As I was about to enter high school, I caught the televised Women’s 8 rowing race of the 2012 London Olympics. Never before had I taken notice of rowing, but I was fascinated at how perfectly in sync these women moved their boat down the course.
A few weeks later, during the freshman orientation at my high school, I came upon one of those sleek boats and a group of rowers recruiting new teammates and they said “Hey, you’re tall; you should row!”
Fast forward, and I will share that I have rowed my entire high school career. Rowing has been a compliment to my academic career and has certainly shaped my character.
Simply being blessed with height, strength, and talent do not always equal success in rowing just as having natural God-given abilities doesn’t guarantee success at anything. These traits must be developed, and this can require a tremendous amount of hard work. Despite the misconception that it’s all in the arms, rowing requires 100% effort of every muscle in the body repeatedly. Improving at rowing is exhausting, especially under the hot Florida sun, but necessary to succeed in this sport. In life, hard work is required to develop talents and strengths in order to use them successfully.
Rowing takes a high level of commitment, both to myself and my team. I practice six days per week with my team. If I miss a practice, my boat is incomplete. This routine has developed a sense of accountability and responsibility. Personal success at rowing takes my own commitment to practice and train, and in life, becoming successful at what I choose to do will take dedication and commitment. Our team’s success also depends upon this level of commitment as does family, employment, and community.
In rowing, there is always something that can be adjusted or simply done better. Similarly, before judging or criticizing others, I must look for my own areas to improve. There is a great rowing analogy which is to keep your head in the boat. The practical application is to refrain from turning your head while racing to see where the competitors are because it will negatively affect the balance and speed of the boat. However, symbolically, I know this means that I should focus on my own weaknesses, rather than someone else’s. As my coach always says, “Winners focus on winning, and losers focus on the winners.”
In life we do not get to pick our family members, coworkers or neighbors. In rowing, we don’t get to pick our boat mates. As one might imagine, conflict can arise between crew members. However, for the good of the team and the success of the boat, I’ve learned to overcome this and focus on the shared goal, which in rowing, of course, is winning.
They say failure is a part of life, even when it doesn’t make sense. My most frustrating race was at Southeast Regionals 2016. Our boat had prepared for this race, however, we were disqualified due to a judgement call by our coxswain. None of us understood the official’s decision, but we had no other option other than to leave that race in the past and move forward. I don’t feel that the official’s call was fair, but life is not always fair.
There have been many character-building experiences from rowing. Many came along as what first looked like a problem or challenge. George Pocock, an important pioneer in the sport, summarizes this well. “It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water…but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support and make you stronger in overcoming them.”