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IN HIGH School, I was picked absolutely last when it came time to choose sides for anything from softball to field hockey. Wise captains hid me in the backfield where I couldn't do very much damage. So, I came to college without a thought of pursuing a sport. Journalism became my principal extracurricular pursuit, and the walk from Dunster to 14 Plympton Street constituted my only real form of exercise.
For a while I became an avid spectator but very infrequent participant in intra-mural athletics, showing up for Saturday morning touch-football, staying in for a few downs and then excusing myself to take photos of the team in action. But that didn't last long. For me, sports were dead.
Or so I thought, until, thesis printed and handed in, a friend mentioned house crew. I used to see Kristin and the rest of her eight stumble into breakfast each morning, go through the kitchen in unison, toast their bagels in unison, pour their cereal into bowls in unison, and then sit down to discuss the morning's row. Whether they were all wet because they had gotten splashed, I neither knew nor wished to find out. Very dry, dressed for school and engrossed in my morning paper, I didn't really have any desire to join them. They were a breed apart.
I LAUGHED in Kristin's face when she proposed I become a part of this wet, not-particularly merry band of morning revellers. But, I thought, I have only two classes and neither meets before 11:00 a.m.
Then I came to my senses and realized that exercise was involved. Exercise that took place very early in the morning. No more thought about crew was required until someone suggested I become a coxswain. Perhaps it was a latent desire to by Ally Sheedy in Oxford Blues that made the concept of being coxswain attractive. Or the fact that I wouldn't perspire. Or that coxswain can be considered an administrative position. More likely it was the knowledge that no physical exercise would be involved.
I took the natural first step, going to Brines to be outfitted with a navy blue goretex wind-breaker (men's extra-small), and matching foul weather pants. Now all I had to do was figure out why the coxswain sat the wrong way in the boat.
My formal training began when Phil, my coach, provided me with a list of terms to learn over spring break. Things looked okay when disaster struck: Phil said he would not be able to make the first practice.
At dinner on Sunday, my Senior Tutor quizzed me on the most difficult elementary crew terms. Like the command to turn around, which I surmised would be fairly crucial. He answered a burning question, "What will happens if it rains tomorrow?"
"You'll get wet, Cristina." Jeff replied.
I would be required to negotiate a bridge only seconds after getting into the boat, so I was delighted to discover around 9:00 p.m. that I felt ill and was running a low-grade fever. I had gained a one-day reprieve, but Tuesday loomed large on the horizon.
Tuesday morning, clutching my by-now dog-eared list of terms, I walked onto the dock. I watched the early Dunster boat turn around near Weeks footbridge, hoping to figure out how this feat was actually accomplished.
I had been warned by my younger sister, herself a JV coxswain in high school, not to put my feet on the bottom of the shell for it was not sturdy enough to withold 108lbs. of direct pressure. Mindful of her warning, I crawled into the boat. The dockmasters dissolved in laughter.
MY HEART securely lodged in my mouth, I gave the command to push away from the dock. There I was, headed for Larz Anderson Bridge. But the five novice rowers didn't know what to do, and I didn't know how to tell them. With some help from Phil, who had vaulted across JFK street to the other side of the bridge, and a very nice man in an orange slicker driving the Weld launch, we made it. A gentle reminder from my stroke that I was steering the boat directly into the K-School riverbank aside, I was giving commands, moving an eight-man shell in sort of a straight line.
No rescue missions was necessary, and we managed to go through two of four bridges without any major problems. By the next day, we made it through three of four bridges, and two turns--complete with correct terminology. Balance was still missing, and finesse was, not surprisingly, not forthcoming, but the row definitely had its highlights. Although I was ravenously hungry, I was sorry to give the boat to the next eight. I couldn't wait for my next go, feeling absolutely certain that it would be even more fun than the first.
Even on that first scary morning, though, there were a few seconds on the downstream run when six of the eight were rowing in nearly perfect sync, no boats were on our tail, and no bridges were in sight for at least a few minutes. For those few seconds, I felt an unusual rush of completeness and connection with the rowers. I was their eyes, and I was doing the job correctly. I made it into the dock in triumph, experiencing the type of thrill that for me was usually came after a good exam or editing a story well.
Those activities had all been solitary, however, and this time my exultation was shared. Being one of many suddenly felt glorious, not at all mundane. I realized that I had missed out during all those years in the backfield, waiting for passes that never came but that I though I had never really wanted anyway.
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