When I am not designing and managing exhibitions and displays, I can be often found wedged in a fibreglass hull either training or competing.  This rowing thing would have the be the most barking mad sport of all time.  You can’t see where you are going, the time you need to train to perfect the list of 6,467 things you need to excel at in order to just scratch competent level in competition is out of all proportion and did I mention that this bulk of this activity happens at dark o’clock when most reasonable people are tucked up in bed?!?  But there is one person in out crew of 9 who really stands out in terms of contribution and commitment and that is our coxswain, or cox as we lovingly know them as. And while I hack my way through the water (one of the 6,467 things I am trying to remedy), I have had cause to pause and reflect on why coxes are the best marketers ever:

1. They see opportunities others do not

Fair play, they are the only ones facing the right direction in a crew but they are constantly assessing wind and weather conditions, other crew’s positions throughout a race, the crew’s ability to lift through key stages, the actual course and what can wander into your path (Police boats!  Sydney Ferries! Spectator Craft!  SWANS!!!!!!) and they try to steer the sharpest  and most direct line to the finish line.  This, all done under a 4 minute time frame. Marketers, like my beloved coxes excel at seeing niches to position their brand and see new fertile ground for opportunities.

2. They are the key drivers of moving a crew (or company) forward

How does a business get and remain successful? Hands down, it is generating sales and making profit, which is largely the function of the marketing team devising strategies to deliver sales.  Coxes are the same.  I am just some hack with a blade wishing I was on some lounge with a cheesecake balanced on my lap.  Until the cox fires me up and gets me and my fellow 7 rowers functioning as a crew, we are destined just to lope along with”OK” results and an empty medal display case.

3. Tactics, tactics, tactics.

Marketing mavens need to implement their marketing strategies using carefully placed tactics and so do coxes.  You can have all the sound marketing strategies you like but without the implementation of the tactics, well, you just have a lovely piece of paper.  My race tactics are pretty concise. Row like you stole it. Don’t freak out / fuck up.  The tactics employed by a cox are a little more elaborate “Right.  We do our start of 15 off on 38 and then after 15 strokes, settle down to 34 – 35 with no loss of power. I am going to call for pushes on the legs for 10, another 10 focussing on clean catches and then another 10 on finishes.  I will also call for pushes if I feel that the other crews are making a move.  Towards to end of the race, I will ask for a power push of 3, then holding for 7 and then stepping up in 10’s for the final 250 metres. At that point you EMPTY THE TANK”.  Christ, that took longer to write that it does to row…

I am reflecting on the marketing power of the cox as I am sad to say that I am loosing one of the best coxes I have had the insane thrill of rowing with.  Alison is returning to the UK to be with her family as they face a health issue and so the rowing gals and I are gathering to break bread (and crack open a champagne bottle of two) and see this lovely lady off in style.

In my first years of being coxed by Alison I was always bouncing around her like a frog in a sock.  Did we do OK?  How was the power in the boat?  Did we still get clearance when we upped the rating.  Truly, I was / am  / can be insufferable.  Rowing can be such a battle in your own mind, you need feedback like a crack addict to compare your own experience to. Over time, I have seen that Alison is like the zen master of coxswains.  She is super calm before and during the race and only gives you the feedback and instructions you need.  There is no yabbering on or streams of consciousness, she locks it down tight.  I have seen over time how this has helped me so much in the boat as my excitable foxy terrier ways have been smoothed out by her cocoon of calm and I am a better and a more controlled rower because of it. She has cheerfully carried our mascot Daisy the Donkey through training and races, steered us through the Sydney Harbour cauldron when whipped up through a strong southerly and has dispensed lip gloss, tissues, plaster, water bottles, hats through her amazing monochrome dream coat, all while crammed in a space that is the average size of a handbag.

Alison owns a fair proportion of all the medals I have won with the rest being shared with Koach Kim, the rest of the rowing squad, my demonic personal trainer Nathan and my friends and family for the ever strong support while I wail “I can’t DO this!”.  I am not sure how I am going to feel when I step in the boat again, lean over the side, look down the boat and not see her there. But I will have the memory of the last race I had with Alison coxing.  It was the recent State Masters and were in D8 amongst some pretty hot competition.  At the 500 metre mark I was aware that we had slid up along side the boat in the adjacent lane on my right.  Through each stroke, Alison encouraged us forward and we clawed our way along that nearby boat. I was level with 7 seat….I was now level with 5 seat….now with 3….and then final with 200 metres to go, our bow was clear of them!  You know that zen master Alison?  Forget that, she became a force of power! The nearby crew put on a surge but Alison got the jump on that and we found a new level.  Everything was hurting, but Alison called for one last push to ensure that they could not take our water and then…the sound of the finish hooter for first place…and THEN another hooter and OHMYFREAKIN’GOD, WE JUST PLACED SECOND!!!! We were just so, so happy and to perform and respond for Alison in her last race (for now) will stay with me forever.

On the podium for silver at the State Master 2013

On the podium for silver at the State Master 2013

There is a saying that God made coxswains because he can’t be there and in Alison’s case this is doubly true.  And there is no way he would have carried our mascot Daisy. Heartfelt thanks and much love Alison!

Our mascot, Daisy!

Our mascot, Daisy!

The tune this week comes from one of my favorite “gee-up” tracks when I need to get the rowing zone.  Push it!

See you next week!