Go Try Something New and Find Your Family

Six days a week I am awake at 5 AM and out on the water by 6 AM. It’s freezing, pitch-black, and wonderfully still. The world holds its breath as the sky goes from purple to orange. There’s a tangible peacefulness when even the birds are still asleep. The winter months are exceptionally cold and dark, and most days I am decked out in an open-ocean grade, high visibility, fowl-weather jumpsuit. But my boys still usually have their shirts off.

I am a varsity coxswain on the Men’s Rowing team here at UCD. Many people ask if I started crew in high school, and are surprised when I tell them I walked onto the team my freshman year. It was the first week at an involvement fair and I got called over to where the team was tabling. I was drawn in by the possibility of being able to walk onto a nationally competitive collegiate team. 

Image source: Josh Calabrese

To say I was intimidated would be an understatement. I grew up as an arts kid and dancer, and this was completely out of my comfort zone.

Starting out, I was both nervous and excited. They drew me in by asking “so you like to yell at men?,” to which a majority of people would respond with an overly enthusiastic “YEAH.” I was scared, but after our first practice I knew I had to stay. Putting discomfort aside and trying something on a whim was one of the best choices I made coming to college. 

Coxing comes down to a delicate balance of deep respect and absolute trust. And when I say absolute trust I mean absolute trust. I have legitimately ordered my stroke seat to hop out of the boat, accidentally sending him into 6 feet of salt water (but that’s a story for another time).

Both of these traits take time to cultivate and blossom, and I’m still growing everyday. Respect comes from the fact that I have no desire to be a rower, and my rowers have no desire to cox. It’s the aversion to one another’s job that keeps the balance between the two roles. I understand that they are going through levels of absurd physical pain (try burning 500 calories in under 7 minutes), and I can respect that. At the same time, as soon as I call “hands on the boats” at the beginning of practice, they are able to relinquish all responsibility to me. If a practice plan is messed up, if the boat hits the bridge, or if we lose a race due to strategic error, that’s all on the cox. It’s a jockey-horse style relationship.

Trust comes into play both in and out of the boathouse. This is the basis of our working relationship as well as our friendships. Coming into my novice class with 30 guys and no other girls, I really didn’t know what to expect. I grew up with brothers and guy friends, but this was a whole new playing field. I had to prove myself to be “just one of the guys” while still retaining my authority as a woman and a cox. I quickly found that I was wildly fortunate to be surrounded by the teammates I had.

Image source: Vishal Banik

A sport like this that breeds so much trust between teammates inevitably lead us to be the tight-knit family we are today. I remember a little over two years ago, I was sitting in the Segundo DC after practice talking to a teammate about how I missed my old cheer team, and told him how we had been like a family. He simply looked up and responded, “Well, I guess we’re going to be family now.” It was a simple statement, but it was very strange to hear from someone I barely knew. I just kind of laughed it off at the time, but it has stuck with me since then. Looking back, he wasn’t wrong.

Because of my experience on the rowing team, my advice to incoming freshman is to get involved in something that makes you nervous but excited. Who knows, you might just find your family.