I woke up at 5:30 A.M. on Thursday, Jan. 29 to embark on a rowing expedition with the varsity team here at UT. With GoPro in hand, or rather on head, I shuffled over to the Boat House with the incorrect assumption that I would be rowing with the rowing team. When the team arrived, Bill Dunlap, who has been the UT rowing coach since 1981, kindly introduced me as a reporter from The Minaret. “That’s dedication to be out here so early for the paper,” I kept hearing the team members saying. My dedication, however, does not compare to the grit it takes to be a part of the rowing team. My disappointment in not being alongside them was soon replaced with admiration for the amount of hard work that goes into rowing. With wide eyes I watched them fly across the water. “The first competitive pressure piece they’re going to do is a format called Tabata,” Dunlap informed me, “It’s an extremely intense anaerobic format, then it’ll be more like a race after that. But tabata is above race pressure, no pacing, just flat out as hard as you can go. It’s a 20 second sprint and a 10 second rest repeated eight times.”
I turned to watch the team; there were four boats. Two sets of pairs (a boat containing only two rowers) which I was later told were reserved for the more advanced rowers, and two fours (a boat containing four rowers and one coxswain: the member who does not row but steers and commands the boat). I watched as the team rowed out of the darkness into the growing sunrise. The wind was ice cold and hit me hard. It was difficult for me to imagine finding the motivation to be out here every morning. After a moment, I turned to Brianna Colon, a member of the team who rode with the coach and me as she awaited her turn to row. I took this opportunity to ask her about the team.
“Practice is from 6:00 A.M. to 7:30A..m., classes don’t really start until 8am so it fits into anyone’s schedule,” Colon began. “Rowing is one of the best workout’s you’ll get. It works out your legs, your back, your abs, your triceps, your arms; it’s everything.” Colon continued. “You can never properly prepare yourself for the fire you’ll feel in a race … People sometimes ask me if rowing is fun, it’s not necessarily fun but the feeling you get when you win a race is the best feeling you’ll ever feel. You just feel accomplished, it’s not an easy win. You have to go through so much work and it’s all mental, too. You want to give up during a race but you know you can do it and push yourself to the end.”
The rowers were all perfectly synchronized, moving all at the same time as one solid unit. “Another thing that’s cool about rowing is that you can close your eyes and still row together because you can feel the water … You don’t need to know where the water is, you can feel it, like you’re one with the water,” Colon said.
Gradually the sky began to brighten, revealing brilliant shades of orange, pink and blue. Dunlap slowed the boat to a stop so that Colon could begin to row. Rihanna Seferian took Colon’s place on the boat next to me as Colon eased herself into the rowing boat, which was still in the middle of the lake. After introductions she began to tell me more about the team.
“Most of [the team] played sports in high school. Maybe two or three have been rowing since high school but the rest started with the club and then joined the team. We get members through the club, we’re Division II so we don’t really recruit.” Rihanna noted.
“Division I is like UConn, Duke, Penn State where they have full athletic scholarships. Division III is made up of smaller schools. We’ve beaten Division I school’s before,” Rihanna explained, with a smile. “It doesn’t really matter what Division you’re in. It just matters if you’re faster.”
Day started to break as we grew ever closer to the UT’s docks. The wind died down and the warmth of the day began to spread over me. Once we reached the docks and I disembarked, I realized that the cool air had made my legs numb. I began to think about the fire-in-the-belly feeling that Brianna had described to me. As I watched them turn their boats over and hang them on posts to be washed, I stretched my legs onward wondering if I would have what it takes to row.
Sam Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org