As a senior rower and captain of the crew team, my final collegiate Spring Break was spent rowing for seven hours a day on our annual training trip. While the trip is usually framed as a fun time spent with teammates, bonding and doing fun excursions, that was not the case this year.
I’ve been on the team for the entirety of my time at Smith. While I don’t always immediately think of myself as an athlete, I can’t imagine that anyone else wouldn’t. I devote at least 20 hours a week to the sport, and that doesn’t include the hours of venting and analyzing that I inadvertently waste in the attempt to make sense of the actions of coaches and teammates.
My other three Spring Break training trips were spent in Gainesville, Georgia, rowing on Lake Lanier. There was a cute downtown area within walking distance and a lot of things to do (and a lot of time to do it). This year, we stayed in West Knoxville, aka the strip mall capital of the world, and rowed in Oak Ridge. Our travel time each day was longer, and the time we spent on the water was longer.
Our program is very much transitioning right now toward being faster and more competitive, but I don’t get to see many benefits of it during my final months. I only get the hard work and lack of recognition.
My final collegiate Spring Break saw my hands being torn up and rowing for nearly seven hours a day. I left Tennessee having gotten zero work done, having had minimal bonding and fun time moments, and feeling so exhausted.
The saddest part is that it’s been a month and I still don’t feel recovered. I wake up each day feeling mentally and physically tired. My right hand (my outside hand – I row starboard) is perpetually cracking and bleeding in three places. Our water practices are in the afternoon for the first semester ever, giving me very little free or social time.
I’ve seen so many team traditions die over the years, but I’ve struggled even more to hold onto them with the change in leadership. It’s difficult to realize that as the end of my time at Smith draws to a close, my efforts to effect any type of lasting change are useless. I would love to fix the team dynamic issues I witness, but who will listen to a senior who will be gone in a matter of weeks? I’ve given the team and the coaches so much power to affect my mood, but I need to stop and enjoy my last moments as an undergrad.
There are many times that I feel like I’m going to regret how much time I spent on a sport I fell out of love with and how much time I wasted worrying about anything. But, there are those few times that I feel like all of it is completely justified. While I won’t get to see most of the results of the higher-intensity training or the longer practices, my boat has been doing so well because of it. Though I might not be in the most coveted boat (and there are definitely reasons for it beyond my control), I’m in the only boat that has won a significant race in recent history.
And though socially there are a myriad of issues, I have made my best friends from this team. My first year, I wandered into another hotel room during Spring Break and forced myself into a friend group. I now live with those three women, and we have been best friends ever since. There are definitely parts of it that I’m grateful for, but it’s hard to remember the good when there’s so much bad.
As graduation draws nearer, my only hope is that I can eventually look back on this time and smile.