|Patrick C. Crowell
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AN EXCERPT FROM
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
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
"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
"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
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
"Let's take it in," Adel said.
I'm with you," DeeDee replied. The words seemed to linger as they paddled