It's 5 p.m. on Monday morning, and nothing but the sound of the oars slicing through the water and the shouts of the coxswain break the peaceful silence that hangs over the bay. The constellations still shine clearly in the dark sky, not yet outdone by the flickering lights of the city. The two rowboats of the varsity women's team for NorCal, one of many Bay Area rowing clubs, glide through the water, the athletes moving in complete unison. For the crew, every trip into the San Francisco Bay is a race. Even while doing their first workout of 12 minutes of 22 strokes per minute, the varsity women are one of the fastest crews on the water.
Rowing is one of the only sports to qualify as both a power and endurance sport in the olympics. It requires immense core strength and agility, as well as the ability to work as a team.
Unlike other water sports, the rowers break out into a sprint from the start, racing head to head until the finish line.
Often, the difference between winning and losing is as small as a single second. According to Coach Joel Skaliotis, getting the blade in the water just in time to pull forward only an inch can make all the difference.
Many of the athletes have been rowing for four years, starting in the eighth grade. The varsity team trains six times a week, with morning practices on Monday and Friday. Unlike other popular sports such as soccer or basketball, every crew member began with no prior experience, providing an even ground from which the athletes build their skills.
Training 15 hours a week, at times rowing the 28,000 meters from the Port of Redwood City to the San Mateo bridge in a single practice, the crew members' training builds the necessary skills and confidence to succeed. Junior Hannah Macleod remarked, "For me it's a great workout; I am more productive afterwards and I feel great about myself."
The athletes wake up at 4:20 a.m. twice a week, on Mondays and Friday, and are out on the water by 5 a.m. While most M-A students are still sleeping, the crew members are rowing across the bay. “I just got used to it,” said Junior Irene Walker when asked how she motivates herself to get up for practice, “I've been doing it for long enough that I have just stopped thinking about it. I'm just like 'Oh, time to get up.'”
For many rowers, the early start is one of the most challenging aspects of crew. “The most difficult part of being on the varsity team is the time commitment and the intensity of the workout,” said Macleod. “You spend all this time at practice and you come home and you know you have to work efficiently to get your homework done, but you are just so exhausted, and you just want to take a nap”.
“When you sit on the erg, or when you step in the boat, it's like turning yourself inside out. You are pulling as hard as you can and giving it your all, and it's that vulnerability that really bonds people.” - Junior Hannah Macleod
The tough workouts and early morning practices create a unique bond between the crew members. Emily Steinmetz, who played basketball competitively before joining crew, remarked that she had never had as strong of a connection with her teammates as she does now. “You trust that the other people in your boat are also pulling as hard as they can. And it's a great feeling knowing that they are doing that for you and that you are doing that for them as well,” added MacLeod.
“Every day is another chance to push yourself to go fast.” - Junior Sydney Cheek
The incomparable bond formed between the athletes make the strenuous training sessions and early mornings is rewarding. “When you get into a really good boat, and it feels really good, and you're having a really good practice, it just feels amazing,” laughed Walker. The unique sport of competitive rowing not only serves as a great workout, but it also creates opportunities to make new friends, and grow as a person.