The night before Texas Rowing was to compete in the Big 12 Championship, head coach Carie Graves, an Olympic rower herself, took some time to explain to her Longhorns the physical reality of pushing the body to its limit.
Of course there’s an equation involving calories burned and calories consumed, but in a seven-minute time trial of leg drives and lactic acid, success can largely be defined by one muscle – the heart.
On Saturday in Oklahoma, the Longhorns displayed theirs in a manner that moved their coach to near tears. UT claimed its fourth-straight Big 12 Conference crown by just one point, the closest margin of victory in the history of the meet.
UT collected 105 points, followed by rival Oklahoma with 104. Victories by UT’s second varsity four, fourth varsity eight and second varsity eight boats highlighted the Longhorns’ day, but the first varsity eight race is the premier event and awards the most points.
The Longhorns fell by nearly 10 seconds to the Sooners at the Longhorn Invitational in March, but at the conference race, with a shuffled lineup, UT pulled within a half-second of the Sooners.
Still disappointed to finish second, Graves saw a purpose from her boat that had been missing for most of the spring.
“I was moved,” Graves said. “They emptied their tanks.”
At the finish line, many of the Longhorns were also reduced to tears. Partly because they felt the agony of defeat, and partly because they finally felt the void of self expenditure. They gave themselves to the boat.
“It was their very best effort," Graves said.
Graves challenged her rowers to push to that evil place, to the place of maximum effort and pain. To their credit, the Longhorns did.
This race against OU started much like the one on the final day of the Longhorn Invitational on March 18. The Sooners were stronger off the line, forcing UT to play catch-up for the entire race.
The difference came in UT’s response. Instead of wilting against a seemingly insurmountable deficit, the Longhorns kept rowing, kept pushing and kept fighting. UT clawed back the entire race and was the stronger boat in the final 250 meters. In fact, had the race been three strokes longer, the Longhorns would have likely won.
The record however will show that the Longhorns lost, but that Texas won the team title. And that remains the Longhorns’ victory in defeat.
Well, that and the notion that they can still get faster. Graves isn’t one to let her rowers be satisfied.
“We’re trying to capture that final piece (last 250 meters) and transfer that to the entire race,” Graves said. “But that was their best race, their hardest race. It was outstanding, mind-boggling. So, they know what’s inside of them, what they’re capable of doing.”