I tried crew for a week

Hadley Carr, Editor-in-Chief

In the span of seven days I met an Ivy League coach, contracted a mysterious illness, and lost the ability to put weight on my left arm. All were a product of joining the girls varsity crew team.

On the first day of seven, I participated in my first erg test. If you haven’t seen the herd of crew kids sliding back and forth on these machines before, an erg is an exercise machine of death intended to mimic rowing in a boat.

It was a Wednesday at 4 p.m., and I soon found myself in the pre-test huddle. We were offered two pieces of advice during the test. First: do your best even if you’re not feeling your best. Second: what’s your why? At that moment, my best effort was simply sitting down on the erg, and my why was this very piece of journalism. To say the least, I was not set up for success.

We then rowed for three sets of 10 minutes, with a seven minute break in between. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but so much happened in those 10 minutes. In the first three, I thought I understood the motion of the machine. In the last seven, I was brutally humbled. S&M by Rihanna booming on the speakers, which I soon learned was a team favorite, unfortunately did not push me to row any harder. 

I made it through the next two sets of 10 minutes, but soon began to limp as I journeyed to refill my water bottle, which did not fit in with the sea of Nalgenes. The practice, and every practice after that, ended with a motivational speech by Coach (and Jackson-Reed math teacher) Chris Rickard. 

As we sat down, I felt my muscles becoming sore, and the waft of my sweat (and 30 other girls) impeded my ability to fully comprehend the first of many motivational speeches. I only remember an acronym that would be essential to my next week of crew: EAT. Effort. Attitude. Trust.

When I left the school building, I was immediately hit by a wave a grief. Despite my lack of erging experience, I suddenly felt incredible shame for my performance—and the bruise forming on my rib (because of the rowing motion) didn’t help. I spent a good portion of that night on my floor, contemplating my success and personal worth. I had six more days until my next erg test: how would I change? How could I prove myself?

On Thursday, after school, I gained a new appreciation for the fourth floor hallway and stairs. After running laps around them for 40 minutes total, I felt myself understanding the flow of the movement and remembering my days on the wrestling team. Unfortunately, crew is not a sport made for someone with a short attention span. While erging in the cafeteria, I was momentarily distracted and became out of sync with my new teammates. 

If I thought Thursday afternoon was bad, the dull buzz of my alarm at 6:00 on Friday morning was worse. I lost feeling in my calf going in, and missed the fanny pack memo. Most of the team was preparing for Yorktown Erg Relays, an annual DMV erging showdown hosted at Yorktown High School in Virginia. The remaining seven of us, who for various reasons were not able to compete at Yorktown, had relays: six two-minute erg sprints with four minutes of rest. In the first sprint, I thought I killed it. The second one, I killed it less. The third, I lost feeling in my feet. The fourth, I found comfort near the trash can, and asked Coach Chris if I could quit. If I quit, that meant that my team would forfeit. 

So on my fifth, I got back on my sliding seat, and all I could hear was a coxswain screaming in my ear, “beat the machine.” I did not, in fact, beat the machine. By the sixth, I was told to “empty the tank”. Unfortunately, the tank was emptied on sprints one and two. In the last ten seconds, the team crowded around our ergs, and I felt their screams echo in my chest. 

After I finished, I immediately got off the death machine and laid on the atrium floor. I closed my eyes, imagining a more peaceful world where I had all the oxygen my lungs desired, and opened them to 10 heads staring at me, phone cameras pointed at my humbled being. 

On Saturday, I ventured with the team to compete at Yorktown. After being almost run over by (very tall) kids warming up, the races began. I now understood why crew practice was so hard; our crew team is incredibly strong. The team swept all of the races, and won every other event. 

When the team did a mixed relay with the boys McLean team axnd a Jackson-Reed varsity girl started rowing, the boys turned to each other in shock. When it was their turn to row (and they rowed slower), a Tiger coxswain (shoutout Charity) screamed in their ear, “a JUNIOR GIRL is rowing faster than you.”

On Sunday, I slowly regained feeling of my legs on my allotted rest day. But nothing could have prepared me for Monday. It began in the morning with weight lifting in our dust-infested weight room and I had lost my voice from screaming too much at Yorktown. 

On Monday afternoon, I was entirely unprepared to exercise. I thought the crew team would be rowing on the water and I would be elegantly watching from a motor boat. Unfortunately, the white caps on the Potomac had other plans. Instead, we ran across Georgetown to the exorcist stairs, up and down 15 times, and then completed upwards of 100 burpees.

I woke up the next morning and couldn’t lift my arms, couldn’t walk up stairs, and got in the car for my last practice before the big test. This time, though, I wasn’t alone in my soreness. The whole team was aching. After doing the warm up, we walked into school and were introduced to the Cornell women’s crew coach. 

Surprise, I didn’t get recruited. But I did wake up the next day with another gift from crew: the crew flu. With my nose runny and a cough that kept me awake all night, I pulled my covers over me and attempted to will myself to feel better for my final erg test. I did not. 

It took three more days for my legs to return to their normal feeling. It took five more for me to fully get over my crew flu. But the six days I spent on the team altered my brain chemistry. The death machine that I hated so much made me stronger. The relays that I wanted to quit showed me the power of having a team. 

Those six days proved that behind the “cult” that we laugh about are the 40ish individuals that push themselves every day to be stronger. And that is the most important lesson I learned: you can’t knock it until you try it. •