Last weekend I had the opportunity to watch my daughter Ramsey and her crew teammates compete in the Head of the Hooch regatta on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga.

Her first race in the Women’s 8+ boat was scheduled for 11:20 a.m. but heavy fog created a two-hour delay, which worked out well for me because I hadn’t considered the process that would be involved in getting parked and seated on a busy Saturday in the popular area of the Tennessee Aquarium with a huge crowd gathered for the race. I would have missed the race completely, had they been on time.

As I waited on the riverfront concrete “bleachers”, I was amazed to watch the tremendous process that is involved in participating in such a race. It involves so much more than just the race!

I noticed that each boat was being launched near the finish line about an hour ahead of their race to row upriver to the start line. The Tennessee River is huge and I watched as the boats moved slowly against the current to get to the place where they would row to win. I couldn’t help but think about how tired they must be by the time they even start the intended part!

I’m especially amazed by the work involved in rowing the eight-person boat. The boat is 55½ feet long. So long, in fact, that when I watched her team try to turn their boat to load it back on the trailer after the race, it was too long to clear the roadside trees on one side and the boats on the other, so they had to walk it down the road to the entrance of the parking lot to load it from the other end. It was literally longer than the width of a two-lane road with parallel spaces on both sides.

But I’m getting ahead of myself in the process of telling this story, so let me get back on track. The boat is actually designed to hold nine people (hence the 8+ designation) because they need someone called a coxswain who is carefully positioned at the front of the boat to tell them how to steer and set the pace for paddling. The rowers are facing backwards, I assume because that is the way they generate the most powerful strokes, so they are literally rowing blind towards the finish line, the coxswain their only hope for going in the right direction and right speed to finish strong and avoid hitting each other.

Ramsey always jokes with us starstruck parental units that rowing is not a spectator sport, and she’s right. I traveled and sat and waited and wondered for a very long time before watching about 17 minutes of racing. I had hoped to be there for two races but the fog delay meant I couldn’t stay as late as the second race, which is too bad, because her Georgia Tech Women’s 4+ boat came in first place!

In all the time I had to sit and ponder, I began to think about the process involved to strive for that 17 or so minutes of glory, and it is as huge a consideration as the mammoth Tennessee River that was flowing in front of me. Multiple versions of these long and fragile boats must be meticulously loaded for each team to transport to races, none of which are close to their point of origin.

When they arrive, the trailer must be carefully parked, the team tent raised and boats prepared. Long before race time the boat comes carefully off the trailer to be assembled. All of the bracing for the oars must be meticulously attached to the boat, and this is not a fast process. Then the teammates upend and load the boat onto their shoulders and walk it to the water with the coxswain, again, acting as their guide to navigate the people and trees and boats they might encounter. If the distance is very far, the boat is heavy enough that it is necessary to stop, raise the boat above their heads and cross to the other side to rest it on the opposite shoulder for relief.

The boat is placed in the water and the oars loaded for the trip to the starting line, and then, the race begins! Once the race is over, this long and awkward boat is navigated to the dock for removal. The teammates remove the oars and lift the boat back on their shoulders to carry it uphill, back to the trailer. There are hundreds of other boats involved in a big race such as this one, so transporting and “parking” the boat to disassemble it takes a bit of time and navigating. All of the hardware must then be carefully removed. They then load the boat back onto the trailer, with people clambering to precarious positions to help safely place the boat in its spot while it is strapped on and the rest of the equipment stored.

Watching all of this made me think about the importance of process. So many things in life require that every step be taken with no corners cut in order to achieve a positive result. There is not a single part of their process that could be left out, not a single time. But, it sure is easy to forget that and try to rush things when we think we might be able to, isn’t it? The greatest carpenter that I know likened it to the process involved in hanging a door. If you skip any stage in the process, the door won’t hang flush and won’t function well. That’s simply all there is to it! The measuring, the leveling, the sanding and the squaring must all take place if you want the door to work well. Watching these young women go through their steps was a good reminder to always leave myself room for the process, no matter how tempting the shortcuts might be.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

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