Thank you, UConn Men’s Crew

The infamous dirty four cruising at sunrise
The infamous dirty four cruising at sunrise

I’m graduating a week from Saturday, so that means I’ll be seeing one of my last sunrises on Coventry Lake in the next few days. I have spent three out of my four years at UConn on the Men’s Crew team. Joining the ranks of this club sport was the best decision I made during my undergraduate career. After a rocky first semester in college, I decided that I wanted to be part of something bigger and worthwhile, so I decided to try rowing.

Over the years, crew has instilled in me discipline to strive for bigger goals, taught me how to be passionate about what I care about, believe in myself, and introduced me to the people who make me love my Alma Mater.

Crew is pretty intense. It’s a two-season sport, meaning that we have races in both the fall and the spring. To prepare for races, we practice every day at 5:00am. During the off-season, we also practice 3-4 days a week indoors in the wee hours of the morning as well.

Spring break training at Camp Bob Cooper
Spring break training at Camp Bob Cooper

Now, I am not a morning person, but, once you get hooked, crew is almost addicting. The people that stick with crew are athletes that are driven not only by winning medals, but by the kinship and comradery that comes with being part of the team. These athletes can also roll with the punches too because rowing does not come without making sacrifices. While balancing classes, work, and other activities, many athletes do not get the normal eight hours of sleep on a nightly basis that most people are used to. In addition, while some of your non-crew friends are going out two or three days a week, you won’t risk disappointing your teammates, and stay in on weeknights and nights before races. This is not to say we don’t have fun (or that we don’t go out), though.

As soon as we start warming up for practice, teammates are talking and laughing the whole way until we pick up the boat and carry it into the water. Coventry lake blesses UConn Crew with water that is typically calm and glassy; however, the windy, rainy, and snowy mornings are at some point inevitable. At the end of every practice, the team heads to Northwest or South dining halls for team breakfast. We apologize to all UConn students for being the most awake, loquacious people while you’re trying to ignore every single person ever at 7:30 in the morning. For new members of the team, this can be first point when you start to appreciate that being a part of this team is worth it. You realize that the day has hardly started already, and you’ve already accomplished so much.

First place at Fall Metropolitan races
First place at Fall Metropolitan races

As much as rowers compete against other crews, they also compete against themselves. This is very comparable to runners who are constantly trying to get their time down. What’s different about rowing is that each boat has a coxswain, the typically smaller person that steers the boat and motivates his or her teammates to row faster. Last fall, in the Metropolitan races, my boat immediately pulled ahead of four of our competitors right off the starting line. This was extremely exhilarating to me, someone who had never won a medal. Soon we’re more than halfway through the race and in second place. Our coxswain, Christine, bellows that we are inching up on the boat in first place and that only first place receives a medal. Previously oblivious of this fact, a switch turned on in my mind bringing me to a state in which I suddenly could not feel the burning sensation in my muscles. With several powerful strokes, we edged ahead of the boat, winning by a fraction of a second. Together we beat the odds, and I won my first race with most extraordinary group of oarsmen. In this regard, crew has helped me unleash potential in myself that I didn’t know I had. Through the sport and through my teammates, I have found courage in myself to achieve accolades I used to only dream about. This concept materializes not only in my success at rowing competitions, but in the classroom and the laboratory as well.

In this environment, I grew as a person and as a young professional as well. As a student and budding scientist, I know that this culture has been instilled into how I live. When it comes to academics and research, this means studying and getting lab work done late at night. Nonetheless, just like striving to get faster to earn those medals, I became more comfortable with working relentlessly towards academic and scientific goals. I will take this valuable wisdom with me beyond commencement into my next endeavor.

I get the impression that perspective of non-rowers about rowers is that they’re crazy considering the early mornings, the commitment to a club activity, and the intense workouts. Yet, when I see my teammates, my best friends, I see the most dedicated people that I’ve met at UConn. Rowers are people that have found a passion that drives them to want more from themselves and from others. Over time, the sport teaches you discipline and passion that translates to conducting yourself and approaching everything you do with determined conviction.