30for30: A Pox on the Cox No More

By Mark Lance

I discovered rowing 8 years ago when my partner Amy Hubbard dragged me out of bed to try this new sport. (Amy rowed in college; took a brief 30 year vacation, and then discovered we lived a mile from the boathouse.) That was roughly the same time I discovered that I had a genetic disability that had led to emphysema. I actually forced my doctors to acknowledge that something was seriously wrong by way of careful tracking of my training on the erg. That discovery and subsequent treatment, as well as the aerobic training of rowing with Club AM 5 days a week since has likely added more than a decade to my life. (Seriously. I have data.) So there’s that.

But I’m here to talk about coxing! Yes, it’s that thing that we all have to do. Many rowers come from college rowing, while some, like me, come from Capital’s Learn To Row, but we generally learn to row before we learn to cox. But coxing is easy, right? You just sit there while everyone else does all the work. Aside from the steering – i.e. not destroying the boat – and commands, and listening to the coach, and looking at timing and blade height, and finding the best course in head races – or Satan’s own race the Occoquan Challenge – and pulling up to a stake boat, and docking . . . but mostly just sitting there.

Easy as it might be, Amy and I were both super-anxious coxing our first time, confident we’d do everything wrong, piss off our coach and teammates, and probably cost the club 10k. We managed, and got tolerably good at it, but then discovered that we were not alone. We knew people who actually quit over coxing anxiety. We saw panic attacks over the years. I think Amy threw up her first time. We saw people who would literally hide at warm-ups to avoid being called on. And we thought: “you know, we could actually train people to do this!”

So, in the spirit of an all-volunteer, jump-in-and-do-it-without-waiting-to-be-an-expert club, we offered beginning coxing classes. We’ve been holding these once a session for 2 and a half years now. Over 75 people have come through them and consistently express that it’s a huge relief.

My main point is that Capital is that kind of community. We all pitch in whenever we see a need. We help each other out to be our best. I’ve learned so very much from people at this club that it’s a joy to give back in a small way. I’ll never be the fastest rower, with half my lungs, but I can help newer rowers and coxswains in lots of ways and always feel a part of this team. (Not being on supplemental oxygen or dead, like most people my age with my disease, is cool also.)