Four Mile High rowers heard the Darth Vader-voiced announcer intone, “Welcome to the Cave of Pain,” as they entered Boston’s Agganis Arena for the 2017 World Indoor Rowing Championships. As this year’s rowers prepare for the Denver Indoor Rowing Championships this weekend, February 2-3, they’ll get a chance to put the mental toughness work that’s been part of every practice this season to the test.
Coach Malacrida asks the rowers to sit quietly and think through the visualization prompt she gives them. Each rower has a notebook where they record the phrases and images that motivate them to take on the the challenges in the Cave of Pain that is the 2k race. Rowers on the boys’ team report feeling like they go into a time warp where every second stretches longer with each stroke when they’re in the middle of a 2k, or like jumping into a meat grinder. Girl’s teammate Audrey Worrell said, “It feels like you’re trying to breathe when there’s no oxygen.”
Rowers report that having a catalogue of the things that, as Rachel Jung says, “remind me of what I’m passionate about in rowing,” helps them de-stress, collect their thoughts, focus on the goals they have: getting to Junior Nationals again, making the national team, rowing, “in a way to inspire my teammates.” Recording their times and meters rowed also helps them track their progress, and that helps them remember that, “I’ve survived worse.”
Taylor Ritzell came to talk to the team after her Olympic win in the women’s 8+ and answered one rower’s question about what makes an Olympic athlete different from a really good one. “It’s about how you face the pain. It’s never not going to hurt,” she said. “But I ask myself, ‘How am I going to face it today?” Mile High rowers have had the physical and systematic mental training this winter to find out this weekend.