As a freshman in college, I experienced my first duel race. The race was against a rival college on the Cayuga Inlet, my favorite course that I have ever coxed. As a freshman, I did not know how great the rivalry was. In a race that traded bowballs down the entire length of the course, our biggest rival came out on top by a margin of half-a-second. My entire crew was distraught, yet eager to race them again. Luckily we did not have to wait long, as the New York Collegiate Championships were the following weekend.
We again found ourselves lined up next to our rival in the Grand Final. After the starting strokes, we found ourselves sitting in fifth place, well behind the same school that had beaten us the week before. Unfortunately, I had to cox extremely conservatively that day due to a severe case of strep throat. We spent the entire race in fifth place up until the last five hundred meters. We were about three quarters of a length down on our rival, who was in second place. With four hundred to go, I remembered that they had performed a standing shove off the dock right in front of us that day. I mustered one last long-winded call: “They're looking at you thinking they still have that half second margin. Let's open it up and show them that their pretentious standing launch means absolutely nothing!" I noticed an immediate response from my crew.
I have never been a part of a crew that took any call to heart like that. We rowed the entire last four hundred at a forty. We began to draw level with the other boat. During the last hundred, I called on my crew to "take that half second back." Boat speed increased even more. During the last few strokes, I could see the loss of faith from the rival coxswain's eyes. We crossed the line exactly half a second in front of them to clinch a second place finish. My crew, composed largely of seniors, said that was the best race of their lives. To this day, it is still one of my favorite races, despite having a terrible start and strep throat. No crew I have coxed since then has demonstrated the level of faith that was in that boat and I still count myself lucky to be in such a boat.
About Ryan Lillis
Ryan began coxing as a freshman at Saint Peter's Prep in his hometown Jersey City, NJ. He says he immediately fell in love with it and participated in both seasons throughout high school, winning a Stotesbury and Scholastic National Championship along the way. Ryan is currently a chemistry major in his Junior year and the varsity coxswain at Marist College.
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