Second Chance Double Is a Team of Three
July 24, 2012
LONDON – Matt Madigan stood to the side of the big screen television in the Finn M. W. Caspersen Rowing Center in West Mercer, New Jersey while he ran a video of an exhibition race that Sarah Trowbridge and Margot Shumway had rowed earlier in the day.
It was during the 2012 USRowing National Championships. They were not actually competing at the regatta but were using the full racecourse and on water officials to give them a simulated race experience. It was just one more step on the road to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Anything that could help them improve was welcome.
This particular afternoon had Madigan trying to help Shumway understand something she was doing during her stroke sequence that was – well – bothering her. Shumway could only be described as intensely interested in solving the issue.
“Isn’t there something we can do in drills this afternoon,” Shumway asked. “Anything?”
Madigan, of course, said yes, but his expression said he was not that concerned. He had a very good pair of young women to coach, a crew that had trained with him all winter with the hope of winning the right to go to the Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland in May to qualify the boat for the United States in London.
The end result was a victory in Lucerne, and a berth on the U.S. team.
But to just say that does not tell the story of Trowbridge (Guilford, Conn.) and Shumway (Westlake, Ohio). And it doesn’t do it justice.
This is a story about two women who were cut from the national team, failed to win the selection regatta that would have sent them to Lucerne, but were then handed a second chance.
The two doubles that finished first and second ahead of them in the trials event in Chula Vista, Calif., declined the bid to go to Lucerne and stayed in the national team camp hoping for spots in the bigger team boats. The bid rolled down to the next boat – Trowbridge and Shumway.
It was not a chance they passed up.
“You want a second chance a lot of times but you don’t actually ever get a second chance,” said Shumway. “And for us, it really focused our energy on each other and how we could come together even more. It was a tremendous opportunity and I think we made the most out of it, totally.”
Today they are at the Olympic rowing course in Eton Dorney, 30-miles from London, preparing to race their first race and dreaming of medals.
It was a dream hatched on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. last fall with the help of Madigan.
The back story, as Madigan tells it, was both women had been cut from the national team training center in Princeton, N.J. at different times in the fall and winter months. Shumway immediately emailed Madigan for help with the thought of rowing the women’s single. But Shumway eventually reached out to Trowbridge and went for the double.
Madigan bought in based on their history.
Both women have been members of the United States national team. Shumway was a 2008 Olympian. Trowbridge has been on five senior national teams, has five medals from international racing, and was in the double that failed to qualify for London at the 2011 World Rowing Championship in Bled, Slovenia.
And both women had rowed at the Potomac Boat Club early in their careers as scullers. Madigan knew what they were capable of.
“These kids have been on the team before. Trowbridge has five medals internationally. They’re very solid athletes and they developed in our program and it’s great to have the opportunity to coach them. They have tremendous spirit about them and I think they are among the top athletes in the country,” he said.
So Madigan agreed and set to work. The most important first step was to slow them down and back them off from high intensity training.
“I had to back them off a lot of the hard work to get them to where they were rowing well and matching up together.”
The result, according to Madigan, was two women rowing well together but who had not done enough race work to be prepared for the California selection event. They advanced to the finals, but just didn’t have enough to win. After the race both women went back to their hotel while Madigan started packing to leave.
“They had gone back to the hotel and I was just doing coach things, packaging up the boat, procrastinating and getting everything ready to travel,” said Madigan. “Then one of the USRowing staff came over and asked if the girls were still around?
“I said no, why? And they said ‘Well it looks like the top two boats are going to decline.’ I just couldn’t believe it. And so I called (Shumway and Trowbridge) and they didn’t believe me. I told them if you don’t take it, the next boat is going to take it. These two boats have said they don’t want to do it, so it’s either going to be you or the boat after you and they said we’ll be right down.”
The women came back to the boathouse, accepted the bid for Lucerne and met to face the challenge.
“Trials was tough just because we knew we really hadn’t achieved what we knew we were capable of because we had so many ups and downs leading into the race,” Shumway said. “We both took those couple of hours before we got the phone call and were in shock and trying to process everything and then we got the phone call and it was like, Holy Crap,” Shumway said. “We have an opportunity that no one ever gets, ever.”
The three then sat down to analyze what had happened.
“I think the doubt Margot and I experienced was all pretrials,” Trowbridge said. “We experienced the doubt. We knew in a perfect world we were capable of winning, but we were doubtful we had done enough and were fast enough at that point.
“So we went through that leading up to trials and then post trials we had a truthful conversation, we asked ourselves what went wrong, how were we actually feeling leading into racing and could admit that to ourselves, here’s what we didn’t do, here’s what we have to improve upon.
“Going into Lucerne, I was one hundred percent convinced that we could go and execute our best piece. And the best part about that meant that we had won,” she said. “It was never, ‘Oh, we’re going to breeze through this.’ But I knew what we had put in during those five weeks leading into it and some of the hard times and just were really focusing in on what is going to get us down the course at our fastest, at our best, and when we were in Lucerne that’s what we did. We were at our best race and we won.”
And that was what the video session was really about. It was not about being frustrated. It was about doing what had to be done to have the best possible performance in London.
“What we saw in San Diego at the trials race wasn’t their best,” Madigan said. “They weren’t ready. We’ve talked about it, all three of us, and have taken the responsibility for that. Since that time they have harnessed their energy and focus.
“They are rowing with a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “They have to prove themselves. These are kids who have done well and they owe it to themselves. Being cut, one of my goals was to have them row the best they could row, to get the best out of the then.
“The rest will work itself out. If they can come off the water on race day and say ‘coach that’s what we had’ then I’ll be happy.”