A Passion for the Water

March 3, 2003

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Warm beneath the comfort of down blankets and fleece covers, I sleep. The campus is still - students enter their deepest cycle of sleep and dream away. For many, their day will not begin for another four, long hours. I awake bitter, annoyed with jealousy, aching for ten seconds, ten more minutes, to lie lost in the contentment of such a precious luxury. But, once the alarm hits 5:17 a.m., the latest time I can wake, the resentment towards other students' extra slumber evaporates, and I realize just how lucky I am.

Most people think we're crazy. Why would anyone wake up at 5:15 a.m. to practice? They question our motives, call us insane. How do you do it? Why do you do it? For my teammates and I, there is no clear reason, no simple response. It is almost impossible to explain the art of rowing; how eight bodies and one voice combine to create complete perfection and become one, one body, one desire, one love. The life of crew is a layer of experiences. The world of Lexington is part of the folds. The sky. The water. The movement. All the elements combine to create a unique gem, a secret that shimmers in fog and rain, and sparkles in crisp, late-autumn mornings.

Piled in the scratched fifteen passenger white van, the women's crew slowly drifts in and out of consciousness. The heater, on as high as it can go, tries to satisfy our need for warmth, but fails. It is the might of our own body heat, kindled underneath two long sleeved shirts, full spandex pants, windbreaker warm-ups, fleece socks, a wool beanie hat, a hooded sweatshirt, and the infamous water-resistant, "Santa Clara Crew" jacket, that keeps our body temperatures from dropping. Eighteen minutes pass, and the van hugs the last curve to Lexington. With the sound of the parking break, our heads lift from our neighbor's shoulder, and the door to another world is opened.

Frost covers the leaves, needles, branches, and weeds, painting the landscape with delicate fairy dust. Slender sheets of frozen dew cover each blade of grass. It is our tattered tennis shoes that are first to nudge the dormant Lexington; like an alarm clock, our footprints crunch into the frosty earth and break the silence.

"Hands on. Up to waist, ready up. Up to Shoulders, ready up. And walk it out." The coxswain's words seem to linger behind as we leave the boathouse, caught in the web of cold, thick air around us. As we walk down the steep, seventy-five degree hill to the water below, our shoes slip, their soles unable to grasp the icy concrete. Almost to the water, the sun's rays begin to radiate behind the North Slope. The sun, like a child crouching behind a sofa in a game of hide-and-seek, carefully peaks out. It is too timid to reveal its hiding place. The dock is covered with tiny icicles that stick to our socks.

"Up and over heads, ready up. Toes to the edge. Down and in." We gently lower the yellow, fifty-seven foot shell into the still waters. The Veloce seems to relax, as if dipped into a calming bubble bath instead of chilly Reservoir waters. She floats gracefully, bobbing slightly. Small ripples disperse, creating movement to the once smooth, wave-free surface.

"Oars across. One foot in and down." I strap into my foot stretchers. The fleece socks are inadequate. My feet are numb. I grip the oar and shutter. The plastic handle is so cold it burns. The basin water is beginning to steam; the way hot concrete does when sprinkled by cool rain showers. The colors of Lexington are hidden behind the opaque fog.

"Stern four sit ready. And row." The oars enter the water with ease, disturbing the reservoir's glass-like perfection. The first strokes take us deeper into the white, mysterious world of mist. We hear the splashes, the ticks, and the drag of the oars. We feel the compression of muscles, the power of leg drive, and the boat beneath us. The Veloce coasts through the water. Like a leaf, she floats effortlessly. The fog hugs the boat. We see nothing.

With every accelerated drive, our muscles become looser. The sun, now ready to show its importance, penetrates through the morning clouds and smiles upon the world below. It dries the fog, revealing new, vibrant scenery. It is as if we are rowing on the first day of creation. Nature surrounds us - pure, abundant, and beautiful. The hills, palettes of greens and browns, glow. Their rich hues and textures are surreal.

Our practice is just getting started and our passion for rowing is reaffirmed. My teammates and I will continue to come on cold, early mornings to wake the sleeping Lexington Reservoir and become part of its magnificence. One stroke in this world of absolute beauty is greater than any moment of slumber I miss.