This article which I stole from Freewheeling Spirit got me thinking back to my rowing days in college. Obviously the intention of the article is somewhat lost on where I am going with this since it’s main purpose is to shine some light on the awful pollution and overall condition of the Anacostia River. I however clung to the beginning two and a half paragraphs or so of the article as I went back down memory lane to revisit my time on a river or two.
Since I finished up my career on the Duquesne University Men’s Crew Team in May of ’05 I have only been out in a shell about three times. Throughout college rowing was literally my life; I was similar to the college athletes we see on the ESPN highlight reels in that the majority of my time, effort and passion was for my sport and my team while school and classes took a back seat. Every year there were two racing seasons with races on nearly every weekend during those seasons and in locations ranging from Ohio to Virginia to Boston. Add that on top of 5:45 am practice every morning, not to mention the additional workouts, running and weight cutting for lightweight status and that’s a lot of time for the sport.
My freshman year I actually only rowed the first semester since my choral director (I was a voice major at the time) would not allow me to continue to miss rehearsals and still go on the European tour in the summer but after I changed my major I was back on the team. My sophomore year we got a freshman who had rowed in high school and made the varsity off the bat, a junior who’d been on the team the previous two years and the two returning novices from the year before including me in our lightweight four. Our Varsity team was only about nine or ten guys strong at this point and we did what we could with what we had.
The fall season that year we did well though not spectacular; we didn’t actually have a lightweight boat that season though since the guy who was a junior had to cut some pretty substantial weight to make lightweight for the spring season. We all did what we could over the winter training period to first beef up and then cut down to weight with three of us cutting at least 20 pounds each to make it. The idea here is to gain as much muscle as possible and then cut weight by dropping fat leaving more muscle similar to approaches used in wrestling.
That spring season began with the Marietta Invitational held by Marietta College which had a very rare scholarship men’s program and competed against the likes of Georgetown, Yale and Brown (three major rowing powerhouses) on a regular basis. Our lightweight four rowing in a race for the very first time went out strong with a ridiculously high stroke rate. We pulled through upsetting the Marietta crew to everyone’s surprise and never looked back from there on our way to 6th at our equivalent of nationals, the Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia, PA.
Similar to biking rowers can increase their cadence of strokes per minute to pickup the pace. Our boat had a couple of special things working for us that year. For one we were young and overall a bit ignorant to the fine tuning involved in rowing, this sometimes can be very helpful in not over thinking things in the boat. We figured out a way to make out boat move fast and stay balanced and we made it work to our full advantage. The typical boat in our competition would row around a 36 to 38 spm whole we averaged somewhere in the low to mid-forties and finished with our “super sprint” often over 50 spm. We just had the endurance to simply pull through the pain and beat our stronger more technically polished competition.
In the next two years we all apparently became head cases as we learned more and more about how we were supposed to row and never quite got back to the level we were at that first year. Even so we always made it at least out of the quarter finals and into semi’s losing by just seconds each time another trip to the finals. Now we have all graduated and while two of the total of seven people (five rowers and two coxswains) that were involved in that boat those years are coaching, the rest of us are almost entirely uninvolved in any way with rowing (though one guy occasionally assists the current DU coach).
To bring this relatively wandering post to a close, I’m hopeful that someday I will own my own single and maybe even could incorporate it into a daily routine similar to the writer of the article. While it is truly sad that the Anocostia River is in as awful shape as it is, I am still jealous of the rowers that get out on it. Maybe there is hope though still for the river as well; maybe some day we’ll finally realize how big of an impact we make on the environment around us and we’ll fix our way of life. Hopefully that will happen before it is too late.