Participatory: Average Joe learns to row

(Photo: Cam Gonsalves)

by Cam Gonsalves

I am no stranger to the “Bubble” at Franklin Pierce University but I was unfamiliar with how the Ravens Rowing team runs a practice in the facility. This was resolved when freshman Sophia Alexandrou agreed to walk me through the process.

After meeting and reaching our destination at the Bubble, I was positive that I would follow Sophia into the athletics area. Instead, we went upstairs to the game room and I wondered why this was the starting point for the practice.

Sophia explained that the team begins in the game room to meditate for approximately ten minutes. I was surprised, but excited to relax my mind because of the stress of the last week of school.

“It helps us relax and get into the zone and practice and race better,” said Alexandrou.

Sophia and I began meditating to the voice of George Mumford. He is a motivational speaker that the team listens to during meditation. My mind was at ease and Mumford’s words were moving.

“He is leading us to relax and get in the mind set of race ready and everyday is race day so we don’t take any short cuts, ’cause if you do it in practice, you’ll do it in a race,” said Alexandrou.

Next, we went to the Bubble track to get our blood pumping. Sophia informed me that her team accomplished this by running around the track for five minutes.

“It gets our heart rate going to not hurt ourselves,” said Alexandrou.

Sweat began to drip as I completed my final lap with Sophia by my side. As I gasped for air from the humidity in the Bubble, my muscles tightened up. I was relieved when Sophia told me that we were now going to stretch.  The team stretches after every warm up and emphasizes the lower body.

“We stress legs and back because when you are on an erg and in the boat, you have to push with your legs and then you pull with your arms,” said Alexandrou.

With all tension gone from my mind and muscles, it was time to row. I wondered how it would be possible for this to happen in the Bubble, but Sophia kept me in suspense.

She took me outside of the basketball court, where a set of machines stood tall lined up next to one another. Sophia told me that they were the machines used by her team to practice for races. The machines are called “ergs” and were strapped together by a lock. The rowing team is given the combination to have access to the ergs whenever they want.

Alexandrou said, “It benefits us because when we can’t go on the water during the winter time when it’s frozen, we can go on the ergs and mimic the boat without actually having to be in the boat.”

I was impressed by the equipment that the rowing team had available to them. Sophia unlocked the combination and removed an erg for each of us. The ergs had wheels but I struggled to move my machine next to Sophia’s. She noticed the trouble that I was having and insisted on helping. I refused and maneuvered my erg until it was finally laid flat next to hers. Any spectator would not mistake me for a member of the rowing team.

We sat down and strapped our feet into the foot stretchers on both sides. Sophia instructed me to use the control screen to set the resistance drag to in between four and five. The drag acts like the water resistance of the rowing motion. I felt the motion as I grasped the bar in front of me and pulled it into my lower chest while pushing off the stretchers with my toes.

“We set it to four so it mimics the water,” said Alexandrou.

Sophia told me that the team sets the resistance to this drag level whenever using the ergs. I was impressed by the ability of the erg to calculate my performance on the control screen. After a few run throughs, I felt ready to put my rowing skills to the test. I challenged Sophia to a race, an offer that she gladly accepted. The lights surrounding the Bubble gleamed down on a potential shining moment for me.

“I was surprised when you challenged me to the race, but curious to see how you would perform,” said Alexandrou.

We set the distance on the ergs to 250 meters and I knew I was in trouble when she said, “250 meters is nothing.”  I looked to my left at Sophia and wondered what I had gotten myself into.

She counted down from three and the race began. I tried my best to keep my form and execute at a fast pace, but I was no match for Sophia. Her fluent form was putting mine to shame and I knew my ship was sinking.

The simultaneous buzz from both ergs was reduced to only mine. Sophia reached the 250 meters far before I was close. She stood up from her machine to watch as I kept my pride and finished strong. I was at a loss of breath and words from the effect of the erg and the embarrassment of the loss. Nonetheless, I was proud of my performance and Sophia respected my valiant effort.

“You overall did well, you knew how to do the stroke, you just rushed your stroke a lot and did not come out the way that you should have come out,” said Alexandrou.

The race concluded along with the fun that I had on the erg. My simulated rowing practice was finished, but if I were on the rowing team, I would have still had ways to go before leaving the Bubble. The last stage of practice for the team is a hells kitchen circuit. One group runs around the track for 20 minutes as the other group runs up and down the staircase until the groups switch.

“Indoor helps with speed but it does not help with the overall chemistry of the boat and the set and the forms to make it go smoothly through the water,” said Alexandrou.

Although I did not leave as the winner of the battle in the Bubble, I left with an understanding of a practice for the rowing team and an added respect for the program.

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