by Alessandra Simeone
On a whim, Makayla Padgett decided try out for the Row New York team at the start of 8th grade. “I really wanted to try something new but I didn’t think I would make the team, to be honest.” Surprising herself, she made the team. This past novice season, she proved herself to be a competitive and driven member of the RNY crew.
Starting out in the middle school program, Makayla learned about the sport and herself. “I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t the most patient person on the team and sometimes, I had a negative attitude.” And as she practiced in the barges with her teammates and saw older students rowing in shells while learning about the intensity of racing from her older sister in the program, she realized that impatience and negativity were not going to get her there. “I had to learn patience, I had to learn how to work with my teammates better because I knew these things would take me to the next step: racing in a shell.” Makayla’s first opportunity to race in middle school was at the Philly Youth Regatta. Makayla and her teammates competed against other teams who’d gone through rigorous practice and training leading up to the event. “I could tell they’d been practicing more – they were stronger and more technical. I wanted to be at that level.”
The transition from middle school years to high school at Row New York is significant, as students go from two days per week of athletic conditioning to 5-6 days per week. Though some students were nervous about the transition and time commitment, Makayla couldn’t have been more excited. “I thought, finally. I’d been waiting for the commitment, for more practice time, and experience.” In addition, time-management for school, practice, and other parts of life becomes essential to being a student-athlete at RNY. To keep up, Makayla had to alter her habits. “I started going to school early to meet with a tutor, and learned to finish a lot of my work in school… I would do everything I could to be ready and focused for practice.”
Though she was eager to race, Makayla wasn’t the only one on her team raring to jump in a boat. “We all wanted to race! I started to feel the competition from other teammates. Now we all had racing to look forward to, so everyone was trying to get in a boat.” In a addition to the newfound intra-competition, novice year is unique in its dual nature of a burgeoning competitive edge mixed with a starting point for freshmen entering the RNY program. Students who participated in middle school with practice under their belts enter boats and barges with absolute beginners. Competition is fused with teaching, learning, and taking steps back, together, to acquaint and re-acquaint everyone in the boat. “We’d go back to the basics pretty frequently. It was useful for the team and useful for my patience. I had to remember not everyone was starting from the same place.”
Surprisingly, much of the fall season was focused on prepping for winter. But despite the lack of racing, Makayla enjoyed the winter season. “I had a shoulder injury, but the workouts were intense and focused, and I learned a lot more about taking care of myself too.” Similar to the prior season, winter emphasized preparation for the following short and intense spring season – the first real racing season for novices.
Spring training started slowly, as a frozen lake impeded much of the early on-water training; by the time Makayla’s boat got on the water to practice it was a mere three days before their first big race and she and her teammates had to learn how to scull in those three days prior to the race. “It was a bit scary because we didn’t have water time and it was my first time sculling! But we didn’t care too much, as long as we got to race.”
As the season picked up, Makayla got into the swing of racing back-to-back weekends. There was a breakthrough at Long Island Champs – “everything came together, we gave it our all and it really paid off” to bitter disappointment at NY States – “we expected the results from LI Champs but didn’t anticipate the competition; everyone was working just as hard as us; it was pretty humbling” and everything in between. This coming fall, Makayla will be joining the varsity crew. She’s nervous, excited, and hungry to reach the next level of competition. “Novice year taught me to be a better teammate, patient, and have confidence in what I do.” What will she bring to the varsity crew? After much thought, she decided, “Myself, meaning everything that I’ve learned from middle school and novice years, who I am, along with being open to learning and growing so much more.”
Makayla has remained even-keeled and mature about her perspective of the novice season. “Was the season successful? Not 100%, but it was good, all things considered. I’ve grown up a lot, and now expect plenty of good competition out there. There are always more races, and I’m just pushing to the next one.”