Off the water, duration unknown

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October 1, 2016 by 8junebugs

Today’s my last day on the water.

Okay, it’s my last day rowing on the water. I made a deal with my coach when my number came up for coxing — let me row out my last eight practices and I’ll come back and cox through October after all, at least as long as I can fit in that seat.

I outgrew stroke seat a few weeks ago in a dramatic incident involving torn trou and a pregnant woman pulling an in-boat seat switch (of which I’m rather proud), but facing forward should give me a little more room. And a little more time. Plus, hauling me around the estuary should make my team wicked fast when they race with a coxswain half my size.

In July, I was surprised to find that I was ready for my last race to be The Last Race. I was in three events that day and I could see my limit approaching. I knew it was time to step back.

It still wasn’t easy. I took a walk in the hour before we got hands on the pair and found a place to breathe by the water and let the tears out. It was such a beautiful day and such an emotional way to end — my hardest race yet, plus one last novice boat, plus stroke seat in a mixed boat full of people I love and respect. And we were in Oakland, on Lake Merritt, practically on our home waters. I stood there for a while with my race day music in my ears, just saying goodbye and feeling immensely grateful.


Today, in the same way, I know it’s time to step out of the lineups. I’m still feeling strong (jesus, getting out of my Poang chair is harder than rowing right now). I can still fit in the engine room. And although the baby loves to dance around while we’re under way, he’s still well protected.

I’m not as fast, though. The main obstacle, aside from taking a practice seat away from someone who’s racing this fall, is my newly diminished lung capacity. It’s time (past time, really) to bring the rates up, and this week my usual breathing patterns stopped giving me quite enough air. I’m not passing out in the boat, but I can feel the difference, which will only get more pronounced.

It’s a physical limitation I can accept with a little more grace this time. I wanted to keep training as long as I could — it meant something to me to not stop just because I was ZOMG-pregnant. When I was carrying Grayson, I made a big fuss about how delicately we treat pregnant women and how it’s not a disability and blahblahblah, and I still hold to that for the most part. But this time around, I know what to expect physically and what that means for what I, personally, can do. I made a plan and I’ve been able to stick to it, and that feels pretty good.

I’m grateful to my team and, in particular, to my coach, who’s let me take the lead on how and when to bow out. The last 26 weeks have been so much better and fuller and healthier than the first 26 of my last pregnancy. My “McFlurries consumed” count is also lower this time; we’ve always joked that Grayson was about 87% McFlurry at birth, and this child will probably have a comparably high blood-Gatorade volume.

When I look back on this pregnancy, I’ll have these memories — SO many — to remind me just how much this sport has taken hold of me and lifted me up.

Which makes the next bit even harder.

Come 2017, the EBRC practice schedule will change to more effectively drive a better-defined vision of the club’s future.

This is a vision I support, both as a rower and a Board member. Our new executive director — who’s also my coach — is tasked with making it go, and I have nothing but confidence in his ability and his commitment to the team and its success. He’s already made a huge impact on how we train and compete and think about what we want out of this sport…for those of us who weren’t already obsessed with it, anyway.

I’ve had to put a lot of work into supporting the implementation of this vision, though, because I knew any change to the practice schedule could really fuck my family right up. We’ve both been able to row with EBRC because the men and women practice on an alternating schedule. When I was asked to row with the advanced women’s squad, we already knew my answer had to be no — their extra practice day is on a men’s practice day.

We’re not the only couple on the team or the only rowers with kids, but we are the unicorn in the room — we’re the only couple on the team with small children, one income, and one car. We don’t have family nearby who could help out and we can’t afford a nanny. We can’t be at the boathouse at the same time without considerable logistical wrangling and expense. (Never before have I envied my parents for the whole “80% of family within three miles while raising kids” thing more than I do right now.)

The original new schedule proposed would have been workable, if not ideal. I’d made my personal concerns known all along while still trying to discern the best way forward for the club. I talked with the coaches and they’d already thought up a workaround to keep both of us on the team.


Other team members didn’t want to lose the existing land workouts that have bolstered intrateam competition, general fitness, and camaraderie. From the hefty stack of schedule iterations — taking staffing and equipment overlap into account is no joke — two possibilities emerged: One would allow both of us to row (with some flexibility from the coaches), and the other would only allow one of us to row.

I was the only one to advocate for the former. The latter will go into effect January 1. All non-novice men and women will practice on the same days, at the same time.

There’s a reason I led off with my support for this vision. I’ve been in all of the discussions. I know that this is a business decision and from that perspective, losing only one member of the team to this decision is a better-than-average result. I know you can’t design around the unicorn use case. I know, of course, that there’s no malice intended, that it’s not personal.

But that member lost is me and goddamn if the effect isn’t personal as hell. I assume good intentions, as a rule, but I’ve never been a fan of magical intent — a harmful intention is not required to produce a harmful outcome, and I can’t pretend this doesn’t break my heart.

(That isn’t hyperbole and I can only blame so many tears on the hormones. It’s been a while, but I distinctly remember the symptoms of a broken heart.)

And so a rotten choice awaits us in 2017 after family life settles into its new two-kid routine: Which athlete in this family, if any, can — or will — continue to row with EBRC? The simplest answer is Graham; I’m the one who can drive myself to another boathouse, if they’ll have me…although the new schedule also overlaps too much with that of the Lake Merritt women’s team, because of course it does.

The whole question is moot, to some extent, while I figure out my new normal — the idea of trying to row when I need to nurse my infant every 2-3 hours is just laughable.

But if I didn’t know what this sport and this team mean to me (I did), this change has made it crystal clear. I was a pretty solid, settled version of myself before I ever stepped into a shell. Rowing forced me to outgrow that version, to let some light shine through the cracks I didn’t even know were there, and to remember that “solid” and “settled” aren’t permanent, and shouldn’t be. If I can fall in love with a sport in my late 30s after a lifetime of bookishness, who knows what I’ll find out about myself next?

When I made a plan about how long into my pregnancy I would row, though, I made a corresponding plan about when I would start training again and when and how I hoped to get back on the water. The second half of that just fell apart in front of me.

I’ve gotten a little less tearful about it; I managed to hold myself together during an impromptu heart-to-heart with my coach, so that’s something. I know he wants to find a way to work this out and that means a lot to me, particularly because he has also indulged me for six months of slowly gained weight and lost speed.

That talk helped…but it also initiated a whole new wave of hope and sadness. I’ve said it before: If you love rowing enough to make it your Thing, you’ll discover a level of trust and vulnerability that can leave you raw. (I’ve also said you get back what you put into it, which appears to have backfired spectacularly on me.)

So. Here we are. Maybe the new schedule won’t work out as planned. Maybe it will be so successful that the programs will expand even more and we’ll have better options when it’s time to get back on the water. Maybe my coach will think of something I haven’t considered. Maybe something entirely unexpected will shift our perspective and we’ll look back and wonder why we let this cause so much heartache.

Until then?

Way ’nuff, I guess.


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