By Hannah Esmacher, Forest Park High School, Woodbridge, Virginia
It’s five o’clock on Saturday morning. Everyone is fast asleep, warm in their beds, right? Wrong. As the sun begins to rise, the crew team has already been up for hours in anticipation of the coming race day.
Arriving at the boathouse by six in the morning, they shove off of the dock by seven to row to the regatta site. After lugging the the boats, shells, to the racks, they shiver in tents while waiting for the day-long competition to begin.
Crew is one of the most stressful sports in existence: it’s demanding, extremely competitive and time consuming, but members of the team claim that the few but firm benefits outweigh the strain.
The coaches of the crew team maintain high expectations of members. Amanda Esmacher, a senior on the team, said that they expect rowers to eat healthily, work well with teammates, stay humble when corrected, be at practice on time, every day “in any kind of weather: they’ll make you row through hail,” and to make rowing their first priority. “You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of time…and give it everything you’ve got.” If a rower decides not to live up to these expectations, the consequences are painful. Rowers can be replaced and moved to a less prestigious boat, or not even be allowed to row during practices.
Boat placement, the determination of who gets to be in which boat, is one of the most stressful factors of the crew team. It is decided by many aspects, including measuring up to the aforementioned expectations and getting good 2K scores. A 2K is a two kilometer-long race on a rowing machine called an ERG. The rower sits on the machine and “rows” as hard and as fast as they can until they’ve gone 2,000 meters. Each rower’s time is compared to the times of the other teammates. “[Boat placement] changes your entire crew life,” says Danielle Woodward, sophomore. “The better the boat you’re placed in, the better practices are and the better your chances of winning come race day.”
An average crew practice lasts from 3-5:30 in the afternoon. Or, at least that’s the “official” duration. Woodward commented, “When school ends, I rush to get to practice, and that ends 6, 6:30 at night… and Saturdays are always busy because of regattas and they’re, like, all day things, so I only have one free day on Sunday.” By the end of the school week, students on the crew team lose up to 20 hours at practice, hours that they could have easily spent participating in afterschool clubs and activities or doing homework.
For example, Woodward stated that she can’t take the Road and Range class required to get her driver’s license until this summer because she can’t stay after school. “I don’t have time after school anymore to do anything, especially during the [spring season].” Waiting for a license isn’t the only drawback that the time constraint gives rowers. Getting home at nearly seven every night, many rowers are forced to stay up past one in the morning to get their homework done, reducing themselves to virtual zombies the next day in class.
The practices are brutal, the standards set high and the demands often tough to handle, but despite the disadvantages and strain that crew places on members, they are resilient in their conviction that they aren’t just rowing to get calluses. They say that regatta days, memories made, and the team itself make the difficulties feel less laborious.
Esmacher and Woodward both said that it’s easiest to love crew on race days, when they get to see the fruit of their labors. Woodward explained, “The regattas make everything worth it, because… well the practices, they aren’t fun. They suck sometimes. You don’t like doing race pieces, because they never seem to end… then the 2Ks are terrible and painful… but then at the regattas, you see everyone when they’re racing just giving their all, and you hear the screaming from the crowds… and you just feel that family feeling.”
Esmacher responded that she loves being able to really push herself to see what she can achieve. She also looks forward to the cool, quiet row up to the racing site every weekend. “On Saturday mornings, when the sun is just rising and the birds are flying and the water is really calm and it’s just really nice out, it’s just beautiful.” As a rower, she gets to see the Occoquan River in the early hours of the morning, a stunning scene that not many people get to experience.
While racing gets their adrenaline pumping and pretty scenery is nice, the two athletes said that one of the best parts of the crew team is the team itself. “Crew is the epitome of teamwork…it’s a family,” Woodward remarked. The close friendships that are formed with this sport make the hard times easier to bear, and the good times even better.
Although crew remains one of the most arduous sports offered in schools, the rush of racing, the memories made, and most of all, the friendships formed more than make up for the struggles. The crew team is “a big, happy, sweaty, stinky family”, as Woodward says, and makes life on the team worth everything else.
the original article from hsj.org, written by Hannah Esmacher