Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Almost Forgot About This

I found this in a journal I use; I forgot about that day until I read the first sentence of the entry. I don't know why I never posted it here. It seems like something I would've written here. This was from two summers ago.
"I slapped my face two or three times with both hands, as hard as possible. The slapping hurt. It snapped me to attention. My adrenaline started flowing...the Yugoslavs, sitting in the next lane stared at me in disbelief. The harsh slapping made me angry -- exactly what I wanted. I did my best work when I was angry." -- Brad Alan Lewis from Assault on Lake Casitas

The rain had just stopped. It wasn't a heavy rain, just a passing shower that wraps around you like a warm, humid blanket. I was sitting in the middle of the river, drops of water running down my glasses and my face. Slowly, dream-like, I gazed around at the armada heading towards me.

I was sitting at the top of the racecourse on the Connecticut River, waiting for all the participating boats to arrive. It was a scrimmage; the course was a little under 2000 meters, and the boats would be started like it was a head race. The only other person racing a single was a lightweight named Alex who was in his first season with the boat club. We had launched early in order to clear the way for the larger boats now heading towards us.

As the current brought our singles towards the starting buoys, we kept paddling, just far enough to drift back down five minutes later.

My body felt languid and insubstantial; my muscles could've been made of marshmallow and I wouldn't have felt any different. I recognized this feeling, the nervousness and anxiety that comes from being at the start. When in a team boat, it's easy to offset this feeling when an external force is telling you to row. It's much harder to control when you're the only one in control of the entire boat. I looked at the reflection of the riggers in the water. My hands were resting on them, my fingers looking far too fragile and slender to endure the trial that was awaiting me.

Brian, the head coach and starter, called Alex and I to the line as the last boats made their way to the marshalling area. Alex started about 15 seconds before I did, moving his single with a fluidity that seems to be a characteristic of lightweights. Brian called me up next. The marshmallows in my arms and legs transitioned to molasses. As my oars came out at the finish of the first stroke, they changed into something else, something undefinable. My legs were cannons, firing off every catch, just to recoil and do it again. I passed through the starting line after five strokes and really started to hit my stride.

Then the velcro holding my feet in tore apart mid-stroke. For one split-second, I thought that I might be able to come back up to the catch and fix them before I fell apart, but it wasn't going to happen. I have a hard enough time doing the feet-out drill with fair warning; it wasn't going to work when I hadn't chosen to do it and I was driving my body backwards at full pressure. Before I even had time to think, my single was upside-down, and I was in the water.

To my credit, I'd only flipped once before this. My first time in a single, they made me try to back off the dock without any kind of warning, and I immediately flipped. But since then, I hadn't had any incidents. But out of all the times I'd been out on the water, I had to pick today to flip.

Training immediately asserted itself. I flung my arms over the upset hull and fixed my oars so that they were in the proper position to keep the boat from rolling while I was floating on it. The coaches, busy with the racing, had me stay with the launches until the rest of the boats passed me. And there were a lot of them.

After one of the other coaches helped me flip the single back over and get in, I had already drifted down past the start about 300 meters, and it was too late for me to re-attempt the racecourse. So I went from where I was.

I was furious. Not only had I been denied the opportunity to race, but two of the eights that had rowed by me were crewed by oars that I coached. Once I started moving again, I took that fury out on the water. Moving that last 1500 meters, I pounded out every stroke with a force that I wouldn't have had if everything had gone normally. I wanted pain, pain that was all-consuming, pain that would replace the embarrassment and humiliation of the past ten minutes. Pain was good.


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