The phases of masters rowing

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July 29, 2015 by 8junebugs

Much like the phases of grief, I think there are phases of rowing that you move through, if you love it enough to make it your Thing.

The (First) 7 phases of novice rowing
  1. Basics: LEARN ALL THE THINGS.
  2. Trust: Begin to trust the cox, then the crew, then the boat. At least, I think this was the order for me. I didn’t know how to trust the boat…until I did.
  3. Pain: Oh, darling, your poor hands. Look at them. Study them. They’re your map to a better grip.
  4. Obsession: You’re erging on your own. Coach doesn’t say you have to, but you are. You want the confidence of knowing how a rate feels and how to drop the split.
  5. Inoculation: Race fever can eat you alive from the inside out — in the good way! If you race, and if you love to race and win, you will need to learn to manage the feels.
  6. Advanced novitiate: You are now proficient enough to get cocky and develop new bad habits — good job! Now fix them.
  7. Open-heart rowing: The first time you realize that Step 2 opens you up and makes you vulnerable, for better and worse. You’re tied up in this sport and these teammates, and a good or a bad day on the water can have a profound effect.

Okay, so it’s not a peer-reviewed list. But this past weekend, I found myself crying on the way home from practice and had to figure out why.

A teammate, someone I trust and like, said something jerky before we launched one day. Essentially, she gave me some crap about my backsplash, but her phrasing was particularly jerky.

I thought I shook it off (and she did apologize when we were back on land). I get crap about my backsplash frequently enough, and there’s a reason. Well, there’s more than one reason, but the teammates who tend to say something are the ones who work most often with the coach who hates backsplash. I get less crap from the teammates at the novice and intermediate level, who, like me, are getting coached on the Goldilocks physics of backsplash (get too much, then too little, in order to find your ideal catch placement). As well, in a poorly set boat, there will be more backsplash.

That our coaches are not committed to One Backsplash Philosophy is a problem above my pay grade. Even so, when I asked our assistant coach what to do about my backsplash because it was pissing people off, he said it was their problem, not mine. And so I continue to search for my ideal catch placement, which sometimes means that someone gets wet.

On the upside, though, if we’re going fast enough, it hits me, too.

That day, though, I couldn’t get out of my head on the water. We had a long row all the way down to The Watermelon — there was plenty of time to settle in and get some good meters, but I spent most of the row grumpy. We were consistently down to port (I was in 4), and there were more comments from behind me about “getting soaked.”

I still thought I was fine and just had a rough day on the water. It happens. But then, when we docked and I went to grab my shoes, the teammate in 6 that day asked me to take a walk with her. I resisted. She was persistent. It wasn’t until later that I realized I was resistant because I was expecting her to coach me about it, too.

“You don’t have to take that shit,” she said, and repeated the jerkiest piece of the earlier comment. “It’s up to the coxes or the coach to make corrections, and you don’t have to take it from _______. I’m going to say something to the captains, because that’s not okay.”

I was a little shaken.

First, this is a teammate I’d barely spoken with until maybe a month ago; she’s also my most recent lesson in how my first impressions/assumptions about someone are sometimes bullshit. It was unusual for her to initiate a conversation with me, particularly one like that…although less unusual now than two months ago, I guess.

Second, I didn’t know I needed to hear it until I heard it.

“Thanks,” I said. “I get that kind of a lot, and I didn’t know how much it was bugging me. So…I appreciate you saying that.”

It’s a masters crew and our coaches have day jobs. Everyone likes to correct the novices. I’ve felt that urge a little myself when I’ve hopped into a boat with the newest novices on Wednesday night rows, but I try to shut up unless they’re going to hurt themselves and the coach hasn’t said anything. (Some coaches talk more than others, and some coxswains are more confident about calling corrections.) If someone asks, I’m happy to talk about what I’ve learned and how, but…I’m still new at this.

And so my confidence was shaken.

I really do know better. Seriously. The coaches don’t hold back with me, but I also know that they wouldn’t put me at stroke so often if I wasn’t doing well. If my backsplash is a problem, it’s not the biggest problem in the boat.

(…which is not a nice thing to say in the boat.)

I was pretty quiet while we got all the equipment back in, but I didn’t realize how twitchy I was until I pulled away from the boathouse and the tears started to fall.

It wasn’t the jerky teammate’s comment. She’d apologized, and as the assistant coach said, my backsplash is more her problem than mine.

It was learning that I was vulnerable enough with these teammates that a jerky comment could throw me off for an entire practice (this is way more vulnerable than I am off the water). It was hearing what felt like a no-confidence vote from the women behind me — it doesn’t matter how good my stroke actually is if the women behind me don’t respect me enough to follow it. It doesn’t matter as much in 4, but if I’m in stroke? It makes all the difference.

Mostly, though, the tears were for the care that another team member took to pull me out of my head back on land. I haven’t been on this side of that before. It mattered.

A lot.

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