While in high school and college, most of us believe we are immortal. Having come out of childhood unscathed (due to the unseen protection of our parents), such a youthful illusion is not unexpected. This is a large part of the reason we – how shall I put it – do stupid things when we are in college. We are immortal.
My general experience 30 years ago at URI was no different from the thousands of other students on campus. I was living away from home for the first time, made friends, joined a fraternity, was studying (sometimes), was partying (probably more than I should have), and was enjoying the freedom of being a college student. I was doing all of the things college students do without care, perpetuating the belief that I was immortal. There was one thing, however, that made me different from most of the other students on campus: I was a member of the Crew.
URI Crew was probably one of the greatest influences in my life. It taught me about my limits or, more properly, a lack thereof. Successfully completing the countless stadium runs, erg sessions (Concept and Gamut), hills, 5:30 a.m. runs to the boathouse, Row-A-Thons, and three-times-a-day spring-break training sessions – when we could not even get onto the water until halfway through the week because of the ice – all taught me that there was nothing I could not accomplish if I put my mind to it. That belief – built and solidified by URI Crew – was very strong. However, over the next 30 years, a lot happened. I moved to California, got married, had kids, got divorced, remarried and, in particular, got older. With age comes knowledge; I realized I was not immortal.
Fast forward to the 2015 winter holidays. As I sat in my brother’s house for a family party, I noticed a problem. (Actually, I had been noticing a problem for a couple of years, but now it came to a head.) My clothing was no longer fitting me. I had put on a bunch of weight, did not feel good and wanted to do something about it. My problem was motivation. I no longer believed “I could do anything.”
Then something happened. I received an e-mail from a few of old friends: Chris Yun, Lisa Rodier and John Thornell. They told me there was going to be a reunion to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the URI Crew and they wanted me to be there. They also told me they were going to be putting together some boats to race and wanted me to cox again. I decided to run some numbers and here is what I found:
29 – Number of years since graduating URI
3,066 – Number of miles I moved to go to law school and then to live
1 – Number of times I had been back to campus
25 – Number of years since being on campus
0 – Number of times I had seen the inside of a shell since the 1987 Dad Vails
35.75 – Number of pounds I gained since being a coxswain
I was very excited about the prospect of seeing old friends and actually getting into a shell again. I was terrified I would not remember what I was doing and would hit the dock on the way back in. [I need to digress here for a moment because I do not think many rowers know the stress on the coxswain when getting the boat back to the dock on the Narrow River. There is wind, current and sometimes darkness or fog. The shell is only ¼” thick and hitting the dock can cause a lot of damage. If you miss the line-up and drift too far, all the rowers – who are already exhausted from their work out – need to go around for another pass and look at you like, “how bad is this guy.” Not fun. End of digression. Thank you for your attention.] But my most important consideration in getting back into a shell at the reunion was that I did not want to make the rowers in my boat have to drag my fat ass up and down the Narrow River. I looked back at how crew motivated me when I was in college and decided it was time to lose the weight, get back in shape, and go to the reunion.
A few years earlier I had bought a Concept 2 erg. But, like most home physical fitness equipment, it was sitting idle. Not anymore. I oiled the chain and start using it again. In 500 meter increments, I built up from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters. Starting three times a week, I worked up to six. Whenever I felt I was losing motivation, I went back in my mind to URI. If I could do Mike Welch’s plyometric drills, if I could keep up with the men’s lightweight team doing Indian runs, and if I could motivate the guys in my boat to do one more rep when they were at their limit, I could finish this piece on an erg. I pulled harder, went faster.
By the time my wife and I got on the plane to fly to Rhode Island for the 50th Anniversary Reunion, I had dropped from 155 to 134 lbs. and I felt great. We had a fantastic time at the reunion. I got to see old friends, share old stories and new, and sit in the coxswain’s seat again at (what passed for) full pressure. I also put the boat back on the dock without putting a hole in the shell. I remembered what motivated me when I was at URI: friendship, camaraderie, shared pain, and a desire not to let my boat or myself down. Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to make it back to Rhode Island for the 2016 fall Rumble on November 19. But I will look back at the 50th Reunion often. For a weekend, I was immortal again.