A Maiden Voyage

ADK chair.jpg As you might know, I’m the only person in my little family not to row. Though my older son no longer rows – only because his college doesn’t offer it – my younger son and my husband both do. My husband is the most devout of the three, rising well before dawn on most mornings to drive down to the Schuylkill River to row before work. Loyal readers might remember my husband as a triathlete. That was true for many years. But several years ago, he’d become weary of the long training hours and after his 5th Ironman, he lost the passion for the sport.

Rowing was a return for him. He’d rowed briefly in college as a freshman and it had made a great impression on him. Several years ago he started up again and ever since, it has been a dream for him to row on the lake where our cabin sits.

This past year, he made the leap to buying a single. For those of you uninitiated, boats can be singles, doubles, quads or eights. And it’s not actually that simple because there is sculling (when you hold two oars) and sweeping (when you hold only one oar). In sweeping, it’s not a double, it’s a pair – as in a pair of oars – and it’s not a quad, it’s a four. At least, I think I’ve got that right.

Anyway, he bought a single, which set in motion a series of plans necessary for him to row on the lake. For example, we’d need an addition to the dock because our existing dock was too high. Sculls sit right on the water, so you need a dock only about eight inches above the water. The dock needed to be in a specific spot because the boat is 26’ long. No, that’s not a typo. It’s that long. We’d also, of course, need a new roof rack because the existing one couldn’t hold both the boat and the cargo carrier. We’d need a place to store the boat at the lake. And – perhaps the most difficult of all of these — Tom would need me to rise early in the morning to help him carry the boat down to our dock.

The boat is feather-light, but so long that one person cannot navigate the trip around pine trees and down two flights of steps to the dock. Now, if you’ve ever met me, you might already know that sleep is my thing. I mean, not my only thing. I run. I write. I do other stuff. But I love to sleep. I haven’t generally been a “good” sleeper for most of my life and getting up early is generally a bummer for me because I don’t fall asleep easily.

View of Round Island.jpg

But Tom couldn't make his dream come true unless I woke early. On my vacation. On the first morning, he didn’t wake me early. We went out on kayaks together and he spent much of the rest of the morning gazing at the lake with the same longing one would see on the face of a child in a toy store at Christmas.

The second morning, I woke with him. In truth, it wasn’t so bad. I’d worried that wanted to wake at 5 a.m., as he sometimes does at home. But because the lake stays calm longer than the river, he didn’t need me until almost 6:30. I’ll admit, that’s a pretty civilized time to wake – rower or not. I decided to join him – me on my beloved kayak and he on his scull - and was rewarded by a peaceful and gorgeous view of the quiet morning water.



First Row on Long Lake.jpg

A Sport Like No Other

My older son has played many sports over the years starting with soccer at age 4, adding baseball at age 5 and swimming at 6. In his sophomore year of high school, he let go of soccer and baseball, kept the swimming and started Ultimate Frisbee. We’ve sat on various sidelines in rain and shine for many years cheering him in his various roles on those many teams. But none of those athletic experiences prepared us for crew.

This year, his junior year in high school, our son decided to join the crew team rather than return to his Ultimate Frisbee team. The decision was difficult for him; he loved playing Ultimate, expressing a sense of confidence he’d been missing in swimming. I was excited for him to try crew. He’s got a good build for the sport — not a ginormous heavy weight, but broad for a lighter guy — and I thought the sense of teamwork would appeal to him. When he finally gathered the courage to email the crew coach, the team was already well into their training season. Even so, the coach welcomed Zach, who started that same day.

Right away, it was apparent that this sport requires a level of grit that is not required in some other sports. He arrived home sweaty, tired and with hands plastered in blisters. For those first weeks, my husband and I couldn’t tell if he liked crew or not. He’s a young man of few words so we watched and waited. Finally, the day of the first regatta arrived. Our son was required to be at the river by 5:30 a.m. The rest of us followed a couple hours later in advance of his scheduled 9:16 a.m. race.

First of all, the scene down by the river is like a giant tailgate party, but without the booze. (I can hear some of you groaning with disappointment: What’s a tailgate without the booze? But I love a party atmosphere where there’s eating and talking and no worries about some poor drunk falling in the river.) My delight at the fantastic tent city that pops up for each regatta made me glow with Philly pride when I realized that about a hundred schools as far away as New Jersey and Maryland drive to our city to compete in these regattas every week. And the river is practically in our backyard. As the time for our son’s race drew nearer, we took our spots next to the river with binoculars and cameras at the ready.

I’m convinced that stored inside our bodies there is some ancient DNA programming for us to recognize the wonder of rowing. Seeing a boat of boys pulling oars in concert with one another filled me with awe. The fact that it was my boy in his first regatta in a boat with three other novices as well as a novice coxswain and they finished 6th out of 24 elevated the experience even further.

What I take away from watching my older son move through this new experience is the reminder that hard things are hard, but also rewarding. That it’s okay to let go of the sure thing and reach for the unknown. That every new experience brings it’s own set of pain and challenge, but those don’t diminish the overall experience.

Tomorrow will be the boy’s last regatta of his Novice season on crew. We don’t know what the weather will hold, how the river will behave or whether the boys will be able to find their rhythm and pull out a strong race. At the beginning of the season, our son didn’t know if he’d like crew, if he’d be any good at it or if he’d row in any of the regattas. There are always unknowns so at some point we need to ask ourselves: would you rather stay on the sidelines and wonder? Or put yourself out there and be the source of wonder?

(Photo from psra facebook page)