I’m sitting in Brown University’s Crew boat. I’m amidst seven men who are probably twice my size, both in length and in width. I’m about to join them for a little ride in the boat before one of their actual practices. “Are you ready?” “No.” “Okay, here we go!”
Before my visit to Brown University in Rhode Island, sophomore Jaap de Jong had urged me to go rowing with him when I was there. “It will be fun!” he said. I agreed to do it, even though I never liked rowing and I didn’t know much about rowing techniques, not to mention my, well, far from optimal physique.
So, in the weeks before my trip, I practised on the ergometer at my local gym. I developed a decent technique and I was at a reasonable pace. That’s what I thought. Enough to not make a complete fool of myself, at least. That was the goal.
Having been around the Crew team for multiple days, I felt tiny. I’m not short, but when you’re around a group of men who are all at least half a foot taller than you and weigh about 100 pounds more than you, you can’t help but feel small.
The day had come. It was seven in the morning and it was freezing cold, with snow still covering most of the shoreline around the river Seekonk. “We always go this early so your brain is still asleep and doesn’t realise how hard you’re going to suffer,” coach Paul Cooke says to me with a big smile. He probably saw me standing there with my arms wrapped around my body in complete misery.
When we went to carry the boat from inside towards the water, I already felt embarrassed. Normally, everybody rests the boat on their shoulder and the team carries it to the water together, but my shoulders didn’t reach because I’m not a giant. I had to carry the boat with my hands over my head. Everybody laughed. Good start.
I took my place in the boat. This is when I really started regretting ever agreeing to this. Training on the ergometer and actually going out on the water are two different worlds, I realised that instantly.
We started going, all eight of us in unison. I thought I was doing well, but coach Cooke kept barking instructions at me from the dock, as did coxswain Ryan Williams in front of me. “Straighten your back!” “Stay in rhythm!” “Use your legs!”
Even though my ‘trial’ was only supposed to last five minutes, it felt like we had been going for ages and I was completely exhausted. I realised I didn’t feel cold anymore, despite the water constantly hitting me in the face, and I was sort of… enjoying it? And right at that moment, we docked.
“How did I do?” I ask de Jong, who was two seats behind me, as we got off. I was hoping to get some positive feedback. “You sucked,” he immediately responds before bursting out in laughter. “Your technique, your strength, it’s terrible.”
Cheers for that. I genuinely thought I did well at the end there, but apparently, I can add rowing to the list of sports I’m bad at. I’ll stick to reporting on it from a distance, then.