Row, Row, Row Your Boat

“You’ve got long legs.” Samantha, the school’s most popular athlete, looked me up and down. “You should join our new girl’s crew team.”

I was taking a sip from the water fountain in the hallway of my high school. “What? I thought rowing was about arm strength?”

“You thought wrong. Meet us at the Chattahoochee boathouse Saturday morning—5 am.”

No one ever recruited me for anything. The air around me became electric.

And so, I found myself sweating on a rowing machine at 5:30 am that Saturday, surrounded by a group of seven large-muscled girls, chewing gum and high-fiving each other. We were the first girl’s crew team in this part of Georgia, and we were determined to prove ourselves.

Coach had ridden the wave of excitement surrounding the announcement that Atlanta would host the 1996 summer Olympics. A retired Olympic trainer, he hit the pavement and garnered interest in a girl’s high school crew team. He found sponsors and raised funds.

Our first day on the river was a total disaster. I sat stroke side. Our coxswain, Maggie, couldn’t carry her voice over the noise of the oars splashing around willy-nilly. We had no technique. Sweep rowing on the water differed from training on the static ergometer in the boathouse. I would have accidentally hit the girl in front of me had the oar not been secured in the gate. She shot me a furious look.

I was the worst of the lot—no form, no stamina, and no idea what I was doing.

Our shell limped back to the dock. The girls dissipated to their parents’ waiting cars—shoulders slumped.

The following Saturday was the same. The one after that too.

A few weeks in, Coach gave us a pep talk and got us back into the boat.

The sun was coming up over the tree line, casting long beams of bright light onto the water as we piled in. Samantha looked over our motley group. Suddenly, her face broke into a vibrant smile that rivaled the sun.

“Today’s the day. I’m sure of it.”

We sat up straighter. Maggie called to us, crystal clear, as we navigated the first stretch of river. A few adjustments were made—a weight shift here, a stroke length there. The sun was high up now—it was full morning.

And then it happened. We could hear Maggie’s calls as clearly as if she were whispering in our ears. The oars weren’t making a sound—all we could hear were birds calling on the shoreline.

Our paddles were slicing through the water like butter in perfect, glorious unison. We had done it! We were a real crew team.

An hour later, sliding next to the dock after a beautiful run, Coach met us with a rueful smile. We knew he was proud of us—couldn’t wait to show us off at our first meet.

He clapped each of us on the back as we climbed out of the shell. “Funding got cut, girls. Pack it up.”

And that was the end of that.

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