When I tell people that I am an M&T student and on the heavyweight crew team, people usually respond with something like, “WHAT?!! Are you crazy?!” Without fail, this leaves me at a loss for words. What makes answering such a simple question so difficult is that most people, including myself, do not really know what crew is. After completing three months of practice, three head races, five 10,000m erg tests, and a triathlon with the team, I am starting to get an idea, albeit a limited one, of what makes this sport insane, but also entirely worth it. Here are two of the highlights:
Erg Tests: An erg is an exercise machine that simulates the act of rowing and includes a stroke by stroke analysis of your pulling strength. The races we have on these machines are one of the ways our coaches rank our ability. This fall we did a series of 10km tests that would invariably lead each of us to a dark corner of our minds where we questioned the life decisions that caused us to end up on a godforsaken torture device like the erg, with such a feeling despair in our heart. The only thing that pushed me past the all-consuming pain during these tests was the refusal of the person next to me to give up. I kept coming back because I knew my teammates wouldn’t give up on me, so I can’t give up on them. Somewhere in this insane testing process a profound camaraderie emerges that builds the foundation of our team and makes the pain worthwhile.
Triathlon: Before leaving for Thanksgiving break last semester, the team completed a triathlon consisting of a 600m swim, an 8km erg test and a stadium run. (A stadium run consists of running up and down each set of stairs in Franklin Field in a snake-like manner from one end of the stadium to the other, and back again.) To make it more interesting, the coaches scheduled the start time for 5:30am. All I really remember from that Tuesday morning was getting kicked in the face in the dark, overcrowded swimming pool in Pottruck, running down the middle of Walnut Street to the ergs outside Franklin in nothing but wet racing trou, and wondering how out of all the places in the world, I ended up erging outside of Franklin Field at 6:00am the day before I was going home. The stadium run was all a blur and by 7:30, the whole team was eating breakfast in Hill. It was then that it struck me: that was absolutely insane, but also really fun! When else am I going to wake up at 5:30 to run down Walnut in wet spandex? When else will I run all the stairs in Franklin? When else will I get to watch the sun rise over Philadelphia from the Schuylkill River as I paddle off to practice? When else will I get to be part of a team where everyone depends on each other in such a fundamental way simply to get through the workouts each day? The answer is probably never. So while the jury may still be out on my sanity, I can confidently say that crew is definitely an insane sport and that the experience has been completely worth it.
Joe is a current M&T freshman in the Class of 2016. He is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics within Penn Engineering and has yet to declare his concentration in the Wharton School.