Gingerly, Jill joined her teammates in the boat. The morning's early races had gone well for Cal. Now, with only the varsity eight race remaining, Berkeley was in position to win the Pac-10 title. All the Bears needed to do was beat Stanford. On the sideline O'Neill tried not to think about the fact that this was the first time Jill had coxed the varsity eight. Usually there are preliminary heats and semifinals, but this year the Pac-10s had been compressed into one race. Jill was ready, O'Neill told himself over and over again.
In the boat Jill knew the time had come. She pulled out a vial and passed it to sophomore Kristina Lofman, who was immediately in front of her, and told her to pass it around. Lofman stared at it and asked, "Do I drink it?"
A few seats behind her Elise Etem, the powerful sophomore whose brother had been drafted by the Anaheim Ducks, thought perhaps her cox had lost her mind and brought the tiniest bottle of refreshment in the history of sports. "Um, I think we're good on water, Jill," Etem said.
"No," replied Jill, calm as can be. "It's miracle water."
And with that, each rower took a splash of the water, which Jill had brought back from Lourdes in plastic bottles and, as if applying perfume, dabbed it behind an ear.
On the P.A. system, the race announcer said, "Attention!"
Their backs to the finish line, the eight rowers faced the small, puffy-faced girl with a blue Cal hat and a hands-free microphone. A thousand thoughts raced through their heads. In the fourth seat Etem thought that if Jill could be sitting there that day, then Etem could certainly row all-out for 2,000 meters. In the fifth seat Mary Jeghers thought how special it was that after being Jill's teammate for four years, this was the first time she had Jill as her cox. And in the eighth seat, only a foot or so from Jill, Lofman thought about what was to come.
Before the race O'Neill had pulled Lofman aside. "At a thousand meters I want you to look in Jill's face," O'Neill had said, "and be as brave as she is." Lofman had nodded her head, but she was scared. She didn't know if she could do it—be as brave as Jill. Later she would say that she had never gone for it as much as she did in that race, that she felt nothing was going to stop her.
The flag dropped, and the Cal team shot out like a waterborne rocket. Oregon State, Washington and Washington State dropped back immediately. Only one team—Stanford, of course—would stick with the Bears. At 500 meters it was Cal by a nose. At 1,000 it was Cal by half a boat length. It was there that Lofman noticed something unusual: a dab of scarlet just below Jill's nose. Then the smudge grew, blood snaking toward Jill's upper lip. Jill saw the fear in Lofman's eyes and knew what had happened. With a quick, disdainful motion she wiped away the blood with the back of her hand. Lofman felt a surge of energy course through her. "It was like she wasn't going to let her body stop her from doing what she wanted to do," says Lofman. Already close to maxing out, Lofman dug even deeper.
With 300 meters to go Cal remained well out in front. But then, half a minute later, with only 100 meters to go, it happened: On her return stroke Etem caught half a crab, and moments later so did Kara Kohler, another port oar, causing the boat to rock violently. With a quick motion Jill grabbed the rope and yanked, pulling the shell back to starboard. "Finish strong" was all she said.