After a brief stint at home, away from the coaches’ uncompromising routines, the ‘rascals’ (as Todd so frequently calls us) returned to Shrewsbury to their ‘real’ home, the boathouse, for a quick glass of milk and two hour paddle with Todd. One of our companions, Aut, had a marginally longer journey back from Bangkok.
The next day, we travelled to Heathrow's T5, and several long hours later found ourselves in Washington Dulles airport with a few more hours’ travelling awaiting us! We waited outside the airport, amazed by the clear skies and lack of rain, to be greeted by Larry (one of Todd’s many associates and friends in the USA) and a convoy of typically American sized minibuses. Todd navigated through the ‘wilderness’ with great enthusiasm and experience, showing us unneeded parts of the Suburban capital only twice in our quest to reach the legendary boathouse of Thomas Jefferson School which overlooked the beautiful Occoquan. The boathouse was situated perfectly on the river which overlooked an awe-inspiring forest with all types of creatures, even bears (rowing joke – please ask), roaming around.
After a brief paddle on the Occoquan, we were greeted by our host families. A quick power nap in the car followed. My roommate, Trevor, and I awoke from our slumber to the magnificent view of impressive houses and yes, we were to be staying in them! Having not eaten lunch earlier, we decided to opt for the meal option opposed to sleep which proved a very good decision. The food was absolutely divine and plentiful, and after a long meal in which we got to know our host and his family, we retired for the night.
The wafting smell of bacon and eggs sneaked through our bedroom door at the magical time of 6 o’clock which was enough to get us Brits out of bed in a flash. We sprinted upstairs and engaged in the loving breakfast of bacon, eggs and croissants, and left the house promptly to go for morning practice.
After a morning row, Mr Manser drove us to the fast-food chain, ‘Five Guys.’ The food was typically American with fries and burgers, and each portion could have fed five guys. After a spot of revision, our afternoon practice saw the crews take on the Thomas Jefferson crews. Both Shrewsbury crews performed exceptionally well, winning the majority of longer type pieces with the 1st VIII posting some very quick times. Racing was followed by the drive home and the traditional snooze. Our evening events with the T.J boys included a sunset drive of the DC monuments, a shopping spree at Tyson’s mall (spending the parents’ money!) and food galore. We tried every ice-cream and salt-shake flavour America had to offer!
On our last day with T.J we raced over 500 metres. The 1st VIII once again posted quick times, beating T.J in the process whilst the 2nd VIII struggled to find winning form narrowly missing out on victory. The Thomas Jefferson families were undisputedly some of the kindest and hospitable people we have ever met. A huge thank you was in order before…
...we left the state of Virginia soon after last good byes with our TJ families in the legendary Five Guys and headed west for Cincinnati. The first hour of my bus ride featured the interrogation of our very own ex-London detective/ ex-rowing coach/ ex-football coach/ boatman, Keith Brown. Who happened to be our chauffer and DJ for the journey. After a coffee break, a brief ‘gas’ stop and a few wrong turns, we eventually arrived at the motel where we would spend our night, having made great use of their recreational facilities - a pool and a hot tub.
Breakfast was at 9:00 as we were in no rush. That morning Keith was disguised as Gordon Ramsey, cooking us delicious waffles which melted in our mouths. Three hours’ sleep in the bus later, we arrived in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. We had lunch at Big Boy, there we made Todd proud, as one of the waitress told Todd what a polite bunch we were. He couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.
As soon as we got to the Cincinnati Junior Rowing Club (CJRC) boathouse, we were introduced to another of Todd’s many associates and friends, Greg, whom Todd used to coach. I believe he was part of CJRC’s first ever crew, as Todd had founded the boat club. This became even more evident when we met the Cincinnati boys - their routine from weekly outings to the way a stroke is taken, is exactly the same as ours. So to conclude, Todd and Greg then, are in fact one of the same.
My first night at Cincinnati was long. After dinner at Skyline Chilli (which is unique to the city), my host John took me to his friend’s house who was hosting Will Dodson-Wells, where we were joined by Harry Lonergan and his host. We then went to White Castle, a fast food drive-through which Harry enjoyed massively. While we were there we saw some midnight snackers - these creatures were the size of two to three grown men!
Next morning we settled into a routine of light breakfast, rowing practice then lunch, followed by revision in the library. After a good session of hard work and several naps here and there, we went back to the boathouse for our last outing before the regatta on the following day.
The next day was a great day for the race, the wind was calm and the race course was wonderful. The results were mixed as the day went on. Our first eight came second by just a canvas to the Cincinnati V1 (Varsity 1). Both crews were practically 500 metres ahead of Upper Arlington V1 containing ‘The Incredible Hulk’ weighing at 19 stone! Our second eight came second to Cincinnati V2. The first four had beaten all girls eights of that day with open water, a great achievement considering how fast these super girls really were.
Easter Sunday morning, after a much-needed lie-in, Todd and Larry took us to a baseball match, where in all the excitement I might have been too comfortable in the American size chair. It was a good game, with a few homeruns. The following day we met up with Todd at the Cincinnati Rowing and Leisure centre which is on the other side of the river to the CJRC boathouse. Here we party Todd style; three times 6 kilometres A1s. This basically means an hour and a quarter of rowing on the ergometer with two decent sizes rests in between. After a shower we jumped on the mini buses and headed back east towards the state of Virginia.
After saying our farewells to the Cincinnati kids, we embarked on our long journey back to Washington DC; stopping at the same familiar motel half way between Cininnati and DC. The motel was blessed with a pool that the rowers took to like ducks, and a divine hot tub.
On arrival at the river we were all very impressed by Gonzaga’s temporary boathouse, as the old one was having a bridge built on top of it. After adjusting to new boats once again, we came in and met our hosts from the school - Pete and I were billetted with Trey, a second 8 rower who was in the L6. We got to know him well on the car journey to his house, where we met his family. They were delightful people and made us feel at home like all the hosts did along our quest. In the evening I witnessed an epic soccer game between England and USA with Pete and Trey playing accordingly; to this day I am still uncertain of the true victor. The next few days were spent in Gonzaga’s school library working hard or out sightseeing the huge city, or doing that funny backward sport that I can’t quite remember the name of.
And on that note, it was time to return back home…