All throughout the season, Wake Forest Crew practiced to a quote on the wall: “Winners and losers are made before the start of the race.” This wall is actually not a drywall-and-paint wall, but a room-sized mirror. We spend 10 hours a week erging, scrutinizing our own rowing form in this mirror - long drive, back straight, shoulders relaxed, wrists unbroken. Sometimes it’s the last thing we see before passing out on the ground after a 2K erg test. What we don’t realize is that each day we look into the mirror, we’re trying on that winner for size. Where we are, where we could be, and the distance between. The goal is, by the time races come around, the gap between is equals the distance of the race itself.
At SIRAs, we were ready to race. We’re strong, fast, and synchronized. All that added up to 0.3 sec short of qualification. 0.3 seconds is precisely the anatomical time it takes to blink an eye. However unfair it is that our time would have qualified in any other heat, I think we walked away with something winning wouldn’t have given us - an ounce of thirst in our blood. So if it takes a we-need-a-laser-to-determine-the-finish loss to complete the components of a winner, count me in. Next time, there ain’t no stoppin a boat that has tasted the bitter loss of 0.3sec.
Rowers get up before the crack of dawn to embrace sub-40 temperatures, wind, and wet clothing. By the end of a practice, the sun yawns good morning and no one knows whether the wetness on their hands is popped blisters or sweat from gripping the oar. Why, why do we keep coming back to it?
It takes a lot of a person to row. The time commitment is almost crazy for a collegiate club sport. Muscles, power, and speed, of course, but a race is more of a mental battle than anything. The violent splashes of water as the shell struggles against the river suggest that the water we move against is our opponent. But the ripples and currents know no names. Raw grit helps but it’s not the name of the game. The beauty in the sport is the team, the synchrony. There’s no captain who calls the shots, or a go-to player who executes when you don’t have enough confidence to. From the launch to the finish line, you are one. You communicate without words, just rhythms and angles and balances. Spectators focus on elegance, but rowers can hardly feel beyond the flurry of pain and set and pattern of catch-drive-recovery. You remember the freezing practice in the snow; you remember the utter exhaustion of erging the 2K to get that split down fractions of a second. But none of that counts to the others sitting on that start line. All that’s left from those moments is knowing that your coxswain and teammates have pushed you beyond where you thought your limits were. Looking into the eyes of the seat in front of and behind you, a silent agreement takes place - your race is my race, and I’m going to put in all I’ve got within those minutes and seconds for you, because without you I would have settled for much less. Attention, ROW.
These molecules in my lungs have never felt so heavy
Those whose hearts are light, I envy.
How ironic that the heavy molecules are toxic
And that laughing gas is so very nitric.
Scalding water upon blister
Pain upon pain
No gauze can heal my broken spirit
For I am a Prince of Maine