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Why I do crew

May 20, 2021 3:20 PM

Photo Essays

When people think of sports, soccer, baseball, or basketball quickly come to mind. Crew, or rowing, is often forgotten. As both a rower and a coxswain on the Boston Latin School crew team, this snub is all too familiar. I have been doing crew since seventh grade, and during this time, I have grown to love (and hate, but mostly love) crew. To ensure that others have a better understanding of this overlooked sport, I want to highlight the importance of it in my life and why I do it.

Pictured here is the BLS Boathouse, which, compared to the Northeastern Boathouse next door, looks like a shack. Each practice, we first put down our duffel bags here and retrieve oars if we’re going out on the water. Although the general appearance of our boathouse isn’t impressive, it serves its purpose and we’re grateful for whatever we get. In this way, the boathouse is a little like the team itself — we receive almost no public funding, but we’ve still managed to build a strong team, and two years ago, we even sent two boats to Nationals.

To put it simply, crew is a time-consuming sport. We practice more than two hours a day, six days a week, not including races. It’s also a year-round sport: fall, winter, spring and summer, with only two months off (but even then, there are usually optional workouts). Balancing crew, school, and other extracurriculars is demanding, but after doing it for almost four years, I’ve learned how to manage my time better and be more efficient.

Not to be ignored is the sheer difficulty of this sport. According to Daniel James Brown in his book “The Boys in the Boat,” “Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race — the Olympic standard — takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.” Because of crew, I have learned (and am still learning) how to push my limits. I have done things that I thought were impossible.

If crew is, as I have just explained, a huge time commitment and oh-so painful, you might wonder why I’m doing it. Sure, it’s taught me efficiency and organization, and the feeling of finishing a hard piece is nothing short of exuberance, but these are skills and experiences you can gain by doing something else. Of course there are also other reasons, like the exhilaration while taking perfect strokes with seven other girls. Although it may not seem like it, it is fun. Despite all this, I don’t know if I would have stayed if it weren’t for the community. 

Since we see each other almost every day, the members of the crew team share a bond that painful workouts only strengthen. Seriously, 2k-ing and feeling like you're dying together is one of the fastest ways to make friends. We cheer each other on, we laugh, we cry, and we sometimes throw up. Naomi, one of my friends on the team, pictured here, agrees. “The main thing I like [about crew] is the team community," she says. "I've met some of my best friends by doing crew, and the team's really supportive.”

The girls on the crew team are technically competing against each other for positions in the top boats, but we are still proud of each others’ successes without jealousy. I remember one time, one of my teammates said, “I never knew that competition could exist without toxicity until I joined the crew team,” and I could not have worded the idea better.

Crew certainly looks different during the coronavirus (and erging with a mask on makes the experience ten times more painful). I don’t even know what the full faces of some of the new members look like, but it’s a nice reminder that this time last year crew practice didn’t even exist. With all the decreasing restrictions, I know that the day will soon come that crew returns to normal. (Photo credit to Jack Mancini, BLS crew coach.)

Although crew is tough work, both physically and mentally, I could not imagine my life without it or the people I have met through it. I probably can’t continue to row in college (I’m much too short for that), so I’ll likely switch to coxing full-time. I encourage you to join a crew team yourself, as you’ll find you can accomplish more than you’ve ever thought possible and form friendships that will last a lifetime.