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Greetings from Germany!

Guten tag! We’re here in Breisach, an old fortified town on the German-French border. We’re training here for two weeks as we prepare for World Cup #2 in Lucerne, Switz. The Rhine River forms the physical boundary between Germany and France, so we have the pleasure of sharing the river with rowers from the “Ruderverein” on the right bank, and the “Club Nautique” on the left bank. Quite the international rowing experience!

The Upper Rhine is a beautiful place to row—miles and miles of wide, flat water, with nothing to worry about except the occasional territorial swan. (The shipping barges and the cruise ships run on the parallel “Grand Canal D’Alsace”, as our section is a little too shallow).

Rhine (English), Rhein (German), or Rhin (French)… it’s a beautiful river, no matter how you spell it

I often have to remind myself that this is a “business trip”, not a “tourist vacation.” With only five weeks until Naming Date, it’s more important than ever to train hard, recover well, and stay healthy. It could be hard to stay focused in a foreign country, where we’re surrounded by interesting attractions and sights and foods and people and adventures… it’s a testament to Team USA’s focus and dedication that we’re keeping our inner tourists under control! So on our afternoon off, instead of catching a dinner cruise downriver, or exploring the nearby woods, or going on a taste-testing tour of Breisach’s gelato shops, I took a two-hour nap. Zzzzzz.

That being said, the short drive to/from the boathouse provides many interesting sights. Although WWII wreaked havoc upon the town, there are still old structures and buildings from centuries ago. Our hotel is literally across the street from Breisach’s trademark attraction: St. Stephansmünster, the cathedral overlooking the town. And last weekend’s “Hamburger Fischmarkt” was definitely an interesting cultural experience: the salesmen loudly promoted/auctioned/sold their respective products to the crowds from their loudspeaker-equipped trucks (alas, the language barrier made it impossible for us to figure out what was going on… and made it that much more intriguing!). Combine a grocery store with a flea market, add five loud auctioneers with microphones, throw in a beer-and-bratwurst tent, and viola! you have the Hamburger Fischmarkt.

Hamburger Fischmarkt: the sausage and fish salesmen use their megaphones to win the crowd’s attention (and business!) with funny jokes, crazy antics, and free samples. The chocolate, cheese, noodle, produce, and florist salesmen hold court across the square. A noisy, boisterous shopping experience!

It’s been an absolute pleasure to row here. The water (beautiful!), the boats (brand-new!), the weather (tumultously spring-like), the people (friendly), the food (aaaah! so yummy!)—everything so far has made for a productive and enjoyable training experience. We’re only here for a few more days, then we’ll make the drive down to Switzerland for our final preparations for the World Cup. Go Team USA!

I posted many more photos on my Facebook album. Check it out!

In the meantime, some interesting items:
– A Huffington Post article about the US Men’s Eight, as they prepare for the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta (aka “The Regatta of Death”)
– A good friend sent me this interesting essay…  whimsical and fun, and totally applicable to our training!
– Taylor Ritzel’s update on the National Rowing Foundation blog!  www.nationalrowingfoundation.wordpress.com

An April sunrise on Lake Carnegie. Less than six weeks until the Olympic boat is named!

We have less than three months until the Olympics, and only six short weeks until the boat is named.  It seems that wherever I look, I see reminders that the Opening Ceremonies are just around the corner. This week, I opened up the New York Times travel section to see a full feature on London, the TV networks are starting to run the inspirational patriotic ads, I’m spotting the Olympic rings logo plastered on various credit cards and grocery items, Boathouse Sports (our gear sponsor) arrived in town to take our measurements for the Olympic gear package. I even met the cast of “The Today Show” when they came to the Princeton boathouse for a learn-to-row session with the Princeton varsity– Al, Matt, Ann… the whole gang!  With all the increased publicity and excitement, it’s often a humbling reality-check to realize that there are still 24 very qualified athletes competing for 15 coveted spots.

You’re Fired! Some of my teammates met Donald Trump at the “100 Days Till London!” celebration in Times Square

Healthwise, I’m feeling night-and-day better than I did in San Diego. A capable physical therapist + diligent stretching = a better-than-new rower! The training is intense, the volume is high, but I know I’m finally reaching my pre-accident level, whew.  Thank you for all of the positive messages; I’m so grateful to have such a stellar cheering section!

It’s going to be a crazy few weeks for Team USA. I’m typing this blog post at Newark International Airport, where we’re waiting to board our flight to Europe. Some of our teammates raced this weekend at World Cup #1 in Belgrade (see results here!), so we will join them in Breisach, Germany, for two weeks of training and selection.  We’ll then head down to Lucerne, Switz., for World Cup #2 (May 25-27).  Row2k wrote an excellent overview of the Olympic qualifying process for the US crews, you can check it out here.

I’ll try to stay updated with news and photos, but in the meantime, check out some of the media coverage of my talented teammates!

– Natalie Dell’s profile in USA Today
– Mary Whipple’s radio spot on NPR
– Megan Kalmoe named as World Rowing’s “Athlete of the Month”
– Giuseppe Lanzone named “#1 Most Mouth-Watering Male Olympian”  by Ryan Seacrest. com

First, I want to thank everyone SO MUCH for all your encouraging comments, emails, and letters! Every time I felt depressed or discouraged, a heartening message would pop up in my inbox, or a fun postcard would appear in the mail, and all my doldrums would slip away. THANK YOU!

A huge thank you to Ms. Yanuszeski's class at Windsor Elementary for all their wonderful letters! We posted them at the boathouse, and all the rowers loved reading them!

The good news: I’m not broken! I’m not brain damaged!  Starting in mid-February, I was cleared to rejoin the team at practice. After two weeks of medically-mandated rest, I was understandably excited to jump straight into full-time rowing. However, it would be foolish to go from zero activity to 200km/week, unless I wanted return to the doctor’s office with an overuse injury!  (No, thank you. I have enough to deal with at present!)  So it was a delicate balancing act—trying to get back up to speed as soon as possible, but without hampering my physical recovery.

I couldn’t have asked for more capable medical care… Gerard (our team PT) was an absolute godsend, and Prima (my PT at an off-site clinic) was both a skilled therapist and patient listener.  Between the two of them, along with the entire medical staff of the Olympic Training Center, I was in very good hands.

In the ice bath... brrr!

Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were a few times when my enthusiasm overcame my better judgment, and I experienced the classic symptoms of overtraining (extreme fatigue, night sweats, crazy emotions, loss of appetite, etc).  However, with diligent recovery and rehab, I became stronger, to the point where I can now complete the week’s training cycle with minimal pain. I am forever indebted to Susan, my pair partner over the last few weeks, for her wonderful patience and encouragement—she keeps my spirits high, even during the most exhausting workouts.

The finale of our California training trip was the National Selection Regatta—an intense weekend of racing with aspiring Olympians from all over the country.  This race is the first step toward Olympic qualification: coaches will use the results as a good indication of an athlete’s speed, and a top-five finish can guarantee an invitation to the W8+ selection camp this summer. In addition, the NSR winners have the opportunity to race the pair at a World Cup race later this spring (and potentially earn their spot on the Olympic roster).

Racing at the National Selection Regatta

For me, this race was even more significant. For the past eight weeks, I’ve been constantly asking myself the same questions: Am I recovered? Am I fast? Am I capable of holding my own with my powerfully-strong and extremely-motivated teammates?  The NSR would serve as a symbolic measurement of my physical recovery to date, and of my reentry into full-time Olympic selection. While I’m disappointed in our final placing (5th place, in a chaotic and windy race), I was heartened by our solid efforts in the time trail and semifinal races. I may not be at 100%, but I’m still in the mix!

What’s next for Team USA?  The scullers are staying in California to prepare for the Non-Qualified Small Boats Regatta (for the women’s single and double sculls), and the rest of us have returned to New Jersey to continue our training in Princeton.  I’m encouraged by my progress so far, and my plan is to stay positive, stay healthy, stay tough, and take my recovery one day at a time.

In the meantime, I am constantly inspired by my teammates. Read about Taylor Ritzel’s motivation on Fox Sports,  Kara Kohler’s profile in Sports Illustrated , and the USOC’s video profile of Susan Francia. I am so lucky to train with such amazing athletes!

Russian winter fun during the Fulbright Conference in Moscow

Side note:  my sister just published several updates about her public health research in Siberia… between her medical discussions, Russian election commentary, Moscow exploits, and springtime pictures, I was on the edge of my seat! Her ability to connect with people across language barriers and social differences is truly compelling; any med school would be lucky to have her. Check out her blog at www.romanyredman.wordpress.com

A humorous take on the situation from "Zits"

It all started innocently enough:  a teammate and I headed out on a quick trip to the drugstore to pick up some multivitamins. All of a sudden: CRASH! Our truck was spun around, almost flipped over, and landed with a thud on the opposite corner of the intersection. A distracted driver, completely ignoring the red light, had t-boned her SUV into our car at 50 mph.

Our guardian angels definitely deserve a promotion: Had any little factor had been different—if we’d been in a smaller car, if the airbags hadn’t deployed, if we hadn’t been buckled in, if we had been a millisecond later crossing the intersection, if we had the windows open— one of us would *still* be in the hospital.

Cervical traction: putting the curve back into my neck

All things considered, my teammate and I are both extremely lucky to be [relatively] unbroken from our misadventure. The ER docs ruled out any immediate internal injuries or fractures; we were bruised and battered, to be sure, but we were able to walk out of the hospital with all limbs intact.

The hot-tub-turned-ice-bath was out of order, so I made do with a garbage bucket filled with ice water. Brrr!

In the weeks since our accident, my biggest struggle has probably been *patience*, allowing my body the time it needs to heal and repair itself. There’s a certain protocol for returning to post-concussive activity, requiring both physical and mental rest until one is symptom-free. Every morning I would bound into the Sports Performance office to be evaluated, convinced that I my head was 100% recovered. Fifteen minutes later, I would leave dejected and in tears, distraught that I had once again failed to pass. (In hindsight, the sadness and mood swings were actually lingering symptoms of the concussion… looks like the Doc was right after all)

Chilling with Joey, the USOC Therapy Dog

Mom was an absolute godsend during my medically-mandated break. I couldn’t work out, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t stay awake… so Mom traveled down to San Diego to shuttle me to appointments, distract me from my doldrums, take me to the beach, and just soothe my anxiety with much-needed TLC.

The doctor *finally* cleared me for aerobic activity (hurray!), so now begins the slow process of re-integrating myself into training.  The team’s workout schedule would be challenging even for a completely healthy athlete, so I have to be extremely careful about how I begin to train.

Running at 30% bodyweight on the "AlterG Treadmill": just like running on the moon! Low impact, so easier on the spine

Again, *patience* will be a struggle—I’m willing and eager to get back into a boat, but my body still has its limitations. (As my PT often scolds me, “Jamie, this isn’t rowing soreness. Take it easy! You were HIT BY A TRUCK!”) I’m taking it one day at a time, and I’m confident that I can work my way back into top shape in the months to come.

Working my way back into the boats, one day at a time

I can’t tell you how much all of your emails, letters, and well-wishes have bolstered me up these past few weeks!  This whole ordeal has been a struggle, both physically and emotionally, but your encouragement gives me a much-needed boost! Thank you thank you THANK YOU!

Hello from San Diego!

Hello from California!

Launching for afternoon practice on Otay Lake

Team USA has returned to the San Diego Olympic Training Center, and we’re quickly adjusting to the routine of full-time Olympic training.  Southern California is known for its fabulous weather, and so the team is taking advantage of the sunshine to practice on-water at every opportunity!

In between rows, I’m trying to utilize the many resources the O.T.C. offers the athletes:  the newly renovated and expertly staffed Performance and Rehab Center; the delicious dining hall (serving plenty of vegetables, but no desserts, alas); the sports psychology and nutrition counseling; the on-site laundry facilities; the big-screen TVs in the Athlete Lounge…  I am *so thankful* for the opportunity to train at this marvelous complex!

The dining hall overlooking the track

Another resource that I’m very excited (and nervous!) to use: the upright piano in the dining hall.  (I love to play piano, but I still get a nagging twinge of stage-fright whenever people are listening, particularly a cafeteria full of Olympians. Silly, I know.) One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to practice at least once a day, regardless of whoever is listening.  So far, so good!

A highlight of this week was the “Olympic Ambassador Training”, a program designed to prepare athletes for the increased stature and attention that comes with the Olympics—we talked about the legacy of the Olympics, the difference between Worlds and Olympic competition, how to minimize “ripples of disturbance” at the Games, media and interview training, etc etc.  While it might seem a bit early in the game to discuss the influence/importance of Olympism (after all, squad isn’t chosen for another five months!), it was still a valuable and inspiring experience, and hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to apply these lessons in London!

Dan O'Brien: '96 Decathlon Gold Medalist, and fellow Olympic Ambassador!

Finally, any January blog post would be incomplete without a huge THANK YOU to all who sent me well-wishes this holiday season! I am ever-so-grateful for the outpouring of support from my family, friends, neighbors, high school and college pals, Spokane River Rowing Association… thank you to all!!! Your encouragement and positive affirmations have absolutely recharged my emotional batteries—I can approach our winter training with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Greeting another sunrise at the O.T.C.

Final note:  The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA) published an awesome profile piece when I was home. Check it out!
– Article: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/dec/28/working-vacation/
– Photos: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/dec/28/working-vacation/?photos
– Video: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/dec/28/working-vacation/?video

‘Tis the season for USRowing galas,  marketing blitzes, Christmas wrapping… and lots and lots of good, hard training! New Jerseyhas been blessed with mild temps this holiday season (a welcome relief from last winter! egad), so not only are we practicing on water (hurray!), we’re even practicing in shorts (!!!).

Trailer loading... how to get it all to fit??

The team will spend the winter in San Diego, so several mornings were spent loading the twenty-eight boats, dozens of oars, and multiple piles of riggers, tools, and boat seats onto the California-bound truck. It was like a scene from Santa’s Workshop:  6’0-tall, muscular, pony-tailed elves scurried around  to “gift-wrap” thirty boats in Saran wrap and packaging tape and strap them to the sleigh/trailer. Don’t even get us started on the logistics of getting it all to fit… that’s the true Christmas miracle!

The boat is saran-wrapped, taped, and ready to be loaded!

Aside from our multiple daily practices, the team also had several chances to get all prettied up and mingle with fellow rowing enthusiasts. The USRowing Golden Oars Awards Gala was one such event—hosted at the prestigious New York Athletic Club, the event brought together current National Teamers, past Hall-of-Famers, coaches, athletes, and supporters. It was wonderful to meet and chat with the people who help support our Olympic dream, and to honor the notable accomplishments of the evening’s award winners.

Team USA at the Golden Oars Gala (photo by Allison Frederick)

December has also seen a huge marketing push for our 2012 Power and Grace Calendar— Autograph signings, selling at local vendors, a fabulous NYC dinner with one of our sponsors, etc etc.  The whole experience has not only been a successful fundraiser, but also an incredible publicity outreach for US Women’s Rowing. Hundreds of Princetonians now know of the Olympic hopefuls training and living in their neighborhood, and strangers will wish us luck in the grocery store, walking down the sidewalk, or even during our afternoon practices! (Check out some teaser shots here and here)

Autographing Calendars!

A highlight of this experience is our partnership with Whole Food’s Wellness Club, a community-oriented program designed to promote a healthy, active, and nutritious lifestyle. The Princeton Whole Food’s Wellness Club recently sponsored a celebrity meet-and-greet and autograph signing at our local store, and we sold several hundred calendars in just a few hours!  Thank you, Whole Foods!

The meet-and-greet at Princeton Whole Foods

Our group also garnered a shout-out on ESPN radio (!), January’s print edition of Rowing News, and many other local news sources.  For all of you who have already purchased a calendar: thank you for your support! Every bit helps!  And for all those who are still looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer, or an inspirational boost for January 2012: It’s not too late, there are still a few left online! http://www.thetimefactory.com/products/us-womens-rowing-team

(Check out the video by my teammate Megan Kalmoe)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHr5IAFbx40

Now we’re off for our respective hometowns for a few days of holiday R&R with friends and family. Looking onward to 2012, I can forsee that the coming months will only become more physically demanding and psychologically intense… I couldn’t survive with all your encouraging words and support—I can’t thank you enough!

Merry Christmas!

A very important weekend for Team USA: the Fall Speed Order, the first official selection event of the Olympic year!

Intense head-racing at the Fall Speed Order! Amanda and I are in the middle boat. (photo by row2k)

  
The Fall Speed Order was composed of two days of racing– a 6km test on the ergometer on Saturday, followed the next day by a 4.5km head race on Lake Carnegie. Sunday’s starting order was determined by our placement on the erg test.

Amanda and I (photo by Allison Frederick)

 
My 6k erg test wasn’t a PR (personal record), but it was still close enough for me to be confident in our race preparations. But thanks to a stellar PR effort from my pair partner, Amanda and I earned the second starting position, in between two very fast and capable boats.  (In a head race, crews are started in a time-trial format with 10-20 second margins, and the fastest overall time wins.)
 
In stroke seat of a pair, I control the steering rudder with my shoe, but I rely on Amanda in bow seat to look around and give me directions. She was a total racing rockstar: she steered us around the course buoys, bridge abuttments, and rogue Canadian geese with the best possible course! (Unlike some mens’ pairs, who had some scarily-close encounters with the Washington St. Bridge! eek!) With two bridges and several turns on Lake Carnegie, good steering could make the difference between winning and losing.
 

3.5km down, 1km to go! (photo by Allison Frederick)

 
Mother Nature was kind to us– no rain, no wind, not even a blizzard! Instead, it was a beautiful, crisp fall morning; absolutely perfect rowing conditions!
 
 Amanda and I are super excited about our second place finish. We still agree that some technical improvements can help us squeeze out those extra seconds needed for a first-place effort, but all in all, it was a great weekend for us!

A perfect day for racing at the Princeton Boathouse

 
You can check out results and racing galleries on US Rowing’s website, here. Go Team USA!
 
P.S. Don’t forget to purchase your Power and Grace Calendar!  Great stocking stuffers!