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Triton rower unconscious in bizarre Holland Eight match: ‘The light went out slowly’

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It had never happened before. In the prestigious but famously heavy Kanal Cup in Regensburg, Germany last week, two rowers passed out. In the Dutch Eight, Utrecht Law College student Jacob van de Kerkhof lost consciousness. “You can’t see anything, can’t move anymore.”

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The images were, at the least, worrying. The race – no less than 12.5 kilometres long, taking approximately forty minutes – became too much for both German rower Christopher Reinhardt and Dutch rower Jacob van de Kerkhof. Sliding around his bench on the boat’s rhythm, the exhausted Triton rower lay backwards. Bowman Ralf Rienks tried to keep him upright. In the German boat, a similar situation was taking place. The remarkable thing about it all, was that the race continued.

Speaking on the phone, Van de Kerkhof – who’d own the Varsity as part of the Triton Old Four this spring – talks about what happened. He remembers the Dutch boat being in second place, when German rower Reinhardt had to quit a kilometre before the finish line. The Dutch team saw an opportunity, and increased their speed. “Then the lights slowly went out for me. And at a certain point, I couldn’t see anything anymore, and I couldn’t move.”

In the end, the Germans were the first team to cross the finish line in the bizarre match. Van de Kerkhof, like his German colleague, was taken to the ER in a rescue boat. He was given an IV and additional oxygen. Later, he was taken to hospital by ambulance, where his teammates visited him. Aside from the physical pain, he mostly felt frustrated. “We could’ve won, and because of me, we didn’t.”

That attitude of ‘winning at all cost’ that top rowers have, Van de Kerkhof says, is why the two teams just kept going despite what happened, even while a team member lay unconscious. There was quite some ruckus about the match in the German press. The organisation should’ve stopped the race, media said. “Whether it was a good thing or not that they kept rowing, I can’t say. It’s true something really serious could’ve been going on. But I can at least explain why a rower wouldn’t just stop rowing.”

A nonchalant Van de Kerkhof doesn’t want to call the incident scary or frightening. He mostly sees the Regensburg match as “an educational experience”. He’s still in the race to play in the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer. Not in the Dutch Eight, who won silver in the most recent World Championships in a team that didn’t include him, but he hopes to have a shot at a place in another boat. “In a regular match, there are always moments when you think ‘shit, I can’t go on any further’. But that point always turns out to be a little further than you thought. Now, I know there really is a limit.”

The report on German television:

 

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