Lake Ontario, ON - Nadia Abdel - Aziz

My Watermark is Lake Ontario.

My name is Nadia Abdel – Aziz. My first real connection to water started during my high school rowing seasons. Rowing on Lake Ontario taught me to expand and grow my understanding of myself and of my surroundings. It was on this rowing team that I was first challenged mentally and physically. In our practice back home in Toronto’s shores of Lake Ontario, clusters of garbage would float in the murky water of our boats pathway. Sometimes the plastic slime would catch onto my oar blade and I'd have to fling it off. I had often pondered why a place that was trusted and used by many rowing teams, and people, was so dirty and uncared for. I had even seen a dead body floating in the water, which our coaches had told us to ignore and to paddle around. There was chatter in the boat from the shock and awe disrupting our comfort zone of our bubbled high school world. On the last weekend of May 2011, our rowing team drove to Henley Island, St. Catherine's, Ontario. This would be our last row of the year on Lake Ontario.

Just like any other race, my 4-person boat rowed from the dock to the start line. Our oars and bodies were upright and vertical. My tense limbs, like my nerves, were ready to start. The whistle blew, and the coxswain was yelling at us, "3/4 slide, 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full. Give me five strokes for the legs.” I followed the melodic drumming of the coxswain’s voice, which motivated us to keep our course of action and our course of mind. I looked to the right of our lane and noticed that the boat that was once inches in front of us, was now inching behind us.

My teammates’ oars were plunging into the depths of the water, trying to increase the gap between our two boats. The coxswain, as the boats mouth piece, hastily spoke to us in a deep and rustled voice: “Bump up the speed from a 30 to a 34.” My body was thrusted into full speed, as the rate started to rise and the boat started to move faster, inch by inch. This was a tempo created partially by people and partially by water, as the water had a temperament not to be reckoned with. Our movement affected the water, and the waters movement affected ours.

Suddenly my oar became “caught” in the water and in one smooth stroke of its own, forced my body flat against the boat. The blade swung over the entirety of my body and reached less than an arm’s length from the person siting behind me in our four-person boat. The power of the oar, when met by the boisterous water, caught me by surprise. It took all four hands and the whole boat to stop what they were doing, in order to get my oar back in line to its previous position.

We started up again, feeling discouraged from the set back. I felt the lack of energy in our rhythm and speed; my teammates were getting tired. I started to feel my body freeze mentally and physically. I searched for motivation, as I remembered my coach telling us that "every stroke counts, a race is never finished until you cross the finish line." I continued and gave the last 500 meters my all, until we crossed that last meter.

We had placed fourth in our time trial out of 6 boats in our race heat. Two other heats were left to race, and 8 spots were open for the final race in our 4+ women boat category.

As we headed back to place the boat on our trailer, we were notified that our race time was fractions of a second away from placing in finals. We were pleasantly surprised because our boat started to run out of steam towards the end. I had raced in many regattas and won many medals. Yet, this race left a bigger impact on me then in regattas when I ended with a gold in hand. I had learned to never give up even if the end was near, as every stroke counts. This was our own victory. This was an educational lesson that wasn’t going to be learned in my high school classroom.

Lake Ontario, ON
Bonnie McElhinny
Nadia Abdel - Aziz

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