Thursday, December 31, 2015



Rowing Ruminations Part 10

(There are no spoilers in this post. In fact, there is no rowing in this post.)

Like I’ve mentioned, the premise of the league we rowed in was that all the athletes were studying to get the same diploma. (I was not shooting for a diploma in rowing, although my mother would have protested that it certainly looked like I was trying to earn a bachelor's in rowing at the time.) We didn’t have athletic scholarships or athletic admissions or athletic anything. Even if you won in the Japan High School National Championships in baseball/ basketball/ volleyball/ speed skating/ rowing/ distance running/ gymnastics/ kyudo, if your high school transcript and admission exam scores weren’t good enough, that would be the end of the discussion. Oh, and our school didn’t have legacy admissions.

We got new rowers by recruiting them. Aggressively. Recruiting began even before the day of registration. Most of us came from prep schools (not prep schools in the American or British sense, but as in academically oriented schools that found purpose in sending students to big name universities and other academically competitive programs), which meant that people from your high school would probably be in the incoming class. One school in particular generated a large number of boat club members, and a disproportionate number of those were from the high school choir. I might be remotely able to understand if they were coxswains (projecting is the same in the water and the concert hall, especially in the pre-cox box era) but they were all rowers, and the most well built ones on the roster at that.

The upperclassmen frequently complained that the department was admitting “too many” girls. This was annoying, but also understandable. Four years ahead of our class, there were 10 women in a class of 100. In my year, the number was closer to 35. If you wanted to field men’s boats, you needed men, and you had to beat out clubs like rugby and baseball and soccer to get them.

Once we had their names, we’d build a plan. Kind of like how the NCAA forbids coaches from calling high school students before a set date, we were forbidden contact with new students (unless they came from your own school), and even then, we could only call from ten in the morning to nine in the evening. Once you had contact with them, you’d take them out to lunch, or up to the lake where we practiced, or to an amusement park, or wherever. When it was time for them to move in, we’d show up at the new apartment with brooms and mops and dusting cloths, and most importantly, cars (the kids from Tokyo and their families had no real clue how crappy public transportation was in this part of the country), and help them and their families shop for kitchen utensils and household items.

The plan was to show them and their parents how nice we could be when we were trying, and also to isolate them from other clubs. This was the era before everyone had cell phones. Beepers were only for doctors and firefighters. Once we had them in our car and away from their home phones, they were ours. We were intentionally vague about how long and how often we practiced. We played like psychopaths manipulating our targets into abusive relationships.

I heard awful stories about 18 year-olds being taken to places where they shouldn’t be, and there was that one guy who was served enough alcohol to float the Stampfli Express, got too drunk to see straight, and forced into saying that they’d join crew while being secretly recorded (and having it played back to them when they were sober). He has become a successful professional, is married with kids, and participates in alumni rows on a regular basis, so all’s well that ends well, I guess.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Triple rolled


Rowing Ruminations Part 9

(No book spoilers, details obscured and names withheld to protect the innocent, but if you PM me I'd be willing to elaborate especially if I know you for real.)

That silver medal (and the gold team points medal we helped win) was the highlight of my rowing career results-wise. I didn’t win any medals after that. Kind of sucks peaking at age 18, but fortunately it’s only rowing.

The team competed in one race in fall (I didn’t compete in that race because they didn’t allow women coxswains in men’s events), and went out on the water a few Saturdays with mixed lineups. When the ice appeared and the lake geared up for ice skating and ice fishing season, we went into winter mode. This meant ergs and weight training.

Our campus had a tiny fixed weight room. You could bench press and leg press, but you couldn’t do bench rows or power cleans. The main campus weight room was almost always occupied by the athletic clubs based in the main campus, so we went to the community gym. We trained in teams of two or three, and while no one said anything, I could tell no one wanted to be teamed with me. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me or that I smelled bad (if I did, they never said anything), it was cumbersome taking off all those weights when it was my turn, and putting them back on when I finished. Plus, I was essentially useless for spotting. I went because I was supposed to, but I wasn’t sure I saw the point.

My coxing for ergs made more sense. I could hear how and what the senior coxswains were saying to the rowers when they were coxing, and try to copy their words and their tone. Every so often, the (new) captain would call for the coxswains to row, but every single one of the other coxswains were ex-rowers and several inches taller than me and male, so it was pretty darned near impossible to keep up. I hoped I earned effort points, at least.

There was another thing we did in winter. None of the athletic clubs on our campus were real teams in the American collegiate sense, with a budget from the university. We functioned on alumni donations and our own club dues, and some money from the Students’ Association. Some clubs had a long history and lots of alumni who were willing to help. Others didn’t really need that much money to function. Crew belonged to neither category. As a club, we were only about 15 or so years old, which meant only 15 years worth of alumni that would provide financial support. New boats cost about as much as new cars. Oars and ergs were imports. We had to hire trailer trucks to get our boats to race venues. So, we worked.

We did stuff like be parking lot attendants and exam monitors, and gave our earnings to the club treasurer. The parking lot attendant job was the worst. We were all issued uniforms, and the smallest one was about three sizes too big on me. The other guys thought my triple-rolled sleeves and cuffs were hysterical. The first year or so we had a few of these gigs per season, but as the Japanese economy worsened, we got competition from temp agencies that sent people who wanted money to buy rice and pay rent, as opposed to university students who wanted to buy Concept hatchet blades and pay the trailer truck driver, and that was the end of that.



I went running on the morning of Solstice to show how disciplined I was. Then I didn’t run for a whole week. I felt so heavy this morning (I’m not actually heavier. I checked, besides, how much heavier can a person get in a single week??). Serves me right.

(TMI alert!)

I got home and took a bath. While I was soaking and stretching in the tub, I felt a lump inside my abdomen, about the size of my hand. I froze. What was it? It could be colon cancer. Or, it could be pancreatic cancer. None of my grandparents died of cancer, and none of my aunts or uncles have got it (yet, fingers crossed, knock wood). I could be the first…

Then I went to the toilet.

The lump is now gone.

(end TMI alert)

So it’s the morning of Day 2 of my six-day winter holiday, and so far I’ve done one run (out of a proposed 3).

My winter reading list needs revamping because I can’t seem to find the e-book I wanted to read, and the books I chose for alternates were out of stock or out of print so I had to order them from obscure online companies from overseas (but they had good reviews so I’m not worried). They’ll probably arrive sometime in mid-January. The only ones I’ve got are these.


They are so cute! Really, it makes me want to go be 15 again and sit the exam for Urawa First Girls’ High School and tell the boat club coach that I want to row. Except, I’m in the wrong school district (wrong part of the country, in fact) and might not have the test scores. Oh, and the already being in my mid-40s thing might kind of get in the way too.

(But the artist needs work on drawing cute girls with good leg drive and hot oar bend.)

I haven’t sewn anything yet. Hope to get to that tonight!

Today, I want to clean the kitchen fan. We plan on going to the in-laws tonight because my b-i-l and nephew (but not s-i-l or niece) are coming, so that means no cooking (yay!) but also sitting in an overheated cramped room for a few hours. Of course, that beats what a lot of my friends have to go through in terms of air travel and family dysfunction (I have that one to look forward to on the 3rd. Trying not to think too much about it for the sake of my sanity).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Final (race)


Rowing Ruminations, Part 8

The races were held over two days. There were about a dozen schools competing in the fours events (coxed fours, knuckle fours, and novice knuckle fours), and slightly fewer in the single sculls. I don’t remember making any serious mistakes the first two races, and we made it through the heat and semifinals easily. One thing I remember about the novice boat was that their heat was a really close (like bow ball width close) race, and they barely made second place (qualifying them for the semifinal on their first shot). I heard the cox telling the bow seat to go thank the third place boat for a good race and to tell them to win the repechage so that they could race again in the final. In his malnourished, exhausted state, the man remembered to be a good sport. His life after rowing hasn’t exactly been flat water, but he’s handled everything with grace. The words he had for his rivals at age nineteen predicted this, but of course hindsight is always 20/20 and I didn’t understand that back then. I just thought he was a really moody person with a strange sense of humor that I didn’t really get. In retrospect, maybe he was just hypoglycemic.

The final (we didn’t do petit finals, only grand finals) was my third screw-up of the season, and I am really lucky that everyone was so understanding and sportsmanlike. I’m not quite sure what happened (other than I sucked at steering), but our oars collided with the other boat’s about ten strokes into the start. The refs started to make the announcement that our boat was disqualified, but the other boat shouted and hollered that it was them (it was probably both of us). The refs had a discussion and we re-started the race.

I think I did everything OK on the second start. Not spectacularly, but good enough. I must have sounded screechier than usual during the race, because my throat was sore when we were done, and that hardly ever happened, before or since.

They cried when they realized we’d finished second. They were older than me, bigger than me, and stronger than me, and they were crying. They didn’t even try to hide it. I didn’t know what to say or do for men who shed tears over a fight fought hard but lost, and it didn’t seem right to hug them (I could only reach stroke anyway) so I just made the call to spin the boat. I didn’t cry, not then. I guess it didn’t mean that much to me yet, but I understood it did to them, and I let them cry as we rowed back to the dock.

I remember that night some of us lay in the middle of the road and looked up at the stars. The asphalt was warm on my back from the daytime heat and the stars looked close enough to touch. I remember that night when was 18 and I saw a shooting star and I had a medal in sports, both for the first time in my life. That was when everything that happened in the past few months caught up with me, and the stars started looking wavy and I realized there were tears in my eyes.

I guess I’ve always been slow like that. Not a good trait for a coxswain.

Whole roast chicken

Tori no maruyaki

We had our Christmas dinner on the 23rd because it was a holiday (I went to work on the 24th and 25th, like most of the general population). We ordered a roast chicken from KFC. It was very good. I made a mushroom stuffing to serve on the side, and we also got a big cake from the local pastry shop and shrimp cocktail from Costco. Add a salad and some steamed vegetables, and you’ve got a low-stress, delicious Christmas spread!

I still have to work on Monday. I also signed on for a half-day on Tuesday. I’m wondering how well I’m going to do with my running/ reading/ sewing over the holidays. My New Year Holiday reading plans were momentarily hampered by the two YA books I wanted to read being backordered. Then I got an e-mail this morning from Amazon saying that the books will probably arrive on the 28th. So, yay! Somehow I lost the link to the other book I wanted to read, but I’m sure I’ll find something else to read.

The minivan now has winter tires. This means that it won’t snow this winter. After that crazy snowstorm 2 years ago, I’m sure everyone living in this part of the country is singing my praises far and wide. If not, they should be…

I’m trying to figure out what I want to cook, if at all, for New Year’s Day. The Pumpkin Daddy already pre-ordered stuff from 7-eleven. He’s done the same thing for about the past three years, and it’s been pretty good every year.

As for the computer…I upgraded my MacBook Air to the new OS and it’s running reasonably well, except the autocorrect on MS word is a little wonky at times. For example, it won’t let me type the word “dinner” without a fight (it keeps making me type “diner.”) I’m pretty sure it’s the new OS because it never happened until now. I was going to install a new battery, and bought one on Amazon, but I dropped the external HD while I was trying to back up my files and destroyed it, so that process has been on hold until I got a new HD.

Hope everyone is having a happy and safe holiday so far!