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Rowing Adventure: Day 3

April 14, 2011



By Stephen Pugh

Something amazing happened this morning as the alarm started beeping at 5 am. I didn’t hurt any worse than I did yesterday. Don’t get me wrong-I was still sore-but that was the only inspiration I needed to roll out of bed and hobble towards the shower.

As the ladies climbed on the bus, I noticed that a few of them looked as tired as I did. Time management is important, but there are going to be nights where you have to stay up late and work on homework. As the semester comes to an end, these student athletes face a difficult challenge as their season typically reaches the high point, like the ACC Championships in nine days, and the semester is back loaded with tests and projects before finals.

Upon our arrival rigger Carlos Del Castillo, who had returned from New Jersey with the boats, greeted us. The first part of the morning was spent unloading the boats and all the equipment. The ladies worked quietly and quickly working in groups to pick up the boats and place them outside of the boat house. Once there, the ladies worked to reattach the rigger and the oar locks. Watching them reassemble all the parts of the boat made me think that at some point they had IKEA instructions to assist them.

Once the boats were fully assembled, it was time for me to make my debut on the water. As Coach Breimann had the Novice 4+ crew in front of her, we began the decision of which spot in the boat each rower would occupy. As they started throwing out seat numbers and terms like port, starboard, bow, and stroke seat, I realized that for the next hour, I would have no idea what anyone was saying. I was, however, able to pick up the sense that my Novice 4+ teammates were nervous that I was going to cause them all to go for an early morning swim.

Before we headed for the water, Coach Carter pulled me aside and gave me a quick lesson on handling my oar. He explained how my technique from the erg machine would transfer over to the boat and how the slightest movement by my hands on the oar would make a big difference on what the oar actually did on the water. He also showed me how to rotate the oar in my hand to feather the oar, or turn the blade parallel in the water. It all seemed very easy to grasp. I would soon find out that I was wrong.

As I not so gracefully slid into the boat, I was encouraged and told good job by freshman Jennifer Levine, who was seated in front of me. However, freshman Bessie Nolan, was not so confident that we would remain dry as I rocked the boat getting in.

As we pushed out from the dock, I sat with my oar handle tucked in my ribs, trying not to mess anything up, and waiting for further instructions. Once we got the boat out into the water it was time for me to take my first strokes. Junior coxswain Christina Echagarruga called out my orders to start rowing

That’s when it all went downhill.

The things I did wrong were numerous. I dropped the oar too deep into the water, couldn’t get it out of the water, and everything I had done so easily on land, I couldn’t get in the proper order on water. So, we stopped and they got me back in order and tried to get me to time myself with my stern partner Jennifer. We got all the issues sorted out and attempted to start up again. Somehow, I managed to do all my strokes backwards and attempted to row the opposite direction of Jennifer. This brought laughs from everyone on the boat, except for poor Bessie who was certain that we weren’t making it back to the dock in one piece.

As I tried to get my body and mind untangled, they switched over to the other half of our team rowing to give me a chance to regroup. Once Christina called for Jen and me to start rowing again, I was up for the challenge. I started to row, not great, but not terrible, and was actually remotely close in rhythm with Jen in front of me. We then started to do some strokes as Christina would call out different combinations to row together. I finally started to get the hang of it, and it was of course then time to go in.

It’s a great feeling being out on the water. As the sun comes up and you can see the scenic shores of South Beach around you, there’s a certain peaceful calm on the water. It almost seemed like a place you can get away from the stress of the world. You’re just out on the water, the typical noise of the city is gone, and there’s a harmony to rowing with your teammates and pushing the boat through the water. That is, if you know how to row.

We headed back to the dock and tried to not tip the boat as we got back on land and carried our shell back towards the boat house. I was amazed at how technical all the motions were and how each rower needs to perfect their motion to limit the resistance and maximize the speed of the boat. This is of course before you even start to worry about getting the entire team to row as one unit in rhythm at the same output and speed. I finally saw what Coach Carter meant when one person is not with the team it can slow the boat down and mess up the progress of the boat. I think I might have some work to do before I’m ready for that.

After we finished up, it was time to clean the boats. As one of the few teams in the country that practice in salt water, the boat has to be washed and vinegar sprayed onto all the metal after every time on the water. This helps protect the boat against the damage that the salt can do.

Today was probably the most overwhelming glimpse into the technical side of the sport. Between the terminology, the parts of the boat, and the technique, I’ll have plenty to sleep on before I get my final day on the water tomorrow.