Karen Zareski is a member of Club PM. She signed up for Capital’s Learn to Row program on a whim, and was lucky enough to find a community and a passion.
Five years ago, I learned to row at Capital. I am still—and always will be—learning. My body does not always respond rapidly to the coaches’ direction; I grind in improvements season by season. In winter, I convince myself to stay on a rowing machine with the promise of spring. In spring, I am overjoyed to be back on the water. I recommit to fixing imperfections and count the weeks until our first regatta.
It is summer now, and we sweat as we lift the boats into the water. Sometimes there is whining about the heat and humidity. Often I am the one whining. Shortly after we launch, however, we settle into the rhythm. The only way to make progress is to focus on the fundamentals of timing, technique, and power. There is no space left to worry about to-do lists or tomorrow’s meetings. Each practice is an opportunity for a mental and physical reset.
We pass kayakers and canoers, novice sailors and party boat cruisers. A home run cheer from Nationals Stadium can provide heady impetus for a touch more swing from the hips, more power from the quads. We focus on the back of the rower in front of us, striving for the ineffable swing that takes a row to the sublime. In the last few strokes of practice, our boat surges forward. We return to the dock at twilight, ready for happy hour and ever more discussion of rowing.
In autumn, the river is ours alone. The quiet is broken by our cox and our coach. The catch of the oar, the slide of the seat, the solidity of the finish. When we row well, the water rushes beneath us. In the dark, we must rely even more on what our coaches have taught us:
Strength matters. Timing matters more. Row through the waves, the wakes, the wind. Stay solid through the core. Relax your shoulders, and pull through each stroke’s finish. Let the boat come to you rather than rushing forward and checking its progress. Find the water with your blade. If you miss a stroke, fix it on the next. Feel the boat. Focus on the teammate in front of you. Sit up. Feel it.