row2k Features
April 3, 2001
Alessandra Phillips

Daylight savings time is a blessing. Yes, you may have to get up earlier in the mornings, but in the evenings in Philadelphia, at the right time, the river is one's own private kingdom. After six, the high schools and colleges are either home or on their way back to the docks, and if you can weather the last few wakes going upstream, you are assured of a pleasant hour on the water with your fellow scullers. There is an unsurpassed joy in the quiet of the evening, where the setting sun adds soft colours to the landscape and one can appreciate the unassuming beauty of the sport. I do admit that I feel a twinge when I see the eights cruising by. The peculiar pattern of their blinking bow and sternlights remind me of jumbo jets, as does the majesty of their length, and the power and speed of their controlled swing. In my single, I feel more like a swallow, tumbling in their wake (or the wake of the launches) and scrambling to get out of the way of the wash.

It is more nostalgia than regret; regret to me feels like a path I could revisit, a choice I am sorry I made and perhaps that I'd like to amend, whereas nostalgia to me is more a happy memory. There is a quote that comes to mind from Corinthians:

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

When i hopped in an eight this summer as a lark after a seven-years' absence, it was fun but I found it awkward. Which was odd, because in mem'ry's golden haze I remembered the absolute security of hanging one's weight on the oar at the same time as one's pair partner; a comforting centrifuge-like feeling as complementary opposites combined to propel the shell forward. I also remember practices in which the boat shuddered with every stroke and the coach ended the session by flinging his megaphone into the water in despair.

At that time, I was learning. Like a child, I needed to be told how to row and how to train. I am still learning, but now I have a bit of awareness as to how things should work--and more importantly, the sense to be able to admit that I do not know, and am still an eternal beginner. So what is the difference? Now I know what I am looking for from my rowing. Despite my tortured learning curve during last summer's sculling, when I stepped back in the eight, I missed the dexterity of the blades in my fingers. I missed the direct response that a single gives.

Before you barrage me with emails defending the art of the eight, let me explain;

Eights are only truly sustainable in a situation where you can have the commitment of eight people plus a decent coxswain (which I am sure most will agree is a species different than the ordinary person; able to spot the smallest error affecting the boat while doing six other things simultaneously.) Sweep rowing in any boat bigger than a pair requires the logistics of Rommel. It requires a strong coach, who knows his technical strengths and weaknesses, and knows how to keep his rowers happy. It also requires rowers to have confidence in a coach or a common goal.

Such situations can be found at a college, or a training camp, or at those clubs run like training camps. Riverside's one of the few that automatically come to mind, though in these camp-centric days, i think the non-masters club producing a strong eight is a dying breed, and god bless those that can still field crews of single-minded purpose.

Wait. I mean crews of single-minded schedule. I know personally it's difficult enough to juggle home, a career, and rowing. I always feel like i'm shortchanging something, and it's not just the amount of sleep I get at night.

We aren't in college anymore, and not all of us have the luxury of time. I want to have a rewarding career. I want to connect with my fellow travellers, for what is the point of waiting? If you spend your time waiting for an orgastic future, you may just get blue balls. So I have learned the value of juggling, of being flexible, of listening to my own inner voice. While there is value in a regimented schedule, I also need to take advantage of what my life can offer. I no longer need someone to dictate my schedule for me, or dictate what my rowing goals should or should not be. The beauty of club rowing is that it allows the individual to fully develop in ways that a school or college program may not allow. So I'm spending my time now on the water when I can; glorying in the beautiful offbeat symmetry of a few singles pacing side by side.

I was out in my single last night and bumped into a friend who I haven't rowed with before, but we just did a piece or two and some steady state together. It was wonderful. I love being out in a single with friends; I've realised that is what I really love about rowing; the camraderie. When we were in the middle of a piece, I was not thinking "I want to beat this person"; I was thinking "This feels fantastic; people pushing themselves to the best effort they can--how far can I take this? Where are my limits?"

Which is the attitude I usually take when I race, and why i really enjoyed rowing with my friend last night. I used to puzzle over why in school I never responded to coaches who encouraged negative feelings about competition, and why I felt much more motivated by speeches about grace and form. I wondered whether my mindset was due to my interest in Buddhism, which stresses the interconnectedness of things; where there really is no gain to be had from comparing oneself with others. I used to worry that it made me less of a competitor, but I realised that my drive to attain that state when the boat is moving as fast and clean as possible sustains me as much as any pep talk.

A lot of rowers seem only to want something from other rowers, or only feel good about themselves when they beat others. It seems a very selfish way to live. They seem to be chasing ghosts, or running away from something. My friend seems to have the right attitude; she knows where she wants to go and she's secure. It is great to see it.

Figure out what you're missing. It's all right here.

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