row2k Features
The Oarsman Interview: Carie Graves
December 22, 2021
Ed Hewitt, row2k.com

Carie (center in all black) at one of a bunch of Hall of Fame inductions

Following is the text of an interview with Carie Graves that was published in The Oarsman (then the house magazine of the USRA) in mid-1979, reproduced with permission here. A scan of the article was circulating last week, with Curtis Jordan noting that when he speaks to people about being intense or committed fully to a goal, he shared this with them to read.

Carie's intensity, not to mention choice of metaphors, might take some folks aback, while for others of us it might sound familiar (if uncomfortably so), and we can say thanks again to Carie for having the guts to say it. The flashes of imagination, however intense, as well as Carie's honesty, are also a good indicator of why so many people found Carie so multi-faceted and great to talk to and hang with, as several folks noted in the tribute to Carie from Monday.

We have done our best to reproduce the interview as it appeared in print; please forgive any typos (or let us know about them and we will fix), it was a tricky transcription.

THE OARSMAN INTERVIEW: CARIE GRAVES

Carie Graves rowed in the Wisconsin varsity for the '74-'76 years, has a FISA silver and a Montreal bronze in the eights, and confesses that with the short Wisconsin racing season, she's rowed more international races than national and collegiate races combined. 1977-'78 was her first year as head coach at Radcliffe College where she intends to continue while training; at 6'1" and 170 pounds, the 25-year-old leader in U.S. women's rowing is a strong candidate for the '79 and '80 national teams. This article is in two parts, one spoken, the other written as a post script and inserted (in italics) where appropriate.

AT WISCONSIN

The hardest I remember it ever being was my first year. I remember the spring, prior to the Nationals, working out twice a day. Maybe it was because I wasn't in good shape because I'd only been rowing for a year, and I think Jay {Mimier, Wisconsin coach] lightened up a little in the next two years. I remember honestly thinking, wishing, that maybe a car would nick my knee a little bit and I wouldn't have to work out, because I wanted to miss a workout so badly - but I didn't.

I was doing the exact same workout the squad was, and no more, until I started running at night in the spring, usually in the indoor track, doing sprints. I became a pretty fast runner, actually. I really did. I did one mile in 5:10. I couldn't go even close to that now. That was all based on the winter training when Jay would send us off on these God-awful seven-, eight-, nine-mile runs, three times a week. Everybody did it, and everybody hated it. It was cold, ickky slushy snowy, slippery. Can you imagine running over piles of snow? It was great! Well, looking back on it, it was great. Sometimes when I was sitting on the starting line, or the night before when I was spending a lot of time thinking about the race, especially right before I went to sleep, I'd just think about all those miles and how the frustration made me feel just "No way. ," [were we going to lose]. Everybody in the boat who worked so incredibly hard just weren't going to be beaten. And we usually weren't. But we lost sometimes. But it gave me a better feeling about going into the race, more confidence.

COACHING

The best coaches I've seen, which have only been Jay and Harry [Parker], are the ones that don't try to influence people too much. They let the course of the sport evolve in people Instead of telling them how to think, how to act. And even [while coaching) they don't overcoach. They just set a basic straightforward honest framework and I guess by the nature of the sport and its teamwork the team evolves naturally into being good. The extra special coaches I've seen are good because they allow that to happen; they don't stop it and they don't affect it in any way, or less than other coaches do.

I've learned a lot {about coaching], especially this last year. I've learned from the athletes, the oarswomen, and over the last year I've become a lot more relaxed and less concerned about trying to remember how Jay or Harry acted, and more concerned with the way I act and react. A lot of that involves confidence on my part. It also Involved realizing that I'm not a man, and I can't coach like a man or relate the same way off the water. I feel I can punch them in the ribs without feeling I shouldn't do that because I'm a man.

I don't believe in getting close to my oarswomen. I don't think that would be fair because there are some oarswomen I like better than others, so I try to treat everyone the same, which is not always possible, but I try. And I think there's more camaraderie and closeness [than if I were a male coach); maybe I can understand a little more of what they're going through because I'd never rowed before and it took a lot of other things from me. It took a little while for me to develop an intensity. But in another way it's very frustrating for me because by God, I'm a woman, and I did it, and for me it was relatively easy, so why can't they do it? I've spoken to a couple of them who said I make them work harder because they know I can do it so they feel they should be able to do it. At least try as hard.

I don't tell them to go out and kill the other boat. If they are really having problems [getting motivated], I might use an example of a time I was on the line and what I thought; I indicate that it's all right to feel terribly aggressive in (the right) place. I remember telling my team once that you can be competitive and aggressive and just downright nasty on the water when you're rowing, but that doesn't mean you have to walk down the street and knock people into the gutter or bump people out of the way when you're standing in line to eat dinner. It means you can be a very civilized, very nice, very lovely woman; but think about it, about reaching something inside of you. I use anything I can when I'm tired, to just go.

INTENSITY

I remember very well Jabbo [Randy Jablonic, Wisconsin men's coach] calling me into the office and telling me about making the team in '75, the first time I found out that there was going to be a camp. I asked him, "Jeeze, Jabbo, do you think I should do more work, should I work out twice a day?" like a naive freshman. He said, "No, you don't have to do anything else, but every stroke you take in the tank, every stroke you take on the water, every time you go out on a run, whether Jay sends you on a four-mile run or to the end of the world" - which is a nine-mile run - "every time you take a step, run it as hard as you can. You only have to work out once a day, but intensity, intensity is the key. You don't have to do anything else.'

I could never train that way again. Ever. I think I'm rowing a lot better, which I think makes up for the other. I know I could never be as intense as I was in 1976 because that's all I was doing, all I thought about. I'd take a two-and-a-half hour nap every afternoon - I'd just lie in bed before and after I woke up, and that's all I thought about, that afternoon's workout. I'd think about it, think about it, how hard I was going to go after it. Now, I don't have the time. I have to support myself. [But if I had the time,] I would not do it again. I wouldn't want to do it again.

I have decided to attempt to coach and train next year instead of working elsewhere just enough to support myself and train full time. I said earlier that I could never train again as I did In the fall and spring of '76. Well, I can't. I almost feel as If I can no longer focus all my energy totally on something which is incredibly selfish. I sometimes feel that training like that was a privilege, of being young, which I was fortunate enough to have experienced once. I don't feel that being so one tracked Is a waste of time, it's not, but I want something left after '8O. Perhaps, too, I'm not as competitive or intense as I was in 75 and 76 but I think it Is more a function of getting older than anything else.

MOTIVATIONS

Well, I'm not the kind of person who could go out and buy a scull when I'm 35 and go out to paddle around every day, because that's not what I enjoy about rowing: looking at the scenery, feeling the water. What I really enjoy and what I really love about rowing Is just cranking on it. I just love it, just being able to totally absorb myself in something physically and mentally, and just go for it. It's more the blood and guts of rowing than anything esoteric or aesthetic. I think about it ... in the tanks it becomes even purer in a way because I don't have to deal with set-up, because it's very pure there. Especially after a weight workout, when my arms are very tired, it became something I really had to think about hard or else I just couldn't have gotten through the workout at max force. I try to explore my subconscious, [using] whatever means I have to get through.

One time when we were doing three-minute pieces I started thinking about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. It was a very vivid picture with total disassociation of being. I have no idea why it happened, just being out there in the marshy grassland and just fighting, shooting, killing. That's the word I think of, "to kill." I don't feel angry, but I do feel anger toward something. When I go into a big race, I don't know why it's that particular word, but it's "Kill." I'm not killing anybody, I'm killing myself in a way, but it's just when you're peaking, when the blood is pounding and you're getting ready: Kill, kill, kill! That's what it is! It's something that surprises the hell out of me, but I use it, I try to use it. It's frightening.

Maybe the epiphany I had in Hanover in '76 was an explosion of pure aggression; actually It was an explosion of everything I ever was and ever would be which concerns much more than pure aggression. The aggression was just a catalyst to get myself there. None of this happens consciously; it just happens and I think about it later.

I would have to say that my aggression is extremely self-righteous. Feeling self-righteous about all the aggression I have is probably the only way I could deal with It. When I really start getting hot I feel able to wipe out entire armies and they are always the bad guys. The Incident concerning the Khmer Rouge was of the same type. When I was in the rice paddies In the Vietnam countryside crouching in the mud and tall snake grass and stalking the Khmer Rouge I was the good guy wearing the white hat. I have no idea where that flash came from; I Just knew then that the harder I rowed through that piece the sooner I was going to get them before they got me.

Abused self-righteous aggression is Incredibly dangerous. One becomes so convinced that he or she Is right that he can commit any number of atrocities in the name of being right whether it be right for God or right for his country or right for himself. I think I have mine controlled and in the right place. In fact I find it amusingly interesting. I never would have known I had all those feelings in me If I hadn't started rowing. If I had never started rowing I probably would have met my fate by exploding to death.

I remember doing ten-minute pieces with EDC [Eastern Development Camp, of graduate women] in the old [slow-water] tanks. I was stroking, and - it sounds really bizarre - it was probably because I was tired from a very, very tough weight workout; I totally disassociated from rowing, from what I was doing, and I was going harder and harder. With about two minutes left in it, all of a sudden something evil, an evil force which was the devil or a devil (which I don't believe in), was there and started asking me if I would sell my soul for excellence; if I would sell myself for that, if I could make it through the piece harder on each stroke, would I sell my soul for that kind of excellence? Then I started fighting that, fighting it, that no, no I won't do it, I won't do it; but it absolutely became very tempting because I was at sheer exhaustion; but I was also tempted to do it to see if I would have more power. Then I realized that that was a temptation I just couldn't deal with, so I turned it down. Which made me feel pretty good.

It really was frightening, actually very frightening, and frightened me afterwards for a while. What I kept telling myself when it was going on, while this battle was taking place was that no one...I can do it on my own. I don't need outside help. I do not need outside help, because rowing is pure. That's what I was falling back on, is that it's pure, it's me, and my motives for rowing are pure, my motives for cranking on this next stroke are pure, pure, pure. It's my Carie Graves.

As I said, one of the ways I try to motivate myself is through aggression. I guess I don't have to try very hard since I seem to have plenty of it in me. The aggression I have is not directed towards anyone in particular. I never got off on dealing like that, furthermore I don't believe in it or that it is particularly healthy for me. The closest I get to directed aggression is when I am racing a team that I really just don't like. That does happen but not very often. However, this year I have come closer to motivating myself with specific aggression than I ever had before when training. The reason I've come closer to specifically oriented aggression this past year is because I am in a club situation that is much less controlled than the collegiate environment I rowed in for three years. There always seem to be a couple of people in any rowing environment who will resort to tactics I consider highly questionable concerning rowing. In a collegiate environment that sort of behavior is often overwhelmed by the group because the group is so much stronger than the individual. I think that is more difficult in a club situation particularly if the club is loosely structured or young. It becomes very tempting for me under moments of physical duress to specifically direct an antagonistic aggression towards those people in order to maintain the type of quality I want to maintain through a workout. I refuse to do that or I have tried very hard not to do that. I think the encounter I had with the devil (I sure hate to use that word) the last three minutes of the last piece of four times ten-minute pieces was a confrontation between selling myself down the river to motivate myself in less than honorable ways as opposed to motivating myself purely by trying to be the best. Well I did not sell myself down the river but the confrontation was so real and terrifying that I stood on Anderson Bridge over the frozen river and cried for a while. For a while I didn't know if it had really happened or if I was having some type of hallucination. In retrospect - now - I know it was probably sheer physical exhaustion magnified by feelings I was having about why I was rowing. Earlier in the winter I had decided to really let my mind go during workouts to see what would happen. I wanted to see if I could get the subconscious to surface to see what was actually going on. That was the last time I let it happen.

Other people lean on people. You see it in the rowing world: a lot [of people] are always measuring themselves against others. They're fighting each other or jealous of one another, and that was what I thought the devil embodied. That's what I miss in a college situation and that's what EDC has and I'm sure what Vesper has; in a college situation and when I rowed for Wisconsin, it was very pure and seemed very simple, but it seems that when you get around people whose motives I don't always believe in...that purity is the bottom line.

I love the glory, I love making it on a national team, and I like recognition for it and I like people to think that I'm hot stuff, sure, I really do and I'd be lying if I said I didn't, but the bottom line for me, I think, is just that total absorption.

I'm not rating these in order of importance, but one reason [for rowing] is to be the best. That's rewarding to me and it would be stupid to say it wasn't. But I think the most important thing is that when I'm not so tired and I can really go, I love the way it feels to just explode. It's a very stimulating feeling, a beautiful feeling. But when I'm tired and I'm using other forms of getting through it, I think that I want to be the best, which is more of an aggressive thought because sometimes you have to get things out of your way if you want to be the best. There is a huge amount of joy in it, but I know when I'm really tired from two workouts a day, there is no joy in it; there is no joy in it at all. It's hard, I don't want to do it, but I make myself go out and do it. It's not a joyous experience and I'm doing it for other reasons than that it feels good, or that I love it, because I don't. It's to be the best. I kind of hate to say it.

I wouldn't separate being the best from the feeling that you want to rejoice. I'm not saying that I [sic] the best at it - but I feel honestly that I would not be subjecting myself to this kind of feeling I get out on the water as hard as I try to row, unless there were some rewards, and one of them would have to be to be the best at something.

I remember thinking at Wisconsin on the last mile and a half of those nine-mile runs, "I'm going to be the best!" every step I took, trying to run faster and harder and harder. I can't imagine what else would have motivated me. Because I felt good? No! I never felt worse in my life...three times a week. As a matter of fact that's why I stopped rowing after '76, because that obsession got to so intense I could not handle it any more. I think now I have it in much better perspective. Back in '76 and '75, I was one mean mother - I was bad. I have it in control now, but I think you could even see it in the way I rowed. I didn't even care: I was going after it. It was almost out of control. I was all right off the water, though I was kind of one-tracked, I think.

I think I try to be the best from the standpoint of doing the best I can. Trying to be or do the best is much different from trying to be better than anyone else. I think being the best or trying to do the best is incredibly satisfying and encompasses a wider scope than trying to be better. Attempting to be better becomes relative only to the group one is working with. I think it also becomes dull and uninspiring. What matters personally to me is to internally judge myself, not against others but against a standard of my own reference as to what the best is.

Over the past year since I've started training again, I've run across a couple oarswomen with a fair amount of experience behind them who incredibly, I think use only the standards of the group as their own standards. They see or know what a previous score or any measure of quality is and their goal becomes only to better that score, and they stop as soon as they have bettered or surpassed their goal which becomes only the measurable quantity or quality they know exists. It is a shallow method of training and unfortunately prevents these oarswomen from being the best - their best - even though they may well be better than anyone else. From what I've seen, people that train like this believe winning is the only thing and the quality of the experience is ignored.

So - that's what I think being the best is all about. I guess that's the quality I would like to bring out of my oarswomen and what I find rewarding about coaching: if and when it does happen.

[The bronze medal in '76] was rewarding, but then I think a lot of practices are rewarding. I don't look at the final race of three minutes and seven seconds as being the reward. I think of a lot of workouts I've had as being extremely rewarding. The epiphany I had in Hanover was the most rewarding thing that ever happened to me in rowing.

We were doing forty-stroke pieces in the afternoon, five 500m's in the morning and eight forties in the afternoon tapering in the final big push in Montreal. We [were rowing on] flat, flat water and in the middle of a forty it was this exploding, all-enveloping, just the most wonderful feeling I've ever had, right in the middle of a forty when I was just cranking on it for my life, just as hard as I could, and I just knew right then...maybe it lasted only twenty or thirty seconds, but the glow was with me for days; the boat wasn't even moving that well as I recall. But it just hit me that I knew that I was all-powerful, that I had complete control over everything I ever did in my life.

That was why I could crank so strongly through all those workouts, and that ultimately rewarded me, that feeling, that glow, that I was ultimately in control there. It wasn't just physical, it was everything; and I knew that if I could be in control that much I would forever be in control. It's too bad I felt that way because it obviously hasn't happened. But to think that I had that experience, I had that chance to experience that feeling, even though it was just for thirty seconds...It was just awesome to feel like that. I had that feeling. That thirty seconds was the reward of three years of training. This is really bizarre, because here I am a woman and I'm supposed to be this and that...but I remember thinking I am God. It sounds bizarre. That's what I thought. I am my own god. That's what happened in the tank. I remember thinking, if I died this very second, I could give a shit, because I am God, and I am immortal and I am incredibly happy at this moment, and my feelings...it's crystal clear, that whole episode thinking in that order. I am God, and if I died on this next stroke because I burst a blood vessel in my brain or my heart from pulling so hard, I don't care, because this is the ultimate.

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