Single Sculling as Mirror
by Cindy Bishop
posted on July 15, 2000
Rowing may be described as a sensual sport... by that I mean you are utilizing every sense you have to power your shell through the water. I particularly love the athleticism of the drive: those brief moments as my entire body gathers and suspends itself against the oars, and prepares as gracefully as possible to do it again. I love how I can hear myself breathing, my heart pounding, and feel sweat trickling as my muscles fire and then relax. I love when the water is glassy and as I glide I can hear when my oars plunk in together… or when they don't. Sometimes I close my eyes so I can feel the center of my body and whether it's off balance or not, whether I'm rushing the slide. I love that whenever I think "I've got it!!" I realize that there's still more to learn. Sometimes I can hear the depth of my oars in the water and can gauge how relaxed I am. Granted, that's a little hard to do if the river's crowded, but on mornings like this morning, I am a sole participant in the water dance.
People often express how much they love rowing, or hate it, for that matter. As a convert from ball games such as soccer, for a while I remained unconvinced. I felt inconsequential in those big eights, and to some extent, deaf. How on earth could I tell what I was doing with the dynamics of eight other women in that tub? Almost indifferent to sweep rowing, I chanced getting into that itsy bitsy boat of a single scull. For some, sculling is a lonely pursuit. To others, it is blessed freedom. For me, not only is it freeing, but it has personifies the personal battle within myself to conquer all demons, whether it's the wake left by the ever-so-friendly power-boater, or my own internal misgivings and anxieties. It is the single scull that taught me how to battle my fears, because while you may think you are just rowing a boat down the river, you are set afloat in your life as well, and it is up to you to choose how you perform.
For some reason, I never managed to learn true self-reliance or self-assurance before I started to scull in my late twenties. I don't know if it's because I adopted my parents insecurities, that I was inclined to be overly competitive, that growing up female made me think for some reason felt I needed others approval, or just because I simply never understood that how you live life is a choice that only you can or should make. At any rate, I had never placed myself in a position where I could clearly see that how I allowed myself to feel and react to situations both within and out of my control was the primary causal agent towards a good experience or a bad one. In a single, it is most obvious that there's no one to blame but yourself for a bad row. Whether the water is glass and you dance as you glide, or whether all the novices in New England have come to the Charles to make your row potentially fatal, it is most assuredly up to only you as to how you make that boat go, and whether you enjoy the ride. No one is going to get in that boat and pull it along for you (that's what bow seat in a double is for), and no matter someone remarks how well you are rowing, you have to get yourself up and down the river and you can either enjoy it or mutter obscenities throughout your practice.
Honestly, though, what does it matter if you have a bad row? If you do in fact mutter or shout at those that are making your row miserable? Well, I guess, other than offending boat traffic, perhaps it doesn't really matter to anyone else. But it certainly affects you. Sure, everyone has a bad day or two, but we all form habits that are hard to break. Both in rowing, and in life, the more you let yourself lose focus and get angry at situations you can't control, the more likely you are to do it in the future. Ok, yes, you do want to inform a clueless coxswain that he or she is entirely on the wrong side of the river and is causing a traffic jam worthy of rush hour on highway 128, but how long are you going to let that affect you? And why?
I'll stop my preaching now, but really, how wonderful is an opportunity to experience a microcosm of life out on the river and as you progress down the river, you can see from where you've come and what you can do to improve those puddles?