Congratulations Anna-Marie De Zwager! 2006 Canadian Women’s Single Rowing Champion

Anna-Marie De ZwagerAnna-Marie is an inspiration… yes I am sure she gets that one all of the time but it doesn’t make her any less worthy. I have known Anna-Marie since Grade 8 and she always stood out as a friendly person and a star student. Throughout our years in High School I also became aware that she was also a fierce sports competitor; by listening to the morning PA in TAG and hearing about her extraordinary field hockey exploits. Anyway, here we are today with Anna-Marie kicking arse in the world of rowing. Over the past couple years I have been lucky enough to be on her personal email list where she recounted her struggles over mind and body to become a world champion rower. Everytime I read her emails, and I mean everytime, I was absolutely startled by the commitment that she had to a sport that was relatively new to her; she was originally a field hockey star and found rowing late in her University days (at least I believe that was how it happened).

Well her hard work has paid off this Tuesday, November 7th 2006; Anna-Marie edged out famed Olympic athlete Buffy Williams as Canada’s Singles Champion. Congratulations seems a weak word in the face of her latest feat. But CONGRATULATIONS ANNA-MARIE!!!

Here is Anna-Marie’s email, I hope you will find it as inspiring as I did because it says a lot about human nature and what it takes to overcome intense physical and mental adversity. Hell, I found myself breathing hard just imagining the intensity of the race. Well done!!!!!!! 😀

Holy crow! What an amazing race. Buffy Williams and I, side by side for 7:51 seconds. They took a long long time to decide who’s bow ball actually crossed the finish line first – I ended up edging Buffy out by 0.14 seconds at 7:51.40. She finished at 7:51.54. We didn’t know officially for over an hour who had actually won the race. One of the coaches biking along the path beside the race said that he swore that there wasn’t even 3 strokes in a row the entire race (probably about 300 strokes give or take in a W1x race) when our bow balls weren’t jostling for position out in front. All I knew is that Buffy wouldn’t let up, and I certainly wasn’t going to!!! Even after we crossed the line and heard two incredibly tight blasts of the horn indicating that we had finished we had no idea who had actually finished first. As I was cooling down, I realized that it really didn’t matter at that point – whatever the outcome of the race, it couldn’t possibly top the excitement and intensity of the race itself.

To give you a bit of an idea, the speed of a rowing shell depends on a few basic things – stroke rate (how many strokes per minute) and power through the water. In 2005 when I raced internationally in the single, my stroke rate for a 2k piece would be around 32-33 strokes per minute. I’d feel as though my muscles would explode or that I would ‘hit the wall’ if I tried to push it up to 34 strokes per minute. Today, I never went below 35 strokes per minute – with the first and last 500m averaging about 37-38 strokes per minute. I was blown away when I reviewed my speed coach computer this evening after the race. I had no idea I was holding those rates. Buffy said something after the race that I fully agreed with – it’s been a very long time since somebody has pushed me so hard!

The gold medal and the title of 2006 Canadian Champion in the Women’s Single (and the $650 cheque) are simply icing on the cake. I honestly felt so incredibly ecstatic with the whole process, that the result is really just a bonus. What a neat idea. After a summer and early fall of really feeling like I was struggling with everything about training, competition and this lifestyle, I finally came to the conclusion, thanks to my Sports Psychologist, Dr. Sean Richardson, that basing my feelings of rowing and training on my results (whether practices, time trials or races) really wasn’ t a productive way to go about it. Especially when the results I wanted weren’t happening. I began to lose my motivation and started seriously questioning my desire to continue. I knew what I wanted from myself and what I wanted to achieve with rowing, but really felt like I didn’t have the energy to pursue it. The goals I had set were too lofty or too easily achieved, so I rapidly lost motivation to continue.

I started to look at why I was really doing this. I came up with something so simple, that it got lost in the intensity and competitiveness of this environment. Over the past 6 months, my ego has been attempting to stay alive and healthy by winning and being the strongest, fastest, fittest out here. I had lost sight of the most important aspect that I wish to gain from this whole experience – to become the type of rower I would like to race against. I want to become the type of rower who can win or lose gracefully – without excuses or an over inflated ego. I want to be the type to be able to appreciate when somebody else has a fantastic day, even if mine was horrible. I want to be the type to recognize when I have a good day and somebody else doesn’t. I want to be the type of rower – and more importantly the type of person – who is approachable, can honour somebody else’s skill without necessarily comparing it directly to mine in a sense that one is better than the other. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win. I love that feeling of being the fastest, the strongest, the fittest. It’s a pretty sweet thing to come out on top – especially after a season of struggling. But for me, that alone cannot sustain me in this sport. The process of this goal is the key – because each day, each practice and each race will challenge me to become the rower I want to become. It’s almost like making a lifestyle out of it.

I realized this evening that the whole process of the race – loving each stroke (even though I wondered WHEN ON EARTH is Buffy going to drop off and when on earth am I going to finally pull through her) was what really made it a great race for me. Each time I glanced to the side and saw her still sitting right next to me, and I chose another technical focus to work on for just ten more strokes because maybe THESE ten strokes will finally put me ahead just a little bit… only to look up in ten strokes and see her in exactly the same spot to go through the exact same decision making process of “ok, maybe these next ten for ‘core’ will really put me ahead”. Over and over and over… all the way to the last 20 strokes when I really wasn’t even sure what I was doing anymore, just that I had imagined this scenario over and over in my head and I knew that I could do anything for 20 strokes…. Then even minutes after it ended, knowing that regardless of the result, I really enjoyed it and had given it everything. At the line, it was really just the fact that my boat surged at the right moment to put it over the line ahead of hers. I felt a brilliant moment of clarity to realize that it didn’t even really matter to me the placing. Or perhaps, better stated, I had decided how I felt about the race before the results were ever official.

On a side note, my goal earlier this year was to be able to finish 10-15 seconds ahead of the next woman at Speed Orders in June 2006. I wasn’t able to compete at that regatta in June due to my rib stress fractures, but Buffy (who wasn’t competing this summer)and I finished 13 seconds ahead of the next woman today. I achieved that goal…. a few months late, but I can now check it off. I’ll still have my result oriented goals, however the process oriented ones will be the daily challenges!

Thanks for hearing me out on this long email!

2006 Canadian Champion

You can’t tell me that you were anything short of inspired by that email right?!