The cold waters of my youth

Saturday was a treat. My daughter’s coach invited me to ride along in the launch and watch the Brooks School girl’s crew practice on Lake Cochituate — the same lake where I learned to row one cold April in 1973. Non-rowers can’t appreciate what it means to ride in a motorboat about twenty feet away from a practicing crew. Spectators to the sport usually see a few seconds of the race, typically near the finish line, and get, at best, a look at 30 strokes worth of rowing. It’s all the more frustrating, as an ex-rower, to only see those final strokes, knowing that the coaches and judges get a stroke-by-stroke view for the entire 1,500 meter course.

I arrived at the boathouse right on time and climbed aboard the launch with Greg Spanier, a veteran coach and math teacher at the school. He explained it was the team’s third row on their home waters — the ice having melted only a couple weeks before. The crew had spent spring break in Austin, Texas, rowing out of the University of Texas — something we didn’t do in the early 70s when we rowed in wooden boats and took out chances with the ice being out during March vacation.

Brooks rowing runs deep in my memory, but is an especial tradition at the small school of about 300 students on a rural campus in northeastern Massachusetts. Founded as an Episcopalian school in the early 1930s, and named after 19th century Episcopalian bishop, Philips Brooks, the school has maintained something of a British “public” school tradition, referring to “forms” instead of grades, and organizing the student governance along a prefect system. Rowing being what it is in England, it was and still is a core part of the “St. Grottlesex” tradition in the small prep school that circle Boston.

Brooks has sent rowers to college championships, world championships and the Olympics. In the past four years the girl’s crew has won two national high school rowing championships.

My daughter was aboard the first boat that won one of those championships, an event I watched from the shores of Lake Harsha outside of Cinncinnati, a momentous affair for a parent and a squirming torture viewed through the viewfinder of a video camera zoomed in as close as it would go. Yesterday I got the chance to truly watch my daughter row  for the first time and it was … awesome.

Next weekend is the first scrimmage, and then the season begins, four or five races leading up to the New England championships in Worcester on Lake Quinsigamond. She graduates the next day, finishing her stint at the little school that means more to me than my college experience, bound for the University of Virginia and the big leagues of NCAA women’s rowing.

Thanks to Mr. Spanier for the ride yesterday and best of luck to the team this season.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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