Lessons from the Weiji

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If there’s anything I’ve learned from rowing, it’s that it is impossible to know everything about rowing. Even grizzled rowing veterans who have been literally and physically hardened from years on the water, still have room to improve and learn.

11351177_10204183744424818_928263019305878293_nThis year has been a huge learning curve for me on and off the water. I have learned incredible amounts about myself, but the biggest lessons were taught to me by my teammates.

In my boat at the NCAA championship this year, every one of the starboards and our coxswain was a senior. The experiences they had rowing with Wisconsin helped them grow into the graceful women I eventually had the pleasure to row with.

Here are the nuggets of wisdom from each of them that I have left this year carrying in the back of my head.

Sitting in bow seat was our team mom, so it makes sense that she has given me the most practical advice. While talking about a recent job interview, she recalled being asked the question “what makes you different from all the other applicants—and don’t say being on the rowing team.” In a thoughtful response she described the phenomenon of rowing with nine other people:

It doesn’t matter how good one person is individually. Their success depends on eight other people all pushing themselves at full tilt and trusting that everyone else is doing the same. Rowers compete against each other for a place in the boat, but they cannot win unless they abandon their pride and leave all their hard earned gains on the course where they can benefit their team.

That’s what makes rowers different from other athletes and why I will be gainfully employed in the future. Together as a unit for most of the spring, I decided every practice was bow pair appreciation day. I’ll be sad to row without her behind me next year.

Three seat, or “three-tard,” is the seat that generally holds the rower with the most raw power and the least technical aptitude (They’re not the brightest bulb in the boat). However, our three seat was the sweetest, most poised person I might ever meet in my life. Her freshman year, our coach gave her the nickname “Sharky” in an attempt to make her more intimidating. She’s going to dental school next year and will be my children’s dentist. I’ve already decided.

Sharky has taught me that you don’t need to be badass to be a badass. Her independence and dedication to everything she does makes me proud of anything we might have in common. She bounced back from a rib injury last spring and showed me every day this year that if you just show up, sit down and do the work with no drama wonderful things can happen. And be nice. Always be nice.

I’m pretty sure five seat hated me. I countered it by being as loving as possible. The results are still inconclusive. Ol’ five seat has taught me to not stop laughing under any circumstances. And to not give a shit. That’s how she would deliver the advice too.

She has given me the most reality checks, but also made me feel like a part of the team before any of the other seniors did. Dubbed the “team dad” for following Chicago sports with more gusto than the average person, expressing her feelings gruffly and having an aptitude for awful, poorly timed jokes, our five seat was and will always be one of a kind.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I’ve learned from her, but it goes something like this: Intimidated by anyone? Go f*** ‘em up. Erg piece didn’t go well? Pull harder. Nobody likes you? It’s probably because you’re obnoxious. What. A. Gem.

In seven was our token tall girl. An impressive six feet four inches, I’m always glad to stand next to her in pictures and feel small for once in my life. I rowed a pair with her at a regatta in the fall and it was probably the most positive and instructive experience I’ve had rowing so far.

She’s incredibly intimidating, wicked smart (a chemistry major. CHEMISTRY PEOPLE), and extremely witty. She doesn’t throw out “good row,” “nice piece” often, so when you’re on the receiving end it makes you feel extra special. She laughed at one of my jokes once. It was great.

The thing about seven seat is she will not stop at anything short of perfection. Everything about rowing with her is calculated, objective and never personal. It’s all about what the boat can do together to go fast. She taught me to look at situations with a purely problem solving approach. Leave the feelings out of it, fix what’s not working and try something different.

Last but not least was our little coxswain, P-nut. This fall I was terrified of Nut. I stroked a boat she was coxing once at the beginning of the season and was shitting bricks the entire time because I didn’t want to disappoint her. I eventually realized that she wasn’t going to throw me overboard and stopped being flustered when she told me to get my blade in.

She helped me so much technically, but I what I will remember most isn’t all the times she told me to sit up and catch.

I’ll remember our final at NCAAs. We were at least a boat length down on conference rivals Indiana and Michigan with 500 meters to go. She asked to take seats. We took them. We were moving, she said. P-nut was not going to let us fall short. She demanded “more, More, MORE.” We crossed the finish line not knowing how we finished, but barely caring.

When it got tough. When vision started to blur, old Nut knew we had more to give. She knew we were capable of taking what we deserved. There’s not always going to be someone screaming at me to live up to my potential, to make it to the finish line thriving, not just surviving. But if a mental pep talk is necessary, all I need to do is think of her yelling: MORE.

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