Racing a World-Champion Rower in My Garage


On June 11th, my 38th birthday, I discovered myself head-to-head in a digital rowing race towards the 23-year-old rowing champion Oliver Zeidler. Me, a father of two who has been rowing in his storage for 3 years, towards Olli. Ridiculous.

He can row 2,000 meters in 5 minutes, 38.7 seconds.

For most individuals, these numbers imply nothing. It may assist to know that solely seven different individuals have rowed that distance in underneath 5:40. I’m not one among them.

Our mismatched matchup is one thing that would most likely occur solely in rowing and solely now, due to the coronavirus. Here’s the way it took place.

Three years in the past, I bought a Concept2, the standard-bearer of rowing machines, in order that I might row in my storage. With no expertise, I turned to YouTube to be taught how on earth to work this factor, and stumbled upon a training website known as Dark Horse Rowing, run by Shane Farmer, a former faculty rower.

I popped on my headphones and realized to row alongside Shane. Once I received the mechanics down, I spotted I wasn’t half dangerous.

A yr later, I joined a gymnasium in our East Bay neighborhood, and met Natalie Guzikowski, an All-American rower from her faculty days, and my first and solely rowing good friend. She grew to become my unofficial coach, and she or he reworked my stroke, together with my occasions.

Enter the coronavirus. Staying match was now a matter of what gear you occurred to have at home. Thankfully, I had the rowing machine.

Rowers Choice, a consortium of corporations that construct, restore and distribute racing boats, determined to discover a approach for rowers to proceed to compete. They invented March Mania, a digital rowing competitors for highschool groups. It was organized bracket-style, akin to March Madness, and 1,400 athletes competed.

But the adults needed in on the enjoyable, so Rowers Choice is now within the midst of its second event: the Global Rowing Challenge, with classes for masters (40 and older), open (19 to 40), and underneath 19. Rowers Choice went on a social media blitz and tapped each connection they needed to entice rivals. “Once we got one rower from the American national team to enter the tournament, it caught on like fire,” Alex DelSordo, president and founding father of Rowers Choice, instructed me with delight.

The Global Rowing Challenge is unparalleled in some ways. First off, distances change from spherical to spherical — a far cry from the usual 2,000 meters of regattas. Second, anybody can be part of. You enter along with your time for a 1K, and get seeded in your bracket accordingly. Third, it’s digital. Each spherical lasts per week, and also you race on a rowing machine in some unspecified time in the future within the week to submit your time. And lastly, there’s prize cash — $1,500 for first place!

Coach Natalie despatched me an innocuous textual content in late May with a hyperlink to the competition web site. “Check it out!” I figured what the heck, I’ve been rowing quite a bit in the course of the shutdown, why not attempt. There was prize cash, in any case.

The evening the brackets have been launched, I stayed up late to Google the competitors. The No. 1 seed in my bracket? Oliver Zeidler.

I appeared him up and discovered this Wikipedia entry describing him as “a German rower and former swimmer. He is reigning world champion in the single men’s scull won at the 2019 World Rowing Championships and the current World Games champion in indoor rowing in the open men’s 2000m class.”

The approach my bracket was arrange, if I gained my first spherical, I might race towards him.

But first I had the 1,500-meter race towards Alex DelSordo, one of many contest organizers. And it’s right here that I need to let you know concerning the ache cave.

As Natalie places it: “The pain cave is a place where your legs are full of lactic acid, your lungs are burning, you can no longer think straight, and your body is numb from pain and exhaustion.” Here’s Shane Farmer: “The pain cave is where you have to come to a reckoning with who you are as a person. It is a constant challenge: Are you willing to go harder, are you willing to suffer to know that you gave all you have?”

As in comparison with a treadmill, through which the machine units the tempo and also you attempt to sustain, the rowing machine will go as quick as you push it. You are the metronome, not the opposite approach round. Worst of all, the machine spits out speedy suggestions, and so in race mode, your gaze is fixated on the monitor and the unflinching numbers that let you know whether or not you’re going quick sufficient or not.

When I sat right down to row 1,500 meters on May 31, I didn’t know what Alex was able to. But I figured if I used to be going to beat him, I’d need to enter the ache cave. A couple of minutes into my race, each a part of me needed to cease rowing, however I needed to maintain going. When I completed, I collapsed on the ground subsequent to the rowing machine. I couldn’t discover a place the place my legs weren’t throbbing.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

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I submitted my time. I beat Alex by 0.6 seconds.

Next up? Olli Zeidler, all 203 centimeters of him. Olli was imagined to be Tokyo-bound for the 2020 Olympics, and was prone to do effectively. He has a powerful rowing pedigree: His grandfather and aunt have been Olympians, his father was a junior world champion, his sisters row. Olli’s been rowing only some years, and admits he’s nonetheless mastering the method … and but he’s a world champion.

It was a foregone conclusion that I might lose to Olli within the second spherical, a 60-second all-out dash. So I figured why not e mail him and introduce myself as his competitors.

Olli cheerfully replied with a video of his one-minute row. It was mesmerizing to observe how a lot energy he generated whereas staying so in management. As I watched, it grew to become obvious that he hadn’t gone all out, and a terrifying, electrifying thought crept into my head: He is perhaps beatable.

My first-ever try at a one-minute dash was the day Olli despatched me his video. I used to be slower than Olli — duh — however his tempo felt perhaps, presumably, inside reach. What if my butt didn’t slide round a lot? What if I received higher at my begin? What If?

Isn’t this why we play sports activities within the first place? To let ourselves be swept away by the intoxicating fantasy of What If? What if I make a game-saving catch? What if I sink a buzzer-beater shot? What if the reigning world champion coasts and I pull off an upset?

My associates texted me GIFs of Rocky Balboa knocking out Ivan Drago. My spouse, Giulia, and I strategized continually, though we had no thought what we have been speaking about.

I went for my third try on June 11. Giulia cheered over my shoulder the entire time. It was my best-ever one-minute dash. But I didn’t win. Obviously.

Even whereas holding again, Olli rowed 382 meters; I rowed 368 meters. In the video you’ll be able to see that I by no means stood an opportunity. The thought of Olli as beatable was utter fantasy. His stroke is affected person and exquisite; mine is frantic. I begin to fade with 15 seconds left. Olli might most likely maintain going like this for a number of minutes longer.

He is now within the Final Four of remaining rowers, and I’m not gathering any prize cash.

But that’s OK. This competitors gave me one thing to give attention to aside from the coronavirus. I received to race towards the perfect rower on the earth, to push deep and see what I’m able to. There isn’t any prize cash for that feeling.

Just the ache cave.

Mark Lukach is a trainer and the writer of “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward.”