Our journey began in Germany. We spent the two weeks leading up to Henley in Düsseldorf. The idea was to get away from our usual scenery, spice up the training, and also acclimatized to the six-hour time difference. We trained hard and bonded, becoming an extremely tight-knit group after living and spending every waking moment together. The motivation level was rising every day, as we were getting closer to Henley. Even though we had a lot of success throughout the entire season we never became complacent and kept striving for more.
After a short but still exhausting flight to London, due to the tough training sessions the day before, we landed in London with sore muscles but extremely happy and excited to get on the road for the final part of our long journey.
We stayed in a Hotel in a rather small city called Marlow, which is a 15 to 20 minute drive away from Henley on Thames. The narrow roads and the driving on the “wrong” side took some getting used to and made for a nerve-racking first trip down to the course. Once finally getting there we could feel the excitement build up in the crew. We could not wait to see our brand new shell and to take it for a spin on the very prestigious course. The boat we rented was close to the model that we had back in St. Catharines, just the newer model. While the coaches were preparing the boat we spent some time walking the course, trying to get a grasp of what to expect. It was incredible to be able to connect the pictures that we had seen of the course with firsthand experiences. The grandstand, lane markers, the boathouse and the entire course were exactly the way we were told they would be, but it was still very surreal and different from what we were used to.
We kept our normal training rhythm for the first couple of days, with two practices every day and a lunch break in between. With pleasure boats running up and down the course all day long, it made for a rather difficult practice with a lot of maneuvering through the boats and back. We were very distracted; I have to say, by the scenery itself. We were still trying to get faster and find more boat speed during every practice but the goal was also to really enjoy the regatta itself and take in everything it had to offer.
Racing started on Wednesday. Luckily, because of our achievements throughout the season with the Triple Crown win in North America, we were able to skip the first round and continued right to racing on Thursday. In our first race we met a British Crew from the ‘Star Rowing Club’, a very well drilled and determined crew with just a little less horsepower than us.
We were very fortunate to lead right off the start and be able to extend that lead the whole way. It was an amazing experience to hear thousands of people cheering for Ridley all the way down the course. This was one of the first times where the legacy that Ridley Rowing has built throughout the entire schools history really struck us. Being able to pull up the black and orange unisuits with the ‘R’ on our chest filled us with pride. We represented the school, and the group of guys that we are, as best as possible. Adding to that, we were able to race with an old friend in the boat. Peter Yates passed recently. After meeting his incredible wife Joanne in Victoria when we flew over for our March training camp, Jason decided to name our new boat “The Spirit of Peter Yates.” Peter stood for leadership, good sportsmanship and the idea of always trying your best and aiming for the best possible result as opposed to aiming for the win. All those characteristics are values that we try to aspire to. Even though none of us ever got to meet Peter we were all filled with pride to be able to honor such a unique individual and take his spirit down the Henley course one more time.
Unlike most regattas, at Henley people are so close to the boats they could literally reach out with their hand and grab one of our oars. This type of racing causes a lot of distraction.
In our second race, we drew the Nottingham Rowing Club. Our race strategy was the exact same as in our first race. We wanted to get out in front early, dominate the race like we did in every other race all season and save as much energy as possible for the upcoming Semi-Final and Final. Having that plan in mind, we went up to the start and realized very rapidly that Nottingham was a very different opponent than the Star Rowing Club. After the first five strokes we went down almost half a boat length, which is an incredible amount for that short of a distance. We really had to bear down and find a lot of strength within us to pull back. It was a head-to-head race all the way down the course. Knowing that the current in the course would give Nottingham an unfair advantage during the last quarter of the race, we were looking for early separation in order to not be overtaken in the final bit. Eventually we were down a foot with 12 strokes to go and had to really dig deep and find a lot of courage to come away with the result we expected. Our entire boat cannot fully remember what happened but viewers said that with about four strokes to the line we started pulling back in front and with two strokes to the line we made it all but decisive with Nottingham catching a crab. The entire race was a nail-biter and too close for comfort. During our season we were fortunate enough to be able to dominate every single race we entered in. After winning championships in two countries and doing that decisively we expected to find competitive racing in England, but we did not expect to find such great and tough opponents that early on in the regatta.
This Quarterfinal race took a lot from us and we needed to recover quickly and be ready to go again the next day. Fortunately, we drew a very late race again at 6pm on the Saturday, which would give us more time to recuperate from the previous day.
For the Semi-Final we had “The Windsor Boys School” as our opponent. This boat served as the big underdog of the entire regatta, eliminating Northwhich though, which was expected to be one of the top crews fighting for the title.
Our unspoken goal for this race was to win, without a doubt, but we knew the path to victory would only go through having our fastest race and we knew that was what we had to focus on. Unfortunately, even our fastest race was not good enough on that day. We left everything out on the course in an incredible and extremely emotional race, we came up just short to the Windsor Boys. They were an amazing crew, deserving to be in the Final.
We simply enjoyed wearing our Ridley unsuits one more time as a crew. Even though we came up short at this regatta, we were proud of all the achievements from the entire season.
Daniel Tkaczick ’14 is from Düsseldorf, Germany and attended Ridley College for three years.