I want to laugh at the start line. It is absurd I am even here.
I came from the desert. I was born and raised at the base of the mountains. I have asthma. I was never much of an athlete as a kid.
Yet here I am, 2000 miles from home in a city with more people than my entire state, competing at a national championship in one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports there is.
The boat underneath me is 60 feet long and a foot wide. It is light and delicate. It is both sleek and predatory, like some sort of insect. The river seems to stretch on forever.
The oar is a solid and familiar weight in my hands. Behind me, 7 other women adjust their grips on their own oars and take a steadying breath. There won't be time to breathe later.
Infront of me, the coxswain adjusts her microphone. In addition to steering, she is our eyes, our brain, and the voice in our heads that tells to push harder. The rowers are just the muscle.
The boats are lined up six a across. 2000 meters separates my crew from history.
I lock eyes with the coxswain. If she's the brain, then I'm the nervous system. She makes the calls, I execute them, and everyone else follows me. I am stroke seat and that is my sole purpose.
I see the fire in my heart reflected in my coxswains eyes. We both nod as the Official calls, "Sit ready! Attention!" We are going to go fast. I feel it in my bones.
"ROW!" We are off the line like an arrow from a bow. Ten strokes in and I'm out of breath. I can hear the other boats around us. It is going to be a fight.
1000 meters in, less then 4 minutes, halfway done. We're in the middle of the pack. Then something changes. It's a subtle shift. Everything clicks. There is no rush, no panic, only power.
The front of the boat lifts with each stroke. Air rushes under the hull. I can hear and I can feel it as we hydroplane. The carbofiber hums around me. We are walking on the other boats.
In that moment, we are not nine girls and a boat. We are greater than the sum of our parts, a machine with one purpose-- to go fast.
My legs are on fire. Every muscle in my body begs for a break. I can't breath. My heart feels ready to burst. My vision narrows. I have never been this tired.
"Stop. You've hit the limit. You will break yourself on this wall.," What's left of my scrambled brain begs for a respite. It can not be trusted. This is why we have a coxswain.
"200 meters left! Don't you dare Quit now! I need everything you've got! We can take them!" Our coxswain roars. I don't see the boat next to us. I can't think, only obey.
I feel my oar rip through the water and the boat lift as raw power turns to speed. I find the place in me past the wall. I find those last 30 strokes down deep.
I am flying, exhausted but free, high on pain and endorphins. I have no worries. I exist in the moment, in each stroke. I know in my bones I'm doing what I'm meant to. I feel powerful.
My world's made of sound: the soft rush of air bubbles, the low thrum of vibrating carbon, the ragged breathing, the sharp splash of oars on water, and my coxswain as she counts the last strokes.
We cross the finish line and a horn sounds. I hear it over the blood in my ears and the water along the hull. I can hear coach screaming from the shore and the coxswain cheering in front of me.
I can't understand them, but I know we did it. I collapse backwards. The rower behind me pats my shoulder. She can't get breath to say anything but she knows it too. We didn't just fly. We soared
In that moment, my heart is full and I am content. I am not alone and I have fulfilled my purpose for the day. I think this is how a bird must feel, nestled in for the night with its flock.
To celebrate, we eat an ungodly amount of food and throw our coxswain in the river. Everyone grins and laughs and then falls asleep during the awards ceremony. Those snores are music to my ears.
I left home to go to college and get a job. I've done so much more. I found my wings on the water, my friends in a boat, and strength in my soul.
I've learned to never quit, keep moving forward, don't give up, to do it for the people who've got my back, that hard work pays off, and that I'm strong. Alone you fly, but together you soar.