Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Not sure how much suspense you've been in since I left you hanging with the rowing story last week....

I did join the rowing club at UNC. (You don't say "crew club" because "crew" means "club." However, most peole call the sport "crew." We did too; I still do. We just never said we "rowed crew.") There was an informational meeting at the beginning of the semester and there were over 100 women there. We learned that we would practice five or six times a week. Most of the practices would be on land (running), but we would get into the boats two or three times a week. We would only have one or two early morning practices (6am--not that early by rowing standards) and only in the Spring when it was light enough. Practice would be at 4pm. We had to share equipment and a small lake with the men, so we had to alternate practice times with them--anther reason for the lack of a water practice every day.

After that first meeting, I was a bit overwhelmed. I called my mom to ask her opinion. She said, "Oh, you can't do that."

"I can't?"

"No, it's too much."

I was terribly offended. I took her words to mean that I wasn't capable of meeting the physical challenge of a five-day-a-week practice schedule. She probably meant that it was too much to take on during my first year of graduate school. Um, yeah, she was probably right about that.

Offended and defiant, I joined the team.

Once I decide to do something, it is very, very hard for me to quit.

When I decided to go to college early, my dad said, "If you don't like it, you can always go back to high school." But I knew that wouldn't be an option for me.

When I joined the rowing team, that was it, I had to see it through.

I rowed for two and a half years and quitting was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It was the right decision, though. I quit because I had to focus on my master's thesis and I hated our new coach.

I rowed for two and a half years. I started with a class of 100 that was down to 70 by the end of the first semester. To 40 by the beginning of the second semester. We were 20 by the second year. By the fourth semester, there were ten of us. My fifth semester rowing, the beginning of my third year, I was in a boat with girls who had been novices the prior year. I can't remember how many of my group were left on the team because I didn't see them.

I lost every race I rowed while on that team. We did come in third in the last race of my second year; the last race with my group. Our boat was elated. Coming in the medals was huge for that boat.

But it wouldn't have mattered. If we'd come in dead last, it still would have been the best race I ever rowed. Our boat was completely together. Beforehand, we decided what encouraging things we would say to each other during the race. We were only allowed to say those things. So, about halfway, when I started to flag, and I heard 5 seat yell, "Sit up!" I knew it was for me. And I sat straighter and got my head in the race. When I came off the water, I was dizzy and seeing spots. I knew I'd given it everything.

And that's what rowing was about. Doing something that seemed impossible and giving it 100% and still not having anything to show for it. I learned how to find satisfaction in losing. I knew when I tried hard and I knew when I hadn't. I knew when I rowed a good race.

Now, when I'm faced with an extreme physical challenge, I know that I can do it. I know that it may be hard and painful and not much fun, but that if I really want it, I can succeed. I just don't expect to win. That's how I knew when I planned to do the four day trek to Machu Picchu two years ago, I could do it. It was hard and I was the last person in my little group each day. But did I care? No. I didn't have anything to prove. I knew I could do it and I set myself a pace that I could keep. And I did it.

All this thinking I've been doing about rowing has made me miss it. The first summer I spent in DC, I joined a rowing club. I started in an afternoon class, but I was frustrated. I was rowing with novices and there was so much fumbling around that we never just rowed. On the recommendation of my coach, I joined the competitive group for a few weeks. They had 5am practices (ugh). My first day out, the gruff, Russian coach asked who I was and why I was there. Then he stuck me on an erg (rowing machine) and told me to row 2,000 meters (a sprint). I didn't fuss, I just did it. That's the game. He said, "We may not have a seat for you." But when he came back to the dock and saw that I'd done the piece (my time was very so-so), he immediately put me in a boat. And each time I showed up, I was seated, no question. I went back to Chapel Hill at the end of the summer and I haven't rowed since. That was...seven years ago.

I found the club's webpage yesterday and they now have an afternoon club program. It's as though it were made for me--it's for experienced rowers who are not super competitive. I could handle the 5am practices, physically, but mentally, it takes a toll. The only friends you can have are other rowers who keep the same crazy schedule. It's too limiting. But this group? It's a 6:30pm practice four days a week. It's a lot, but it leaves me some room for a social life. Missing the occasional practice is ok, and I would get to row.

I'm going to be a rower again. This is huge.

Grateful for: rowing, again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments will be rejected. You don't have to use your real name, just A name. No URL is required; enter your name and leave the 'url' line blank. Thank you.