By Anna Szumiesz
Wrested from the ice cream cone I had vividly been enjoying in a dream, I roll over and swipe off the alarm on my phone. It’s 5:30 am. The wind is blowing coldly through my open window, and I wonder if this had been the source of my dream. Thoughts of that rich cookies & cream delight combined with the luxurious contrast my quilt is giving to the breeze almost succeed in carrying me off to sleep again, but willfully I swing my legs over the side of my bed. After ten minutes of fumbling around in the dark for scattered pieces of Under Armour, and fighting the lion’s mane on my head into a pony tail, I finally head out the door.
It is the part of the morning that has not quite extracted itself from night. I can feel the breath of the Earth, like the calm respiration’s of all the people around me still asleep in their dorms, in the intermittent breeze tousling my hair. The full moon overhead illuminates my path, and each step I take toward back campus carries me further from the dream land I have only recently left. Small and unassuming, my destination quickly comes into view: the boathouse.
This is where I begin the majority of my mornings. Together with twenty others who have made the moonlit excursion in varying states of grogginess, I begin the process of getting in the water. Sixteen hands grab onto the boat and, listening only to the commands of our coxswain, carefully extricate it from the rack, walk it down to the water, and roll it over heads down to the creek. We each find our oars and slide them into the riggers, making sure to screw the oar locks tight. On further commands from Jarvis, we each place first one, then two feet in the boat. We strap our feet into the (often too large) shoes and push off from the dock.
My favorite things about crew can be condensed into three simple categories: the synchronicity, setting, and physical power. Following the stroke of the stern-most rower, eight seats slide up to the catch, eight oars drop into the water, eight pairs of legs push against the boat, eight bodies lay back, eight pairs of arms pull the oar through eight identical strokes, and eight pairs of hands deftly feather the oar parallel to the water to be carried back to the catch again. This intricate compounded motion is repeated ten, twenty, thirty times. Each stroke is robotic in its motion, yet exact in its execution. The fifty foot shell, which only minutes before bumbled clumsily in our hands on land, slices through the velvety black water.
We maneuver the boat under three bridges and out onto the Severn. Heading up river, the rowers are made the face the brightening horizon, feeling as though the Sun is sent higher into the sky with each driving push of our oars. We are rewarded for our efforts each morning with sunrises like celestial fire.
Three kilometers up the river and all eight of us are still pushing, leaning, pulling, and feathering simultaneously. My mind is hypnotized into this motion, and despite the cold air searing my lungs, sweat pouring down my face, and burning in each of the strained muscles of my body, I push through. Tied to seven other determined rowers, I feed off of their momentum and am motivated to keep fighting. Suddenly, the monotony of our sliding seats and watery oars is broken, “WEIGH ENOUGH!” We have reached our terminus.
More awkwardly than craftily, we turn our boat to face back down the way we just came. Half an hour later, we find ourselves pulling up to the dock again, now wet with the morning dew, and follow another set of commands from Jarvis to get the shell out of the water and into the boathouse. With each boat now safely nestled back on the rack, twenty hands reach toward each other, and we throw them up in a unanimous cheer, “SJC CREW!” We tumble out of the boathouse, now fully awake from our vigorous row, and head toward the tantalizing smell of bacon wafting toward us from Randall Hall.