I started rowing on a whim when I was 14. Little did I know how much I was going to love it or how much it would come to teach me. I rowed for five years, ten seasons and even made my college decision based on official recruiting visits and which team atmosphere I liked the most. Senior year of high school I served as a team captain and come mid-Fall I had been recruited to row in a Division I program and couldn't have been more ecstatic. Unfortunately, Spring of my freshman year of college I suffered a concussion that took me out for an entire season. I haven't rowed since then, but I also haven't lost the lessons that spending five years in a shell with eight other amazing ladies taught me. The beauty of this sport is that everything you learn can go beyond the water or the erg room. As the ultimate team sport, rowing teaches you about character and integrity, things you can and should apply to your everyday life. Here are the seven most important lessons I took away from my time in a boat.
It takes a lot to keep yourself going when your 1000 meters into a race, can feel the blood soaking out of the torn skin on your palms and can barely breathe. It's at this point in a race where you remember why exactly you do this sport. It may be subconscious because everything goes numb and you black-out at a certain point, but it's there. The same goes for anything life may throw at us, when you're feeling overwhelmed remember that there is always an end to the race. Stay driven, stay committed, stay motivated; to whatever you may do.
5:30 a.m. wake-ups? Practice nine times a week? Pushing yourself until you puke or pass out? All par for the course in rowing. In the off season, it's all about numbers: how much you can lift, how fast you can row each 500 meters and how many people you can go faster than. On the water its all about state-of-mind: not letting your eyes wander from the boat for even a split second, staying perfectly in time with the person in front of you and making yourself drive your legs so hard you're on the threshold of passing out. It takes a special kind of person to be proud of the callouses on their hands. After doing all of this just for a sport you come to realize there's virtually nothing in life you can't accomplish with enough grit.
3. Time Management
Remember how I talked about those nine practices a week? That amounts to about twenty hours or more. When you're a full-time student and involved with other extracurriculars you essentially have no time for anything else. Meals happen after practice with your team and even sleep is timed down to the minute. Homework is done during any spare time during the day or into late hours of the night. After juggling all of that for just a semester you become a pro at prioritizing and time management, two of the most valuable skills to apply to life outside of a sport.
In a boat, you're slamming your legs down and ripping on the oar for so much more than yourself. You pull for the other people in your boat. You work hard in the off season because you're not just affecting your own performance but the performance of eight other people as well come race season. It sometimes feels like only your numbers on an erg matter, but ergs don't float and when you have to row in perfect time with everyone else in a boat you realize that it's a sport so much bigger than any one person. The same goes for the real world. If you live your life centered around yourself you will eventually end up being miserable. Live for yourself but do it in a way that also benefits others.
Whether you're a captain, a novice or an olympic athlete, when you learn to row you learn to be a leader. Although it's not something I learned until college, calling people out when they're not doing something to the best of their ability isn't supposed to humiliate them, if done in the proper way it can be the best thing you ever do. Being a leader isn't about telling people what to do all the time it's about learning how to communicate, delegate and when to step back and let someone else lead. Act the same way in life and you will probably find most of your group endeavors to be successful.
You're not always going to win. You're not always going to be the fastest. You're not always going to hit your goal time. But you damn well will want to be. However, how you handle defeat speaks volumes to the kind of person you are. You can choose to be pissed off, demoralized and act defeated. Or you can choose to be pissed off, take it with a grain of salt, and then put your head down and work harder. But I promise if you choose the latter you will taste success sooner or later.
Pushing your body to its absolute limit more often than not when you lay hands on an oar or an erg handle will test you like you have never been tested before. But every single time you will come out a little bit stronger, and seeing yourself improve is what makes it all worth it. You will learn how to keep a boat balanced while driving as hard as you can and recovering slowly, in exact time with the person in front of you. There's no other sport that requires such extreme exactness of not only mental but physical action. Apply the same discipline in life, to deadlines, to assignments and to work ethic and you will continue to succeed.