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Day One: My First Practice
Or, why did I keep Showing Up?
by readers of row2k
posted on May 15, 1999

Out Cold
by Jaybie Cantey, Virginia Men's Crew

I remember distinctly the first water practice my novice year...thirty or so of us, only two of which had rowed in high school, were shuttled out to the boathouse in buses. Lineups were posted and we prepared to launch, and that was when we realized we were in for a rough learning curve. My boat very nearly destroyed an 8 attempting to get it down from the racks, everyone took the wrong oars down, and one boat walked its stern man off the end of the dock into the water. The actual practice was basically thirty two individual rowers thrashing around to the calls of "4 seat, you're late, 2 seat, you're early, 5 seat, you're skying, 7 seat...what the hell are you doing? AAAAAH!" *thump*. But the end all was after practice. The boat behind us rolled up out of water and split to shoulders in a flawless execution...unfortunately, the coxswain neglected to get out of the way and was knocked out cold by the rapidly descending bow deck. Over the rest of the year, we would get better and faster, but no matter how long I row, I'll always remember that first day on the water...and wonder how I survived.


A Legacy?
by Tom Loughlin

When I mentioned to my father that I was thinking of rowing in high school, he shared the story of his first (and second) practices. I imagine a large number of novices probably showed up, since my father at all of about 115 lbs. escaped the coach's attention as a prospective coxswain and got boated as a rower. He says he doesn't really remember the details from that row (or maybe he's repressed them) but that at the end of practice the coach asked him to come back and try his hand as a cox. The next day he made it about 1000 meters from the boathouse before he beached the boat on a large mud flat known curiously as "Rocky Point". At the end of that practice, the coach encouraged him to try out for the cross-country team. They must have forgotten him thirty years later when I showed up at the same boathouse and they let me give the sport a try, although they had in the interim adopted the sensible policy of sending novices out in "the barge" rather than one of those sleek Pocock wooden eights that the fifth and sixth boaters got to use. I'll never forget the first strokes I took, backing the sixteen-seat barge away from the dock. Ah! The sheer visceral thrill of pushing a battered wooden pencil blade through the water -- with no idea that rowing actually involved going the other direction. . . I was hooked. While I may subsequently have developed a greater understanding of the technical nuances of the sport (although reasonable people could disagree about that), I don't know that I've ever had a higher level of enthusiasm.


Abandon Ship! Coxswain Makes the News, Day One
Submitted anonymously.

A small, timid seventh grader -- small being what landed me in the coxswain's seat -- seeing what exactly this spring sport option was. Crew at my school had a notorious reputation after the winning the national championship for the past two years. Well, ABC (channel 5) had decided to do a piece on our school's crew team. They came out to the first day of practice with a camera and microphones for the varsity coxswains. Since we were in the middle school, we launched before the varsity. Our coach shoved us off the dock and told me to take the boat down the pond by pairs and then back all four. All went smoothly with much help from my stroke. We were about 200 meters from the dock when my stroke suggested a power ten to get the boat moving and impress the varsity. They executed it very well. So inspired by this fine showing, I told them to "way-nough" and have ports back it down.

Needless to say, we had picked up a little momentum from the power ten. When I saw my stroke's oar vertical to the water and water rushing over the gunnels, I became a little worried. I proceeded to yell, "abandon ship" as I launched myself from the boat. While we watched the boat swamp, my coach raced to pick us up in his launch. That night, I turned on the television to watch the broadcast. To my horror, they started the piece: 'Two-time national champion high school crew team from this [the flash to the footage of my cry of abandonment and self-propulsion from the boat] to this [they show the varsity gliding over the water].' Who knew I would make the evening news my first day out on the water?


Waste No Words - Boot Camp

After 5 minutes of jumpies, 15 hills, 200 pushups and a 2 mile run, I vomited.

And this is only High School.


A Game of Horse
by Bob Simmons

This is about how I got recruited:

I had just finished a game of basketball in the Brandeis' gym, and was shooting around. This guy walks up to me and says something like "How long does it take you get up a game?" I looked at him weird, and said something about it not taking long or I was just shooting around or something. He tells me he's the crew coach, and wants me to come down to try it on the ergs. I tell him that I've tried them before and I'm not really interested. He won't give up, and I'm trying to think of a way to get rid of him. He suggests we shoot for it. If he beats me in horse I have to try it, and if I win he leaves me alone. Lucky for both of us, I'm a horrible shooter, and he wins. So I try it, find it intriguing enough to go to the boathouse, and after a couple of weeks of not being sure of whether I'd stick with it, I become completely devoted to the sport. Thank you, Bill.


Now She's a Coach...
by Chris Pitzner

This story is not so much of the first practice, as the first "organizational" meeting that landed me in a sport I never dreamed of...

A good friend, tall and athletic, had seen pictures of the Mendota Rowing Club juniors in our high school year book. She loved it, and wanted to try it, but was nervous about going to the first meeting. So she dragged me along for moral support. Always competitive, but rarely athletic, I decided to do her a favor. We wandered into the University of Wisconsin boathouse on a dark fall day, and perched in a corner of the tank room, surrounded by "experienced" juniors, and a bit intimidated.

We listed to the talk given by the coach -- an ex UW coxswain. I don't remember a word of it -- I was only half listening, since I was really there for Jen. We each got a turn in the tanks, and at 5 feet tall with very limited flexibility, I stunk and couldn't follow -- it was a good thing I was in the back.

As we gathered up for her closing remarks, Jen was really excited, as we stood togeather in the middle of the group. As an afterthought, prompted by the boys' team captain, the coach made one final remark, which ended up changing my life: "Oh...if you know anyone short, loud and bossy, they should be a coxswain."

Jen's elbow promptly landed in my ribs, as she gave me a grin. As the group broke up, she dragged me up to the coach to point out that I fit all three characteristics quite well.

That evening my mom agreed to let me join the team, in spite of the costs, "knowing" that I wouldn't last long, since my ride was coming to pick me up at 4:30 the next morning. I rowed probably 3 times in boats older than I was, and was promptly placed into the big old Shoenbroad coxswains seat.

That was 10 years of coxing, and now coaching, ago. Not bad recruiting for an off the cuff remark by a first time coach.

Chris Pitzner
LPBC Men's Coach
Chicago, IL


Out Cold # 2
by Ed Hewitt, former ACHS oarsman

On my high school freshman team's first day on the water, I went skiing.

It was early February, I had only joined the team a couple months earlier, and this ski trip had been paid for long before I joined. I figured one day wouldn't matter, and went on the ski trip; I don't remember if I even told my coach; I'm not sure we even had a freshman coach during winter training.

I headed to Camelback with a bunch of friends from school. It was my first time skiing, and by the third time down the mountain, I made my way down a black diamond slope. Not that I was any good, but I was charging it hard enough.

I met a young, off-duty ski instructor, probably a senior in high school, and she led me down the mountain. Half-way down our second run, I wiped out, and landed on my thumb. The cold weather kept the inflammation down, and although it hurt like hell, I figured it was no big deal, and skied for the rest of the day. That night I could barely sleep, and the next morning my thumb was huge and hot, and obviously broken.

I kept going to practice, doing whatever winter training I could do, running the stadiums and boardwalk runs, doing enough leg presses to stunt your growth.

Six weeks later the cast came off, and I showed up for my first row. The first Manny Flick was only 10 days away, but since I had kept showing up despite the cast, the coach, Mr. Ashman, gave me a shot in the boat. We carried "The Johnson," a 15-year-old water- and resin-logged wooden Pocock, the quarter-mile from the garage/boathouse to the water, waded into the water, and I climbed in the three-seat.

The coxswain asked for a countdown, and when the count reached the stroke seat, commanded us to "sit at the catch." At the time, it was standard practice to shove the boat away from the shore, sit ready at the catch, and blast out 10 strokes at full power. "Ready all, row!"

I had never taken a stroke in my life, never sat on an erg, never feathered an oar, only seen it from the dock before I would go running. Within two strokes I was at full pressure at 30 strokes per minute. If figured I was headed back to the dock, as I clearly wasn't ready, but we just settled to a paddle and kept rowing.

This wasn't the best crew in the boathouse. As terrible as I was, I almost fit in, and just as we were reaching the cove near my house in Ventnor, we were finishing the stroke and the four man, Craig Lewkowitz, seemed to stop rowing. Before I was able to come up for the next stroke, his oar zipped by me and was alongside the boat. He had caught a full crab, taken the oar in the jaw, and he was in my lap, out cold. The shot knocked him out for about 2 seconds, his head was across my knees, his eyes closed. Then he jumped up, started yapping and scrambling for his oar, and the coach told the rest of us to stop rowing, and told me to reach out and give him his oar.

I did, the coxswain again called us to sit at the catch, yelled "Ready all, row!" and we finished the practice.

I was hooked.


Maybe it is "In the Genes," After All
by Wendy O'Brien

Well it was 1984 and I had just watched my brother win Canadian Schoolboy for Ridley College in the 8+. It looked so cool I decided that summer I, now 14, would like to row. So I went down to the St. Catherines rowing club and signed up for summer rowing. A huge group of women met and there were 2 coaches present, the novice coach and the experienced. We were then asked to divide up to our respective groups. I of course went over to the experienced group, my brother of course just won schoolboy. We had to write down our names and age and experience. Hmmm.

Wendy O'Brien, 14, None.

The coach yelled out my name minutes later and told me I was in the wrong group and to head over to the novice area. No I replied, I was in the right group and although I hadn't gone out in a boat yet I had it in my genes (yes again with the brother) and I was the tallest one there. Again he explained I needed to change groups. After a few minutes more "discussing" the issue, I begrudgingly let him have his way.

Moments later I was sitting in an 8+ tied to the dock fighting back the tears because I couldn't for the life of me figure out this thing called feathering let alone doing it while following another person. When my Mom picked me up later I cried and said I'd never do it again, I hated it, and my brother would be so humiliated.

That night before bed he came into my room and told me how hard he found rowing at first and that even he thought about quitting. He pursuaded me to stick with it, work hard and challenge myself.

That year I won my first Canadian schoolboy gold.


Fished Out
by Joe Wilhelm

While not my first practice, it was in my first week of rowing when I discovered that these boats really do flip. Martindale Pond in the 70's was never a good place for a early morning swim but early April was a really inopportune time to end up hanging over a four with no coach in sight.

I didn't quite make the Novice 135 lb eight my first year. In fact I as in bow of the "B" four that day. OUr coach was with the eight and had let us try it on our own. We observed some of the more experienced crews balance as tehy weighed enough, (we actually called "let er run".) We tried it and sure enough we were gliding gracefully over the still waters. The coxswain called "Blades down! Lean to port!" Sure enough we were treading water in the still water. We were fished out by a passing coach and rushed into the showers much to the delight of our teammates.

Well that was my introduction to our fair sport. Amazing I lasted more than a week.

Joe went on to be a captain at Penn, row for the Canadian National Team, and coaches at Northeastern. After sending his story, he later wrote me "I was terrible! And am not afraid to admit it. I think how bad I was gives me a little perspective when working with novices."


This Time, the Coach is in the Water
by Sally Elizabeth BeVille

I began rowing my junior year of high school. The first time we went on the water for a practice, we were totally unprepared. None of the eight of us had ever been in a shell before, and for most of us, it was the first time we had ever seen a shell. So we got into the boat, and with our coach's help somehow managed to shove off of the dock.

Our coxswain too had never been in a boat before this day, and therefore had no idea how to work the toggles. I was stroking the boat, and the coxswain and I decided boats should steer like horses steer. Put you right hand forward if you want the horse (or boat) to turn to the left. So she had the stern pair rowing, and with our lack of skills and her turning the toggles the opposite way they were supposed to go, we were soon headed straight for shore. Our coach got the launch started and got over to our boat just in time to cut the motor and JUMP INTO THE RIVER to push us back out away from shore and instruct our coxswain which way the toggles were supposed to work.

So off we rowed, watching our coach standing chest deep in the river chasing after the launch, which was fast floating downstream. I am still not sure how we managed to survive the rest of that first day on the water.


First Practice, Not Just for the Writer, but for the Entire Program
by Paul Glader, VP of USD Crew, the crew team at the University of South Dakota.

We had our first practice three weeks ago at Creighton University in Omaha. It was rather humorous as we were all wearing thermal clothing and gloves on a very cold morning on Cutler Lake. The water was very choppy and all eight of us in the boat were rookies. Let's just say our coxswain, Whitney, was using her voice a lot. A few times the boat tipped to one side so much, I couldn't use the oar. Although there were a few tribulations, we had a few minutes where our beginners techniques worked and we felt what it was like to move a 60-foot boat. I'm looking forward to spring.



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