For almost the entirety of Hilary term the Regent’s rowing teams have been gearing up for the Torpids Regatta, a university-wide competition taking place in the latter half of 7th week. Due to the shortage of time and of space on the river, placements in this year’s Torpids are determined by last year’s rowing results. Those who did well last year (aka. Regent’s men’s crew) are guaranteed a spot in the regatta, but those who were not on that level (aka. the Regent’s women’s crew) had to compete in a preliminary race to qualify for a spot in Torpids.
This preliminary qualifying event, known as Rowing On, occurred on the Friday of 6th week, after we had only had 2 (just TWO!!) outings going at full or what we call ‘race’ speed. At this point I had barely learned how to feather my blades and had just begun to keep up with the other seven crew members.
Let me remind you that the other seven girls had the benefit of rowing for an entire term already: beginning with basic instruction then gradually honing their technique and increasing their speed as a team over the course of 8 weeks prior. I had not. I had been squeezed into the line-up come January, after Regent’s crews had already logged hours of practice and one regatta. In fact, I wouldn’t have even been able to join the team had not my expressed interest luckily coincided with a team member dropping out of the team. My late arrival to rowing made the learning curve quite steep, to put it mildly. It was like learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end. After the panic sets in and you think you’re about to drown, your gym teacher leans over the side of the pool and says, “Paddle!”
So paddle I did. It may not have been a matter of ‘sink or swim’ in this case, but of ‘paddle or be paddled.’ There’s a whole host of metaphors I could use to describe the way I felt but the primary theme was simply that of survival.
Honestly, I didn’t even really care if we qualified for Torpids or not, so long as I personally could complete the race without getting my blade stuck in the water and/or falling in the water myself. I really wasn’t sure I’d be able to accomplish even that, because as I mentioned, I was the newbie in the boat and knew it would take every ounce of concentration I had in my being to just stay in time with the other seven girls and — preferably — avoid becoming part of the Thames.
But I tried my best to ignore my fears, to ignore the cold and relentless drizzle that always hangs over your head in the most convenient of moments. The clock started, the horn went off, and we rowed on. We rowed as fast as we could down the river while trying to stay at a steady pace with one another — something always easier said than done.
My focus was completely consumed by the flipping of my oars (“blades”) at the right moment. Too fast and my stroke would have no power. Too slow, and my oar would get stuck. This getting stuck or “catching a crab” as they say is a very unfortunate and dangerous occurrence that creates disruptive drag and can even catapult you out of the boat and into the water if the force is strong enough.
The fear of catching a crab was sufficient enough to keep my head in the game — or in the boat– the entire time. The intensity of my concentration faltered slightly towards the end of the course when my arms were aching and my hands were numb. But the success of my inaugural race experience was that I completed the course (a)without dying and (b)without catching a crab. I was thoroughly exhausted and my arms seemed permanently stuck in rowing position for a few minutes afterwards…but once we all gained feeling in our limbs again we celebrated by high-fiving and singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” in a 3-part round.
The bad news is that we didn’t make good enough time to qualify for the race, but it cannot be denied that we had fun and were free from the all-consuming Torpids schedule of 7th week. In fact, on of my sorority sisters from CSU, Becca Holman, came to visit Oxford during 7th week so I was able to spend more time exploring England with her! The wild Adventures of Becca and Claire will be detailed in posts to follow…but if you want a good laugh in the meantime, check out our team’s pictures from Rowing On by clicking on the link below. I’m the one in the middle (“Bow 5”) in the garish green shirt. Can’t miss me, because everyone else is wearing red and white like we’re supposed to be wearing. (woops)