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Monica Dunford | USLHC | USA

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Tour du Leman

Last week when the Tour du Leman (a.k.a Tour du Lac) was looming, my goal was to finish. As it turns out, we didn’t just finish.

We won!

We were the fastest mixed quad to row around the circumference of Lake Geneva. It was 160km and it took our crew 15 hours, 33 minutes and 15 seconds to lap the lake. Starting at nine in the morning and finishing in the dead of night, just past midnight.

The Societe Nautique de Geneve, which is where the race began and ended is one of those boathouses that every rower and sailor dreams to belong to. The rowing boathouse has many bays located next to a truly massive club house. Upon entering the club house, the America’s cup, which is impressive beyond words, is immediately to your right, followed by case after case of trophies.

The start of the race lived up to the grandeur of the boathouse. It was quite an event. There were the paparazzi boats filled with photographers. The support boats for each crew. Plus an armada of boats with spectators from the club house. Probably 50 boats in all. When the crew boats took off, we were flanked on both sides by very fast and very expensive catamarans. Although the start was exciting with so many people around, crew boats don’t handle wakes well. One of the photographers’ boats in particular was zipping back and forth taking pictures. Several times we had to stop, bank the boat to one side and brace for the impact of the waves. Once outside of Geneva though, our catamarans, photographer and spectator boats left us and we were on our own for the next 15 hours.

There were five rowers in our boat; four rowing, one coxing. Every 30 minutes, the coxswain would rotate back into a rowing seat. Thus, for every two hours of rowing, there was one 30 minute period of rest. Rest being an extreme understatement here. In those 30 minutes, you had to steer, eat, re-hydrate, stretch, etc. And before you knew it, you were back to rowing.

Throughout the entire race, we were followed by a support boat, which was there for emergencies only. For the most part, it just floated in the distance behind us. Every once and a while it would get close enough so we could see the drivers. They looked like two parents and their teenage son, who was clearly bored out of his mind. I wonder what parental guilt trip had been applied to this kid to convince him to spend his weekend on a tour of Lake Geneva at 5 knots.

As predicted, the 10th hour was truly the 9th level of hell. It was mentally the most difficult part of the race. The point where your focus starts to waver and you really start to feel the pain. At this point, we had reached the end of the lake about two hours before and we were headed back to Geneva. This picture was taken in the heart of that hour (doing my part to represent Cern though with a running club hat!). It was then that it really occurred to me, ‘Man, this lake is big! Why was I so stupid to have agreed to this!’


But as Stefan Kroh, a competitor in last year’s Tour du Leman, said, ‘I know that all difficult periods come to an end’. And so they do. In the last two hours to the finish, the only sound in the boat was eight blades entering the water. The sound of five people’s pure determination to finish.


But the next day at the award ceremony when we were showered and rested, victory was sweet. My very good friend and rowing partner Michelle and I were all smiles, showing off our winning cup.

When Michelle’s husband Jesper was driving us home after the race, he asked, ‘would you ever do it again’. And without hesitation I said, ‘no’. At the awards ceremony, when asked again I said, ‘uhm…’. If asked today, I’d say, ‘yeah, why not.’

Clearly, some people just never learn.