Rowing: No, It’s Not Like Canoeing.

There isn’t really a good understanding of my sport in the great US of A.  This is interesting because rowing is one of the traditional American sports.  No, I’m not kidding – the results of the IRA national championship were nationally published on the front page of newspapers.  However, this was also when bicycles had two different sized wheels, top hats and large moustaches were in high fashion and ratings were judged by how many people listened to the program on the radio.  So maybe it’s time to rehash what exactly this rowing thing that Dave Castro and CrossFit have suddenly fallen in love with is all about.

Rowing is generally a team sport, though it’s a lonely one at that.  Where most teams gather in a huddle, take a knee around the ol’ ball coach or position themselves for a specialized duty in an orchestrated system, a rowing team sits, single-filed and backwards in a boat that is thinner than many American’s waistlines.  Each pulls the same stroke, in the same way, at the same time. The responsibility to do so falls on the rowers as an individual and as a crew – their coach sitting galaxies away in a motorized launch or on shore.

The trust between a crew, as critical as a heartbeat, is unparalleled in any sport I have encountered.  Unable to look each other in the eye and forbidden to speak, you have to pull, each stroke, with the utmost technical precision and power with no guarantee that your comrades are doing the same. Only when each member of the crew has sacrificed their comfort and focus on anything other than the next stroke, is rowing truly experienced.  Of the millions of meters and thousands of minutes spent on the water, on the rowing machine and in the weight room, I only have few precious, fleeting minutes that I’ve spent in that state.  Magical, though corny, is the only word I can think of that can adequately describe it.

If you close your eyes and imagine the rush of the water trickling under the shell as you seemingly fly over it, the muffled sploosh of eight oars, all catching in sync, and the steady pry of the oar against the water, glimmering with pinks, yellows and oranges only cherished at near-dawn hours – you can begin to understand why it’s all worth it.

Believe it or not, there are times you can get that feeling on the machine (ok, if I’m honest, not completely, but close).  Once your technique and cardiovascular system are prepared to accept the challenge the devilish device whispers, leering at you from across the room, you’ll find yourself pulling a split you hopefully and sarcastically thought of generating.  And at that point my friends, you have conquered the mechanical beast that guards a sense of accomplishment I have found in no other sport.  Until, of course, you finish and seek the nearest available patch of floor to assume the fetal position.

It is here that rowing is unique among sports as well.  Most of us will never bear the weight of an Olympic-caliber snatch or run a sub ten second 100m, or hit a home run in the World Series, but anyone who has pulled a 2k for time has overcome the exact same demons that the record-holding rowers faced.  Slower, yes, but the feelings of the sport, magical and torturous are universal and, in the end, what keeps you coming back.  Or maybe you’re dreading the next time rowing rears it’s head in a WOD.

That, in my best efforts to be concise, is rowing.  And you can sign up for your first class with me on Sunday at 1pm (see what I did there?).

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