The Fairfield rowing teams stay on campus for spring break. We have one practice in the morning, and one in the afternoon. If you add up the time it takes for us to drive to the Norwalk River, establish boats, carry boats and oars onto the water, get into the boats, row, then get back to the dock, wash the boats, put everything away, and then get back to campus, it all takes about 3 hours. Last Monday was my first day on the water, so I had to learn the basics of actual rowing, as opposed to the erging I’d been doing the previous 6 weeks. Actual rowing involves a few extra skills, including feathering; the process of turning the oar while swinging it back in order to minimize wind resistance. It also involves not dying from the cold at 6:20am, something for which I wasn’t adequately prepared, and spent the whole practice shivering. This week I am more prepared, with 3 layers on top, wool socks (thanks Aunt Sheila & Uncle Cliff!), and newly acquired long spandex.
Another new element for me is the role of the coxswains, who during winter training don’t really have much of a role other than comment on our form, and fold our sweaty shirts for us after we throw them on the floor before we start erging. On the boats the coxswain speaks into a microphone, which then transmits his/her voice through speakers pointed up at each rower. The coxswain is responsible for telling everyone what to do, whether that be telling us to add pressure in order to direct the boat, telling us to row faster/slower, or
commenting on how well we work together tell us to stop splashing the water at her.
Today I was in an 8-seat with some of the women’s team, who were doing a workout to improve form. They were with the oldest of the 4 coaches, who has been rowing for 40 years. He can sometimes give the impression that he’s upset or yelling, but it just takes some getting used-to.
Putting the boats away and removing them is sometimes a painful process, since extreme care must be taken in order not to hit anything. Of course this happens anyway, when communication is not 100%. Rowing is an odd mix of individualism and teamwork. We get in shape as individuals but get better technique as a cohesive unit. Being a runner, all this “technique” stuff is placing a lot of pressure on my brain, but I think that it is simple once learned, and it’s all about the power in the legs once you can work with the other men in your boat.
The men’s team is all eating together in one of the townhouses, since the dining hall is closed this week. We’ve been varying the food slightly in the mornings, and for dinner it’s going to always be the same: chicken parm, ziti, and salad.
It’s funny how when you’re rowing, you’re never quite focused on the various things passing you by. Bridges, sand, basketball courts, docks, seagulls, islands, summer homes, flags, trees, and signs advertising penguins (I didn’t notice that until an injured guy pointed it out to me) all merge into the background, and all you can focus on is soreness, the buttery-smoothness of the oar in the water, and the deadly blinding sunlight refracting off the water.