat had veered too close to the lane buoys on starboard side. An oar hitting a buoy could cause a rower to "catch a crab," that is, lose control and allow an oar blade to be pitched deep into the water. The phrase referred to what a rower might conceivably bring up from the bottom, which could result in lost boat-lengths. DeeDee's command signaled pulling harder with their starboard oars in order to steer the boat back toward the middle of the lane.
"Good!" DeeDee yelled. "In fourth! Power ten at the five hundred … in two! One ? two! Power ten!"
DeeDee and Adel pounded the catch and drove through each stroke with all their might as DeeDee counted out the move. A “power ten,” or a “ten,” was where rowers poured on everything possible for ten strokes, hoping to change their position in relation to the other boats in a race, or to demoralize their opponents.
"Moved a boat! DeeDee yelled. “In third! Gaining on second!" She could see that Austin was in first, two full boat-lengths ahead. It was such a large lead, DeeDee didn't mention it. Having glanced out the corner of her eye, Adel knew it, anyway.
"Another ten! This stroke. Up two!" DeeDee yelled. Adel responded by increasing her stroking rate from 35 to 37 beats per minute, and DeeDee followed. "We're moving on Boston!"
Focus! Adel thought. Stay smooth and powerful.
Blend! DeeDee thought. Fast hands to stay with Adel. Slow slide.
"At the two-fifty! Take it up now! This stroke!" DeeDee commanded, knowing Adel would do precisely that, regardless of their aching bodies. It was the unsaid confidence in each other that only quality crews possess. DeeDee knew she had commanded her friend to amplify their pain, like turning up the voltage of an electrical torture device ? on themselves! Knowing she would endure, and that they would indeed stay together, was the faith of true teammates.
Adel was like a machine and forced the rate up instantly. As always in a race, her will was cold and indomitable, and she was dispassionate to their pain. DeeDee followed by driving her hands away faster on each stroke, keeping her slide a slight degree slower than Adel’s. In two strokes they pulled even with Boston and, in two more, were a deck ahead. Boston realized what happened and responded by taking it up also, and Adel and DeeDee gained no more.
DeeDee glanced over her left shoulder. To her surprise Austin was only a length ahead. "Adel! Austin's dying! All we've got, now! Sprint!"
After stroking one hundred excruciating strokes, Adel still had enough left in the tank to jack the rate up again, and she drove her body as fast as humanly possible. DeeDee hung on, trying to stay smooth while pulling with all her might. The rate elevated to a furious 42 strokes per minute—extremely fast when you’re dead tired.
But, Boston took it up also, at the precise same time as Orlando, and Orlando couldn’t stretch further than a ten-foot deck away from Boston. As Austin died, the exhausted rowers unable to move efficiently any longer, Boston and Orlando moved through them with twenty strokes to go. But then, DeeDee saw Boston begin a furious sprint.
"Last ten!" DeeDee screamed while in complete agony, the pain rupturing through her body. By then Boston had jumped back to nearly dead even.
Hold! DeeDee thought as she caught her next stroke. She felt her drive through the water in what seemed to be an eternity of agony, guttural noises and splashing water.
Them! her mind screamed on the next catch and drove it through with lactic acid-filled legs. She felt a mighty surge from the stern of her boat, as though a jet had blasted it forward. She knew it was Adel.
"Off!" she shrieked aloud on the next stroke, finding even more from within to match Adel's inspiring effort. The boat leapt forward like a shale stone skipped over water.
Just as they couldn’t possibly withstand the pain anymore, "Blap!" the finish referee’s merciful horn sounded. DeeDee and Adel both collapsed their oars onto the water. Their sleek, black shell glided to a stop as they pulled in air like clogged vacuum cleaners.
The water was fresh and clean. The air was pure in the cloudless sky. There was no sound but those of human recovery, save for distant cahs of American crows. Adel reached her left hand behind her. DeeDee grasped it with both of hers, still gasping for air.
"We did it," Adel said, breathing heavily. "We beat 'em."
"I think so," DeeDee gasped. "Repeat national champions! But man," she sighed. "That was close! Nice race Boston!"
"Nice race Orlando," the bow woman responded. The Austin crew also shouted congratulations.
"Let's take it in," Adel said.
" I'm with you," DeeDee replied. The words seemed to linger as they paddled in.



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