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Rowing Adventure: Day 1

April 12, 2011


By Stephen Pugh

When the alarm went off at 5 a.m., I was confused as to why it was beeping at me at such an early hour. But then I remembered–I was rowing this morning. After a stop at McDonald’s, I met up with our media relations assistant for rowing, Harrison, who looked none too pleased to be at the Hecht Athletic Center at 5:45 in the morning. It was early, but at least we got our choice of parking spots.

As the sun still had no plans of rising, we saw the old, yellow school bus roll in. Looking around, it was still Harrison and I, and no rowers in sight. The clock kept moving closer to our departure time of 5:55 a.m., and still, no rowers in sight. Then a few minutes before the departure time, rowers started appearing out of every direction. Lesson one: when you have to wake up before 6 a.m., you figure out how much time you need to arrive right at the desired departure time.

We were officially underway, pulling out of campus and heading north toward the Ronald W. Shane Watersports Center located on the east bank of Indian Creek in the heart of Miami Beach. The 30-minute commute is one of the challenges that the Miami rowing program faces. While the facility is top notch, the distance from campus is a disadvantage. As one of two BCS conference schools without their own boathouse, the Miami rowing program overcomes challenges in logistics and scheduling.

Upon arrival, I went through a light warm-up with the team consisting of various calisthenics. I was told that the warm-up is important since there wasn’t really a muscle in my body that I wouldn’t be using today. It seems like anytime I heard anything about my tasks for the day, everyone had a slight smile on their face, like they knew what was coming and I didn’t.

Following the warm-up we broke up into separate groups. Since the team competed in New Jersey this past weekend, the boats were still in transit back to Miami and the boatman and rigger Carlos Del Castillo wasn’t expected back until Wednesday afternoon. That meant that the Varsity 8+ and the Novice 8+ would be out on the water, and the Novice 4+ and myself would be in the training room. As I learned last week, the rowing team has three competitive boats. The Varsity 8+ is the top team, comprised of eight rowers and a coxswain. The coxswain is the person that sits in the stern of the boat facing the rowers. They’re responsible for steering the boat and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. Typically the coxswain is of smaller stature since the lighter the boat the faster it has the potential to go, however, their abilities to steer, coach, and motivate is of greater importance.

The Novice 8+ team is the second boat, comprised of rowers and a coxswain that are in their first year of competitive collegiate rowing. The Novice 4+ is a four person crew plus coxswain that are in their first year of collegiate competition. The training room was comprised of 12 rowing machines, also called ergs. Once I had my erg chosen, I got a quick technical lesson from head coach Andrew Carter before he headed out to join the Varsity 8+ boat for practice.

I had been on a rowing machine a few times in my life and I quickly found out I was doing it wrong-very wrong. I wasn’t sitting up straight, my arms weren’t bent right, I was leaning from my stomach and not from my hips and I was bending my knees before releasing my arms. After some quick adjustments and breaking everything down into simpler steps, Coach Carter left me in the hands of Assistant Coach Barbi Breimann and I was ready to join the team in a 20-minute light warm-up, or so I thought.

After the warm-up, I was feeling good. I had worked up a light sweat and could feel the workout in my arms, shoulders, back, abs, and legs. I was ready to hop back on the bus and tell the world about my day with the rowing team. And that’s where we started into the six sets of 1,000-meter sessions. Barbi broke us up into two groups and each group took turns knocking out another 1,000-meter set.

As I started on set one, I sat next to freshman Alyson Hall and tried to keep up. Standing 5’4″ and a part time coxswain for the Novice 4+ team, I figured I could just keep up with her and I would be fine. That’s where the problems started. My arms and back were already burning, but as I stood back up I almost fell right back over. Coach Breimann saw me and said, “You have anything left?” I told her I did, but I’m not sure she believed me. I’m not sure I did either. In what felt like 30 seconds, the second group finished and I was back on the erg. As we continued to push through our sets, my time kept getting slower and slower as Aly continued to stay right at the same level. The only thing that changed was how much more exhausted I was each time I stood up. Each time, one of the ladies would smile and ask if I was going to make it. At that point, I didn’t even have a response for them.

After spending an hour and 30 minutes on the erg, we finally finished our six sets and did a light cool down and walk. Well, I walked as well as I could. It was interesting speaking with juniors Heather Durkee and Christina Echagarruga about joining the rowing team this past fall. Both of them knew someone that suggested they come out for the team, and as a joke they both decided to give it a try. Nine months later, they’re both hooked on the sport, and vital members of the Novice 4+ team. from where she started.

After we finished our workout the ladies headed out and met the rest of the team, where everyone washed down the boats and put them back in the storage bay. We then climbed back on our yellow school bus and headed to campus. As we sat in Miami traffic, some ladies got in a quick nap before they’ll have to head to class while others worked on homework ranging from chemistry to calculus. While my day is done, the ladies still have some weight training and more work on the erg machine scheduled for the afternoon, after a full day of classes. Harrison, who had spent most of the day following Coach Carter around, climbed on the bus, looked me over and asked me how everything went. “I’ll know for sure in the morning,” I told him.