Monday, July 30, 2012

An Ode to Rowing

I have to admit, I’m a little bit distracted as I write this post. Ever since the Olympics started on Friday, I’ve been glued to the television, partially in an effort to boost NBC’s 18-35 demographic so they’ll stop cancelling all of my favorite shows. While I do love to watch swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball, all the sports reserved for primetime; I’m carefully setting my grandparents' VCR (Yes, they do still exist) each morning to record the rowing events.

Because for the past seven years, I’ve rowed six days a week, for three hours a day, for nine months out of the year. That’s seven seasons of fall 5K racing, seven grueling winters spent indoors on the ergometer, and six spring sprint seasons. Why six? Last semester, I studied abroad in London for my spring semester, taking my first break from rowing in 13 racing seasons.

When I decided to go abroad in the spring, way back in my sophomore year, I was more than ready for a respite. I was frustrated with members of my team at Bryn Mawr, sick of the 5am wake ups and physically exhausted. But as it got closer and closer, I started to regret my decision. We had our best fall season yet, rowing nine non-stop miles every morning and beating big DI schools with our little DIII team of 20.

Of course, all of those feelings of regret went away once I landed in London, and I truly had the best semester of my life, even without spending my days on the water. Rowing is actually appreciated in England, where the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities is a social event, and a five-time Olympic rower is chosen as the final torch bearer for the 2012 Opening Ceremonies. So while I wasn’t rowing myself, I was able to appreciate the sport by taking a step back.

Now that I’m back in the States, I can actually do the same. While this chance only comes every four years, I will happily rewind the VHS’ my grandpa says he can only find at flea markets to watch Team USA dominate on the Eton Dorney race course on national TV. This eight-month break is the longest I’ve had from rowing, but it allows me to mentally prepare myself for year eight.  

Rowing is a demanding sport, possibly the toughest of them all. I was chastised by classmates in high school who called it a cult, saying that what we did was nothing compared to lacrosse or soccer or hockey. I beg to differ. My favorite quote about rowing comes from a New Yorker article titled, “Feel No Pain” by John Seabrook in 1996. He writes,

Marathon runners talk about hitting “the wall” at the twenty-third mile of the race. What rowers confront isn’t a wall; it’s a hole—an abyss of pain, which opens up in the second minute of the race…. As you pass the five-hundred-metre mark, with three-quarters of the race still to row, you realize with dread that you are not going to make it to the finish, but at the same time the idea of letting your teammates down by not rowing your hardest is unthinkable. Therefore, you are going to die.

Despite the pain and sacrifice, something about the sport draws you in. I’m anything but an ideal rower, standing at just 5-foot-3, but rowing has sucked me in for the last seven years. Now, as an incoming senior and co-captain for the year, I’ve chosen to ignore the thoughts of quitting that creep in when I consider the job market or the need for more internships on my resume. Is this the best choice for my future? Who knows, but I know I’ll do everything I can to enjoy my last year of rowing to the fullest. 

(Racing in my freshman year of high school, I'm the stroke seat, or the first rower from the top)
(Spectating at this year's extremely controversial Boat Race. Read about why here:

By Julie Mazziotta, Real Simple, Bryn Mawr College


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