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.