Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The last race

You know how I said I'd saved a draft of a "Dear Jamy" post in blogger? I was wrong. I saved something else. With the demise of my hard drive, I fear that post is gone for good. I apologize to the question asker; I will not be answering your question today. I still have the original email and I will try and reconstruct my answer when I have more energy.

Today, I am tired. Two days of rowing/biking will do that. Oy, so tired. Despite the organization rowing brings to my work life, this level of exhaustion is not conducive to much except sleeping.

Last night, after practice, I had a good long chat with the main coach. We swapped rowing and work stories. I like the spirit of this crew. We're serious, hard working, but don't have the tyranny of a collegiate crew. The coach will take my preferences into account, but she still has the last word. For example, I will never have to row in bow again, even if I end up on starboard. Nice. It's good to have a coach who treats you as a peer but who is also a good coach. I suspect it's rare.

For most of my time at UNC, I worked hard to respect the authority of my coach, Dave, and never step on his toes. I was very aware that I was older than all of the other rowers AND my coach. I wasn't much older than him—he was a junior or a senior and maybe 20-22. I was a first year grad student and I was 23. (Seems so young now, but it was VERY old then.)

I did what I was told. I came to practice on time. I didn't ask for special treatment or different work outs until well into my second year when I started having a lot of trouble with my knee. I never talked back to my coach. I never asked for feedback. I didn't talk in the boat. I kept focused and I rowed.

I purposefully took no leadership role in our club. I didn't want to boss around a bunch of undergrads just because I had better organizational skills. And I assumed they would resent me if I did. So, I kept my head down, didn't tell anyone what to do and tried not to mother anyone.

Through most of my 4th semester rowing, the coach was absent. He missed regattas, he wasn't always at practice and even when he showed up, he wasn't focused. No one really knew what was going on with him and even his girlfriend, who was our stroke (bad, I know), couldn't explain his behavior. It had something to do with applying to medical school and (?) not getting in, but whatever it was, we felt abandoned.

The relationship with the coach is so powerful, especially when you like your coach and trust him. Dave's encouragement, even his scolding, kept me motivated, kept me on the team and kept me working hard. He would give me a hard time sometimes, but he took care of me too. Because I worked hard, I always had a seat in our eight, even if I wasn't the strongest rower. I respected Dave. Even though he wasn't perfect, he was my coach, and I needed him.

Towards the end of the year, we started to fall apart without Dave's guidance. At one regatta the girls changed the line-ups (who sat in which seat) for our fours in a way that put me out of a boat (I kept my seat in the eight, no question). That wouldn't have happened if Dave were there. It's not for the crew to decide the line-ups or what to do at practice. It's too many voices, too many opinions, too much self-interest. We needed Dave.

We talked about it and decided that the next time we saw Dave, we'd say something to him. It wasn't clear who would speak or what would be said, but we had to say something.

We were in the boathouse and we'd just put the boat away. We asked Dave if he'd be at the next regatta. He wasn't sure.

Our coxswain said, "We don't know what's going on anymore. We need to know when you are going to be around."

He got angry, defensive, and he wouldn't answer us. He started making fun of the girl who had spoken. And she began to cry. He sighed, exasperated, shook his head and started to walk away.

I spoke up. "Dave. You have to listen to us. This is important."

He sneered at me, "Why are you always trying to be the mother? Who do you think you are?" It was like a slap. All that time, I'd tried so hard not to mother him or anyone else. It's my instinct to mother, so I know I must not have completely succeeded. But he knew this was a sore spot for me. And since we'd put him on the spot, he poked mine.

I took a breath. I wasn't going to be angry. I wasn't going to defend myself. "Look, Dave. Please listen to us. We need you. We're not angry. We can't do this alone. We need to know when you are going to be around. We understand if you can't always be there, but we need you. We're only saying something because we can't do this without you."

He stood there for a minute and didn't say anything. The girls were silent too, except for a few sniffles, .

"Ok," he said. "I'm going to be at the next regatta. I'll be at practice. Don't worry." And he ran off to class or wherever he had to be.

The team mostly felt good about what had happened. Some were worried that we'd angered Dave, offended him. I told them it was ok. That what we had to say was important and he had to hear it.

But Dave wasn't at the next regatta. He wasn't at practices. We struggled.

Before we left for our last regatta of the season, and what would be our last regatta together, Dave gave us a new line-up.

We were carrying the boat to the dock and someone said, "Where is Dave? Can you see him?" We realized that he wasn't there—we hadn't seen him all day. And as we walked down the ramp to the dock, carrying the boat above our heads, someone said, "Old line-up!" And it was repeated down the length of the boat, "Old line-up! Old line-up!"

I said it too. "Old line-up!"

We rowed our best race ever, winning a third place medal. It turned out that we didn't need Dave after all. But losing him broke our hearts, just a little.

Grateful for: my old coach.

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