There are some unknowing college freshmen heading off to their first collegiate winter training trip for The Ohio State University’s women’s rowing program. I shared some of my experience before my innocence became the dread of having to go again…….
It was almost 20 years ago I was wandering through the Oval on a hot September day. Tons of other freshman were milling around the booths of every student club our huge university offered. Next to sororities, recycling, and drama interest groups was a huge racing shell and an excited lady saying we should show up to an info meeting that night.
I had heard of rowing through only one other person before that day. She was a private school girl who belonged to a club. As I plucked at the foot stretchers, my curiosity moved to intrigue and by the time that tall woman was done talking I was fascinated. I showed up to the meeting, then to the rowing tutorial, and every practice after that. I was the last person invited to winter training- only after someone else quit. It rained half the time we were in Florida. We were crammed 4 into a room with 2 double beds and we rowed so often in the humidity that our clothes didn’t ever fully dry out. We all carried the scent of mildew as we crawled in and out of the briny canal water, the salt stinging the open wounds on our hands and heels. The rain had forced the fire ants out of the ground and you needed to take care every step not to land on a mound because ‘over heads’ while standing on an ant pile meant fire ant bites until you were hands off the boat. Everyone had scabs all over their ankles and calves from bites we’d scratched raw. We could have passed for having the legs of meth users.
It would have been miserable. Except that I fell in love there. I came to love the laughter of my friends as we braided each other’s hair, as we walked to get ice cream at the end of a training day, as we soaked in a hot tub in spandex too tired to change into a bathing suit. I took my turn to cry about missing home or how tired I was, only to be interrupted by someone quoting my favorite movie so that my tears would mingle with cackles and snorts. We rubbed each other’s backs, taped each other’s hands, and talked about the farmer’s tans we wish we weren’t getting.
21 years later, I will be joining 6 of those girls this January on our annual pilgrimage back to each other. I didn’t know then that the suffering and commitment we all made to a common goal we all believed in would become a tie that will bind us for life. That tall lady at the shell on the Oval taught us that love was the greatest vehicle to becoming something beyond ourselves. She kept saying we were only scratching the surface of our potential. We became something more than we could have ever imagined.
There will be moments of deep despair. But if you can risk loving someone to the point that you will sacrifice yourself for them, then you can continue on in the darkest of days. Because you might be willing to give up on yourself, but when you love someone more than yourself, you would never give up on them.
And so you pull harder. You keep pulling longer. You continue on for them, not for yourself.
I wish you love. For each other. For something greater.
It has changed my life. It can change yours too.