On Rowing

“You’ll ache. And you’re going to love it. It will crush you. And you’re still going to love all of it. Doesn’t it sound lovely beyond belief?”
-Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden

Rowing is masochistic. It is fun to row in a fast boat. The speed of the boat grows from each individual pushing themselves past perceived notions of pain tolerance.  True speed cannot be attained without complete bodily sacrifice. Under this self-inflicted duress, the spirit is revealed.

I recently read an article that begged rowing bloggers to avoid using words like ‘pain’ and ‘death’ and ‘metallic tangy vomit inducing lactic acid burn’ in their writing. The author claimed that these phrases deter those who have never sat on an ergometer, a land rowing machine, from attempting the practice.

I asked my friend Sebastian, who ran for the UC Berkeley Track and Field team, how he would describe an 800 meter race.

He said, “imagine sprinting the length of a football field. Then sprinting 7 more without stopping. It’s ferocious: the epitome of core strength.”

Yet runners are not dissuaded. They are, in fact, encouraged by the possibilities of speed that is attainable.

This writing is an attempt to impart the truth of my rowing experience to you. I have been a rower, a rowing coach, a thrower, and a rugby player. I have competed at the highest levels, and failed spectacularly in attempts to achieve greatness.  

My college experience, like many others, involved growth. I spent my mornings firming muscles and consolidating bodily power. I spent my afternoons grappling with derivatives and synonyms. I spent my nights tasting existence. Existence tasted like cheap wine and chapped lips.     

It was painfully glorious, like jumping headfirst and riding the underside of a wave along the pacific coast. If the cold doesn’t break you, you can experience the force of the world pushing towards the sunny surface.

For four years, I woke up every morning at 5:13 am and pushed myself to be better. I ran faster, lifted heavier, and attempted to go harder than everyone else around me.  I had no rowing experience going into my freshman year at Cal, but I understood hard work. As my freshman coach Sara Nevin used to say, power was my technique.   

Rowing is one of the few sports that rewards pure grit and determination. Racing as California highlights internal strengths while exposing base weaknesses. Character is molded, then continually assessed by coaches, teammates, and oneself.  

Cal Crew is a dynasty, built upon the broad backs of young men and women who believe they can become champions.

I emerged from my rowing career a champion.

Maggie Simpson, Cal Crew 2013