I recently heard news that my rowing coach from college is retiring. So I wanted to write a short piece about my rowing experience.
I first heard about crew when I was at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Being from the South where rowing isn't very known or popular I'm not sure why I knew about it, but I was drawn to it. I loved kayaking and canoeing so it was probably something to do with being on the water. So after the first meeting I joined the small club and we worked out almost every day for that first semester. The program had fell apart so it was just a handful of us that got together. I learned to scull in a single and double on the Tennessee River that semester. However after that fall semester the group disbanded and that was that.
When I looked into transferring colleges I looked at whether or not the university had a crew team. I ended up transferring to The University of Alabama where they were in their second year of being a NCAA Div I Women's Rowing Team. That fall semester as a junior I joined freshman students on the novice team. Since it was still a new program they recruited from the student body and had people walk on to the team. The novice coach said she wouldn't cut anybody, that we would leave on our own. I stuck with it even after a disastrous fall while running stairs during a morning workout in Coleman Coliseum. I ended up breaking several bones and had to have surgery to pop my zygomatic arch back in place. I was out for a couple months but returned to finish out the spring sprint racing season. I later learned that one of my right ribs had broken from the fall and I had been rowing with it broken the rest of the season. My trainer would wrap me up before practice and ice me afterwards. That's all you could do for a broken rib.
After the first year of competing as a novice, the second year I became a member of the varsity team. Coach Davis was my varsity coach for the 2 years I was on the varsity team. [I stayed an extra semester after I graduated in December to stay on the team]. I used to visit his office in Coleman Coliseum every week after an erg workout in what we called the dungeon, a basement window-less room in the Coliseum. In one of those weekly chats I remember asking him what one of the best former rower's 2000meter erg time-trial was so I would know what to work towards. Later on we talked about my future in rowing and the possibilities of joining a club like Vesper in Philly. He believed in me and ended up giving me an athletic scholarship for the last year and a half.
Now my times of rowing has faded away to a distant memory. In the 8 years since leaving I've raced once in an Alumni boat at the Head of the Hooch in Chattanooga and practiced once with a club in Portland, Oregon. Even though I'm not connected to the rowing world anymore it still holds a big place in my heart. I love being on the water and rowing is one of my favorite things to do. When I was a varsity athlete I was at my prime, I was an elite athlete. I had access to the best training and equipment at what I consider the best sports-training facilities on the Div I level. [I once saw the Olympic Training Center's weight room in Colorado Springs and I walked away saying that Alabama's was much better]. Performing at that level was exhausting, both physically and mentally. To go to practice 6x a week, weights 3x a week, and erg 3x a week, I always had to show up. Even at erg practices you have to push yourself and be better than you were last time. There's no slacking, no taking an off-day. To constantly be having to PR everyday is exhausting. There's mental strain too. There are sacrifices you make. I went to bed at 9 every night to get up for 5:30 practice. I had to be conscious about what I ate because everything that I put in my body would be my energy for practice. I didn't party and drink because I had to be 100% at practice.
Rowing taught me so much and I attribute a lot of my mental strength to my time on the team. Rowing has shown me how great I can be. But it's hard when you've had moments of greatness, feeling strong and powerful, and at your peak, to be back to living normally. I find that now I am always searching for that feeling. That's probably a big factor in why I continually test and challenge myself in all these long distance hikes and marathons. I've come to accept that I may never feel that way again. Plus I sometimes/most times give the excuse to not work harder at say running faster or whatnot by saying to myself, you've already had that experience of pushing yourself to the wall. You've already been an elite athlete, you don't have to prove yourself to anyone. I know what I've done and I don't have to be the best at running now because at one time I was great. But there are still moments that remind me of the time when I was at my best. Like after a sprint, when I'm collapsed over and breathing hard, and then I walk back, walking taller, with a bit of a strut, I feel strong and powerful.
With Coach Davis retiring from Alabama Rowing, it's the end of an era. It makes me sad to think that with his leaving my connection to the program is nearly nonexistent now. Something that was such a big part of my life at one point and has helped make me the person I am today, my mental toughness and all can be attributed to being a part of The University of Alabama women's rowing team. Coach Davis believed in me and pushed me to be great. I'm extremely proud of my time on the team and grateful to have had him as my coach.
I'm happy to announce that I won't be out of the rowing world for long. I'm headed on a massive rowing trip this summer down the Mississippi River, from source to sea. I'll be using a drop-in rowing system for a canoe and will be rowing backwards all the way to the Gulf.