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Sunday, June 24, 2007

In a Regatta Da Vida

I may not be traveling in some far-off destination, but I'm seeing Cleveland in a whole new way this summer as part of a rowing crew. I now have a unique way to explore every bend of the crooked river that winds its way through the city. Along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland are small parks, sculptures, tug boats, water birds and rock climbers, in addition to the less pleasant rotting machinery, "exotic" smells and dead, bloated rats floating downstream.
Every Wednesday evening at 5 p.m.—rain or shine—our team is preparing to get on the water, extracting oars and the 60-foot-long shell from the boathouse at the Western Reserve Rowing Association.

Most of us are novice rowers, meaning we had no experience with the sport before the Summer Rowing League started back in May. So, during practice, we've been going through basic drills, focusing on form and timing. We are also learning the catchphrases used in rowing—some times first hand; in the last few weeks, for example, I've "caught a crab" and I've used a "cox box." For the definitions, please refer to the Wikipedia page on rowing.

All of this has been preparing us for competition. During the 15-week league, we have three regattas, in which we race against other teams in the program. Our first was yesterday (Saturday, June 23). We really had no idea what to expect. When we arrived at the boathouse, the festive music was pumping, the league organizers were making announcements over the loudspeaker and rowers were picnicking on the banks of the river waiting for their team to be called.

We participated in two heats, and we smoked our competition. Our first race was completed in two minutes and 54 seconds. In the following race, we cut our previous time by two seconds. Both times, our competitors were at least four length behind us as we crossed the finish line. It felt really good to win, of course, but we still have a long way to go. Experienced rowing teams were finishing their races about 15 seconds faster.

FRONT ROW: Erin, Nancy, Lea and me; BACK ROW: Bruce (who filled in as our coxwain), Gloria, Wendy, Martha and Denny; NOT PICTURED: Sara, Heidi, Joanne, Stephanie