Rebecca Henriquez, won a first place and a gold medal at this year's USRowing National Championship in the category of junior girls under 16 years of age. Not only had Rebecca won but she left the rest of the finalists behind her with her unbelievable 18 seconds race. Shown are Ramon Henriquez, Rebecca Henriquez. Coach Peter Bisek and Susan Henriquez.
At the beginning of my second summer rowing season with the Sagamore Rowing Association crew team of Oyster Bay, I was thinking about the upcoming regattas and most of all the USRowing National Championship. I decided that this year would be different from last year especially now when I have been rowing a single scull much longer and have more experience.
The first regatta of the season my team and I went to was the Independence Day Regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. This is the largest four-day regatta in the country. I placed third in the finals but because only winners get medals, I left with no award. This race was like a warmup for what would come next. It helped me to figure out where I stood and who my competition was.
The next regatta was the Philly Youth Regatta at which I moved up and took second place in finals.
Right after that came USRowing Club Nationals on Cooper River at Camden. We had a few days to prepare and then it was time to head to New Jersey.
My father, mother and I arrived Thursday night before my Friday's race. That same night we joined my coach, Peter Bisek, Sagamore Rowing's competitive sculling coach, and one of his past rowers, Amanda Kendrick, an Olympic hopeful, for dinner and talk. Almost the entire time we asked Amanda, who is trying to make a national elite team, questions about how she started rowing and what she did from there. She talked about how it was being coached by Mr. Bisek and how she traveled overseas to Germany in 2001 to represent USA at the Junior World Championship, and later rowing at Yale and competing at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. I loved listening to what she had to say. It made me think that maybe one day I will be like her. After dinner I went to sleep thinking about being a great and strong rower and with images of me doing all the things that Amanda spoke about.
The next morning I got up before 6 a.m. to be ready for my 8 a.m. race in my heat. When we arrived at the river there was a strong tail wind, which would make boats go fast. I needed to finish no worse than second and in spite of a very bad start I was quick enough to advance into finals.
Later in the day more people - rowers, their friends and families - arrived to watch the finals. The atmosphere was energizing. I could see many accomplished rowers surrounding me and almost felt out of place. With my final later that afternoon I had nothing to do but rest in a cool room back in our hotel.
Then the time came to race in final. I arrived at the race course and began to prepare myself by talking to my coach, by checking my oars, my boat and staying cool and relaxed.
Once I launched it was a good warmup to the start because of rowing into a strong head wind. I did not mind, I am used to that kind of rowing off the Beekman Beach in the Oyster Bay. As I was maneuvering my single scull to the stake boat at the start I saw Mr. Bisek on his bike on the shore where he was to follow my race all the way down the course. I do not remember much about what I was thinking at that time, but I recall the feel of my blood pumping and my mind focused on what I wanted to do. I wanted to try to win.
My starts are not too good yet and when the starter yelled "Attention! Go!" I came off next to last. The girl in first place I had raced at Independence Day regatta and came behind her. Then, 500 meters into the race I got my rhythm and began to catch up to leaders. I was rowing in the sixth lane, closest to the far shore and I could see the other rowers out of a corner of my right eye and my coach bicycling on my left. I felt good.
I continued to row well and in next 500 meters I caught on to first place and before I knew it I was leading the pack. But I did not slow down, I kept pushing and the gap between me and the other girls continued to grow. At about 500 meters left - Mr. Bisek called for me to keep strong and keep pushing no matter where the others were in the race. I listened to him and pushed myself.
I crossed that finish line I knew I won but at first I was not sure what I was feeling. I won the Nationals!
I was told to row to the award dock and claim my medal. My very first gold medal. I saw the dock where all national champions received their medals for 3rd to 1st place and rowed to it. I saw my parents on the shore, waving to me, and many people shouting and clapping. Suddenly I felt tired but it was great.
After receiving my medal I rowed to the landing dock, jumped out of my boat and gave Mr. Bisek a big hug. I could find no other way to express my feeling of joy and excitement at the moment, not through words or screaming or crying. He made me laugh at how excited he was himself.
Things then settled down and I felt like a true champion. First time.
We de-rigged the boat, tied it to the roof of my dad's SUV and before heading back home to Long Island we went to check the results. I couldn't believe it! I won by 18 seconds!
Then we left the regatta and I couldn't stop smiling. We stopped at a restaurant and all I could do was strut about feeling very important. As I did all I could think of was how the people sitting around were in the presence of a champion rower and they did not know it.
Editor's Note: Rebecca rows for the Sagamore Rowing Association crew team of Oyster Bay, out of Beekman Beach. This fall she will be a sophomore at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset.