Monday, May 3, 2010

Rowing the Henley

T'is the season. 

Rowing season has begun.  Early Bird Regatta last weekend, Mother's Day Regatta coming up fast and for high school athletes, pressure is building towards Schoolboy Regatta the first week of June. 

Those of us living in Port see the teams out running their required endurance-building laps around the neighbourhood at all hours, their smaller versions (cox) bringing up the rear.  Seasoned coaches say it's the legs that make a winning team in the long haul.  And here I thought it was all about the arms plying the oars.

Every dawn, crew members wake with the birds and assemble on the island for drills and rigging, getting on the water by 6.  Come rain, sleet or snow, they're at it.  Good Grandmas knit special rowing mittens that fit over oar handles to keep fingers from freezing on cold days.  Good Mums provide iced water bottles for the hot days and breakfast before she even has her eyes open.  Good Dads are up with their kids, driving the daily route to the course and back.  It's an 8 - 10 week exercise in endurance for the whole family. 

The 1986 movie, staring Nicholas Cage, "The Boy in Blue" gives a good history of this Canadian sport, filmed right here in Port Dalhousie. 

First thing on the agenda for Mum when her teen joins a crew, is to go shopping.    Specialized shopping at that.  Dad's get a sharp pain in that back pocket where they keep their wallets.  Leggings, all manner of fleece garaments (with school crest), crew jacket (in school colours and design, no other will do), flip flops (the ones that all the guys are wearing, not just any old flip flops please), rowing shorts, rowing shirts, and the all-time-Mummy's-favourite: the sex suit.  Camel toe, anyone?

Looking cool waiting for Dad to pick them up.


"Shells" is what these boats are called. Long sheds house dozens and dozens of them.  Each school has their own, named after special people in the history of rowing,  or from the history of their schools, or in the name of the benefactors that made their purchase possible.  A good quality single costs upwards of $10,000.  Eights are proportionately more expensive.
After a good boat, which would be one that doesn't leak too badly and pulls mostly in a straight line, the next most important thing is a good oar.  They're enormous.  There are currently two of the monsters in the rafters of my son's old room.  Cool, but monsters just the same.




Coaches come in all stripes.


  Everyone has their favorite and their least favorite.   Enough said.  I live here, you know.


Learning the lingo is important.  It's a whole new language and it takes time and practice to master it.  Good thing I had three kids in the sport for over 8 years.  I'm still not sure about which is which between a Double and a Pair.  I think the double has 4 oars and a pair has 2, but don't quote me on that one.

There's  the light weights, who's parents worry as they faint crossing the finish line.  There's the heavy weights that carbo-load, shovelling in pasta with impunity. 

 I've never met a teenage middle weight....do they actually exist????


There are straight fours, quads, coxed fours.  Eights, heavy eights, who usually carry the last heat of the show.  Singles are in a class of their own.  We are personally aquainted with a male single, who has never, ever won a medal.  He battles his weight to stay in the  light-weight class, travels from regatta to regatta, begs for places to sleep over on race nights and has yet to get a medal of any kind.  What keeps him at it?  There is the tee shirt that boasts the slogan,

"Rowing is life.  Everything else is details."

Look at these faces.  Do you see a single one that gives the impression of joy? 


Pain, yes.


Hard work, yes. 


Dedication, yes. 


Determination, yes.

Wait until the medal ceremonies, and then the pure joy and wild abandon of bliss is evident.

At the end of the day, there must be some personal satisfaction that keeps these kids coming back for more.   Early mornings, sleep deprivation, dietary issues for many, time management challenges, peer pressures, these kids are champions even for being there.




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