[when rowing] your body burns calories and consumes oxygen at a rate that is unmatched in almost any other human endeavor. Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race — the Olympic standard — takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back.
And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.
— Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat, 2013

Dining with the Crew Team

Afternoon crew practice ended at 6:45. The dining halls closed at 7. That meant that once we came off the water and put the shells and oars away we had just enough time to drive, ride, or run about a mile up a long hill into Durham. I was glad to have a bike at this point as we rode up the hill like a starved pack of wolves, racing against the clock.

I was told by someone on the dining hall staff that they had to wrap up everything that was left over at the end of dinner. That is, unless a student came in and ate it. Being the only thing standing between them and the end of their shift, and knowing that they could save themselves a lot of work by giving most of the leftover food to us, the entire kitchen staff were waiting with all the remaining food piled at the service counter.

Grabbing a tray inside the door I lined up 8 glasses of milk across the front of it. Next I went to the food line. Under normal circumstances the dining hall staff refused to give more than one entree at a time, but after crew practice they never even batted an eye when I asked for 4. I usually got 4 to 6 sides to go with them, all the plates piled atop each other, the mashed potatoes from one entree glued to the bottom of the plate on top of it.

I heaved my heavily-laden tray with both hands now as the team steered toward an empty table. Here one of the most dexterous acts of the day was performed: in one smooth motion we would throw one leg over the chair, place the tray down on the table, slide into the chair, and start shoveling food. It all flowed in a single interwoven and uninterrupted motion that had the same complex fluidity as the oar blades entering and leaving the water. For about five minutes there was not a word — only scraping of utensils and chewing.

I believe there were some students who liked to stay late just for the show, because we were always surrounded by students throwing sidelong glances and muffled smirks. Those who had not seen it before just sat and stared open-mouthed. At our table we sat together — men and women alike — eating like we'd just returned from a desert island and oblivious to those around us.

Two entrees into the process the pace slacked enough to allow bits of conversation to creep into the ritual and there are a few pauses to catch one's breath. The orgy devolved into a feast, and finally into relaxed grazing over the last bits.

At the end of the meal the team sat at a table filled only with dirty dishes. Anything edible was gone.

I was once asked how much I ate during this time. The only way I could describe it was to say, "As much as I can get my hands on".