McCallie Blog

Therefore I Row

Posted by Student Contributor on September 27, 2010

By Joel Avey

Waiting for an impending trial is difficult.

Every second that passes seems like an hour, every small sound makes me jump to attention. I’m at a full stage of alertness and readiness; yet I’m in a daze and oblivious to the world around me. The small line of sweat that traced my brow when we left the dock has now evolved, running down my face in streams and flooding my eyes. I want to wipe them and suspend the burning sensation, but my hands are preoccupied.

The woman in front of us mutters something inaudible, but I’m sure it’s important. The flag goes down, and before I’m even cognizant of the fact, it is upon me.

Four years ago, the world of rowing was completely oblivious to me. I had seen some races during the Olympics, but I was unaware of what was truly going on in those sleek, alien, carbon fiber hulls. As a kid I was made to believe that rowing was a sport solely for the elite, something that the Jay Gatsbys of the world would do between their polo practice and afternoon tea. In my imagination, they always had a pompous British accent and spoke short sanctimonious phrases, giving unnecessary allusions to their respective alma maters. “Winning this race reminds me of my old days at Oxford. I’ll add this gold medal to my collection,” one rower would say to the other. “Jolly good, Jolly good,” the other would respond.

On a leap of faith, I decided to try one of the few sports I was allowed to participate, rowing, and immediately all preconceived notions of exclusivity and elitism were absolved. Instead I began to see what rowing truly was: an escape.

There was certainly no room in that haughty group for the southern charm and humility I thought I had to offer. Not to mention I still carried substantial baby weight, the polar opposite to these immortals. No, rowing was not the sport for me, so I continued my life with the err of ignorance and a diet of Lucky Charms.

At the end of eighth grade, my life, and my perceptions, changed. I found myself on an honors scholarship destined to attend an all-boys boarding school, a non-traditional route for someone from a small rural town in Georgia. I was out of my comfort zone, a young impressionable freshman seeking something to call his own, to define him for his high school years.

On a leap of faith, I decided to try one of the few sports I was allowed to participate, rowing, and immediately all preconceived notions of exclusivity and elitism were absolved. Instead I began to see what rowing truly was: an escape.

For being a supposed team sport, I often found myself left to my thoughts amongst the monotonous sound of oars hitting water. Day in and day out, I was granted an amenity that many in this day and age have written off: time to just think. Rowing is strict and regimented, an art, and there is no talking in the boat. My only dialogue was with myself, and for countless hours I solved math problems in my head, I pondered relationship struggles. I lost myself in thought. In this time of introspection, I became more aware of the world around me, and how the simplest of human operations, thought, is often taken for granted. Outside of the boat, rowing has taught me to be more conscious of how I spend my time, and in general, just to be more thoughtful. It’s easy to get swept away by the tumultuous happenings of the world, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s healthy, necessary even, to have time to yourself.

The rhythmic pulsations of the boat are mind numbing, cathartic. The cool air that rushes off the water, even on the most sweltering of days, is fresh and pure, purging my burdened soul of any stress and worry. It catches my face like a baptism, and I am reborn. Everything is brighter and more alive; the vibrant shimmering of the sun on the water serving as a humbling reminder of my existence and connection to the world around me.

Today is the most sweltering of days, and a national championship is on the line. For most seventeen year olds, this is hell, this is chaos; but for me this is as close to heaven as man can get. I row, therefore I am.

Joel Avey is a senior at McCallie School.

Topics: crew, First Person, high school, regatta, rowing, The Runway Perspective (Seniors), Upper School Life, varsity