The defunct jock reminisces.
I went on a walk around the islands in the northern part of the city the other day, and stumbled across the dwelling places of the newly-rich and not-so-famous. Beautiful buildings mostly left untouched, occasionally given horrific Nouveau Russian facelifts (the current vogue appears to be for the Swiss chalet look.) Lots of shiny black Mercedes with tinted windows. Occasional Hummers.
The amusing part was when I got to the park-ier part of the area; then I was treated to the sight of row upon row of speedboats, mound upon mound of horse dung and... a boat house. For crew. I even had the luck of seeing a sculler out on the water.
Now, I know that some of the best rowers in the world came out of the former Soviet countries, on account of natural brawn, psychotic coaches and vast amounts of steroids (I speak, of course, of a time before these enlightened times. NO athlete would take performance-enhancing drugs nowadays. Nope.) The surprise simply came from the fact that, despite having seen Eastern European rowers at various competitions and on various videos, I've always so closely associated rowing as such a wholeheartedly WASPy sport that it's hard to think of anyone doing it seriously outside of Great Britain or the Northeast US. I actually spent a good three years of my life rowing in Italy, and while it was rather good fun, and I even was a finalist in my division at regionals at the grand old age of 13, it took until I got to the US to see what my mother had been on about when she told me it was a great sport and something I absolutely needed to do, not just a rather overly complicated alternative to going to the gym.
I rowed from the age of 12 to the age of 17, which isn't an overly long period of time, but significant enough that four years after the fact, I still get vaguely nostalgic when I see people out on the river. I don't regret having given it up-- it's left me with a rather horrid legacy of back problems, and frankly, I rather enjoy not having shoulders wide enough to make it appear that someone has surreptitiously stuffed a pair of 80's era shoulder pads underneath my clothing. I enjoy having soft hands, even though I never did blister much. Growing my nails out is fun (especially now that my guitar has been languishing in its case for ages and I don't need to trim my left fingernails for fear of nasty vibrations) and I definitely appreciate being 3 clothing sizes smaller-- all muscle, creepily enough. I feel more feminine and less blundering. I suppose I can't bench as much-- for that matter, I don't think I've actually felt compelled to bench anything in 4 years.
I do miss it though, even though it wasn't the right sport for me for many reasons. I didn't have the right mindset for it. Though I'm naturally freakishly strong (not demonstrated very often because of said back problems) I simply couldn't get myself into the mindset where I was supposed to put myself through pain in order to attain some imaginary goal. Crush St. Paul's? Yes, clearly I wished for our team to be victorious, but the girls from St. Paul's seemed to be very nice, and I had no personal animosity against them. Team spirit? I was always being called off during my bouts of playing ball sports for hogging the ball and being too aggressive. I guess I wasn't quite as sly with my field hockey stick as I thought. And frankly, I just didn't have the right mindset to quite fit in with the other girls on the team in high school. Not bred in New England. No Labradors. Curly hair. That sort of thing.
Regardless of all that, there were moments of rowing that I utterly loved, mostly pertaining to those initial few years I spent sculling. The movement of the boat is inimitable during those perfect moments when everything's suddenly working together and you're just flying. I also tended to get a sort of masochistic pleasure out of the crazy training routines, out of having to spend three hours a day sweating and just working, to the exclusion of real thought. The exercise routines were strangely attractive in their sadism, and to this day I find myself going through bouts of replicating certain parts of them, though I avoid the arm exercises, being naturally strangely buff in this arena. I am also slightly disappointed to find that I can no longer do 300 crunches in a sitting, while feeling no burn. The appearance of a waist is a great consolation, however.
All in all, I'm glad I quit, and I know many other former rowers who are equally glad to have stopped, but at the same time, it's always odd when I see something to do with the sport. My cousin is currently taking the crew team at her university by storm, and I must confess that I have most definitely been subject to pangs of resentment/jealousy whenever her successes are discussed in the family, ecstatic though I am for her.
We'll just have to see what happens when my little brother grows up, though. He's 11, fit to the point where the coach of the Swedish Olympic ski team said he had never seen a child of his age with such muscles and already at least 5'5. He's a natural rower if I've ever seen one, and I will be furious if he doesn't at least try the sport (nope. I don't like basketball. Crew has more elegance.) but at the same time, I hope I don't get as resentful as I do with my cousin. She's a girl, though, and only three years younger than me, so her news hits a little closer to home.
All in all, though, I must repeat that I am frivolously fond of having shed all that muscle. I can't do more than 8 push-ups in a row without dying anymore (used to do 60 on an almost daily basis... which is a big deal for a girl), but I've gained a lot more in feeling comfortable in myself. It took a bit, with having trouble really recognising my body as I shifted away from being an athlete (and lost about 20 pounds... of muscle!), but I feel much less clumsy and a lot more comfortable in my skin. I can still do the things I want, but now I no longer have to deal with enormous muscly man-calves. Bliss.
PS: For a photo of me rowing, look here. I'm in seven seat, or rather, the second person down from the little person in white (coxswain). Check out those guns. And that visor. Hott.