Returned home from the 2019 World Rowing Indoor Championships yesterday, and started to unpack my gear as well as my thoughts about the event, my rowing journey, and what I've learned. The following thoughts are loose. I'm just putting them down as they come.
We really are all on one team.
At least the great ones! This is just true. Let me explain. Rowing is an equal parts individual/team event. You can't move an eight by yourself, but you won't be seated in the eight if you aren't fast enough or only have your blade in the water half the time. "No passengers," as Alex says. This fact creates a dynamic that is tough to mentally reconcile: You are united in purpose with people that you are in direct competition with. This is true for basketball and other sports as well, but unlike those sports, there is no subbing-in on the water. A race is a one-shot deal. You hop in, row to the start, "attention, row." That's it. No timeouts, if you turn it over you're done, literally. You are either seated in that boat when it shoves-off or you're not racing. So, you know, it's weird. There's the reality, of "I have to be better than you, but we need to be completely in sync to move this boat should we end up in it together." It creates a lot of predatory paranoia that many cannot handle. The drama in the boathouse is real, and this attitude spreads over and out amongst rival clubs, etc. "I can't and won't support you." This exists amongst teammates and amongst boat clubs. BUT NOT ALL OF THEM, and not to the same extent.
There is nothing better than a fierce competition on the water or the erg. To sit down next to someone and know it's going to be a battle to the finish IS THE BEST. And the truly great ones understand that and embrace it. There is nothing better than wanting to rip the arms and legs off the guy next to you with the fear in your belly that they could easily do the same to you if you have a mental lapse or blow up your race plan. That's good stuff. But I am suggesting to you here, the good ones, the really great ones, know how and are able to stand up after losing and shake your hand, throw their arms around you and say, "Wow! That was awesome, congratulations." They can find each other at the bar and have a beer and a laugh and talk about their event, break it down, and enjoy each other's company. None of the weird insecure bullshit or jealous games that plague middle school children.
This is because we really are all on one team. We love rowing, erging, training. We want to talk about it. Share our experiences, learn, understand, get advice, give help, hook each other up. The rivalry is real, but it ends once you stand up. Does losing suck? YES. Are we happy when we get crushed, not particularly... but we can genuinely respect and be happy for the winner. EVEN IF THEY ARE FROM ANOTHER CLUB. No weird behavior, pretending you don't know someone, intentionally scrolling past their post, etc.
The great ones give hugs.
And I have gotten so many this past year all over the country. "For the love of the game." It's not about club, or colors, or who you do or don't or used to row for. It's this awesome community of rowers that love to row and are very good at it. This is true for the great ones, anyway, we are all on one team at the end of the day.
We are faster together.
I spent this indoor season by myself. Alone, on my own erg in my sunroom. This did not make me a better rower. It made me slower. I really believe that. We are faster together because we are pack animals. We need community, support, COMPETITION, all of it. It's a rare bird that can go off in a cave by themselves and emerge a champion. We need each other. We need coaching. Someone with eyes on us that is invested in our performance to say, "Stop. That is not good." Having someone push you, fear of falling behind, it is critical during training and you cannot get it by yourself. That is all the GOOD of the team dynamic. Going to breakfast after practice, talking about it, decompressing the row, the good, the bad, the ugly. HUGE. So much bigger than you know until you are sitting by yourself on an erg in a cold sunroom, wishing it was so hot & humid that you had to open a window, but it never will be because you are alone. We are faster together.
I have gotten so much amazing support from many of my former teammates this indoor season. Even though I don't row for their club any longer, they are still and will always be my teammates and friends. Their interest, support, social media shout-outs, text messages at the office... All of it. It's like I never left, and that's what I'm saying. They showed up for me, I will show up for them.
One team, one love. Be Great.
I have been so impressed by the character and quality of athletes I've been around and chatted up on email, in person, facebook messaging, etc., this year. Seriously. It has made me determined and resolute to be a "great one." If I see you in the airport and we no longer row together, or you're on the other team in town, unless I am about to pee in my pants and I need to find the bathroom, I will be coming up to you to give you a hug and say hello. That is just going to happen, so be ready.
These medals are dedicated to everyone in & out of my rowing community that interacted with me this season and "had a touch" in my process of getting to Worlds. Thank you!