Rowing Ruminations, Part 17
My last year in crew, I became the first woman in my school to cox the first varsity four.
We all wish it hadn’t happened.
Our boat was older than the boats the other schools used. The lineup (including me) was OK, but not spectacular. The big race was held on a river. (I think that sealed the deal.)
One thing we had was a good start. We knew we weren’t the fastest boat, so we decided early on we’d work hard on our starts. “Fly and (hope you don’t) die” is rowing strategy 101: if you start ahead, you stand a chance of staying ahead. Our start sequence was 10 strokes longer than most other boats’. I still remember those starts, and I still think they were good. The top edge of the seat would dig into my back on each stroke, and they’d give me bruises. I was proud of those bruises. I would have shown them to my friends the way I’d shown them my blisters and biceps, and they would have been supportive of them, except they were a shade too far south to be shown in polite company, and during the spring season I hardly ever saw my friends outside classes. I wasn’t about to pull down my pants in the lecture hall. (Even I have standards.)
Two decades later, I have found nothing like sitting in that boat on a day when the guys had found some kind of, I don’t know, swing, and we nailed our starts. That sensation of human power transformed into acceleration is something only a coxswain on a boat starting well can feel (the rowers feel it too, but they’re going backwards, so it’s not quite the same. Plus, their seats don't have backs). The closest thing might be taking off in an airplane, but it’s still very different.
We had good starts. The rest of our race, not so much. Not awful, just not spectacular. Which wasn’t good enough to do well that season.
(Flat Water Tuesday spoiler alert)
(Although, is there such a thing? If you know what your food is going to taste like before you eat it, do you enjoy it any less?)
(begin spoiler laden rumination)
(You have been warned)
I almost could not read the part about the first race of the season. The crew had hit a slump, mostly due Rob’s technique (or rather, lack thereof). There was also some crappy race strategy by Connor (he rowed too fast at the start) and Ruth (it’s her job to call Connor on rowing too fast, as many times as it takes, until he rows at the rate SHE thinks he should). While they are losing, Ruth makes a lot of really desperate calls about how the other boat is slowing down (they’re not) and their boat still has a chance.
That was me, my last season.
“xxxx is two lengths ahead! (More like four.) We’re still in this! (Well, we would be if there were 500 meters to go instead of 100.)”
Reading that section made me short of breath. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my throat.
(Does this count as PTSD?)
(Of course, I would never lose my shirt like Ruth did because we never bet shirts.)
If you lose a race, it’s the coxswain’s fault, I guess. Even if it weren’t the case, if more people believe that is the truth than don’t, it will be treated as the truth. (That’s probably how wars are begun, but that’s a big tangent that’s material for a political blog and not a blog showcasing Japanese phrases.)
That summer left me with a sense of defeat, the bruises on my back, and very little time to study for my post-summer holiday exams. The first woman to cox the first varsity boat for our school couldn’t get us past the semifinal. Only a few years later, my position as the only woman to cox the first varsity boat for our school would also become secure, when the club failed to recruit new members to replace the graduating class and folded.
Fortunately, I passed all my post-summer holiday exams, and I got my diploma on schedule, and I got the job I wanted when I was thirteen, and I still have it. So, all’s well that ends well, I guess.