... 'the boat' was something more than just the shell or its crew ... it encompassed but transcended both it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love.
Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat, 2013
In the Spring of 1984, at the end of my freshman year at UNH, the Crew Team held it's Alumni Day. The boathouse was suddenly overrun with former rowers who came back once a year to reconnect with old team mates, lace themselves into a shell once more, and let their bodies remember the fluid motion of rowing that they had forced it to learn so completely that they never forgot it. After paddling up and down the river they talked about past glories, races won and lost, boat mates present and missing.
I clearly remember being in the boathouse and on the dock that day in full awareness that I was looking at a bond and camaraderie that was mine for the taking, but which I would never share. I knew that this group was the kind of people that you would want to have in your life until you died. People with whom you had shared much and whom you fully trusted. People with whom you had a common experience so grueling, and yet so satisfying, that they would be your 'team' until your dying day.
I was choosing another path. I loved rowing, and it genuinely pained me to consciously give up the love that these people had, because I already felt it. I had only rowed for a year, but the bond of that time was very deep. Here were people who had done it for 4 years, and as they basked in the glow of those years I felt some envy of what they had and of what I was giving up.
I don't begrudge leaving the sport. It allowed me to pursue what was important to me. I would by lying to myself if I said that I wasn't sad about doing it though...
Standing on the dock with all those former UNH rowers I could feel the unbreakable bond they all shared. They had given their all for something, and that ties you together in a way that few experiences can. I was envious of them in that they could give themselves so fully and completely to a single thing that was not something I was able to do. Life was too big and there were too many roads that I wanted to go down for me to achieve the singular focus that rowing required. I had tasted the feeling of boat that had gotten 'in swing' and it was transcendent. I had felt the call of the sport and felt the desire to fully commit to my team and my boat. But the completeness of the commitment also held me back. I knew that if I was going to continue with Crew I would want to give myself to it completely, and there was too much else that I wanted to do with my time. Too many other things that I wanted to experience. I envied those that could attain and maintain that singularity of focus. The world was too big and too interesting to me.
... but standing on the dock that day I could feel the bond that I could not be a part of, and part of me mourned that I would not be there in the years to come.