Iowa Writes

EMILY N. BRINK
Goodbye to all that


     I used to be a rower.
     University of Iowa, Division I. Practice six days a week during the on-season, waking up every day at 5:30 to manipulate my muscles to the point where it looked like they were ready to burst through my skin.
     I am five feet, four inches tall, and because of this I was constantly overlooked in spite of my admittedly solid work ethic. In fact, my dependability seemed to be the only thing my coach ever praised me for, apart from the time when I passed out during a fitness test and nearly bit through my lower lip in the process. He thought I was being brave, but I just wanted to prove him wrong once and for all that small means mighty.
      Rowing. People are drawn to it because it is unique, it's fun at first before you are capable of understanding what it means, it is one of the most picturesque sports alongside maybe fencing or equestrian. The coaches at Iowa take advantage of that. They snag you at their informational meetings, then they ensnare you in the ties of the word "team." After that, everything is for the team, with the team, so much to the point that you begin to lose your identity a little when you are away from the team. The team becomes your family, and the idea of leaving your sisters or letting them down by failing to make a new personal record on the erg becomes unbearable. So you stay and you work your ass off.  No matter how small you are. No matter how many times a coach puts you down or screams at you that you are doing something wrong again. He just sits there in a motorboat with a megaphone, and you can't help but grit your teeth as you pull through the drive, mutinously thinking, When was the last time you were on an erg?
     They make you break your back for a cause you're not sure you believe in. You sacrifice the friends you could've had for the feel of an oar in your hands. Instead of getting your nails done, the pads of your palms get broken open by blisters and calluses that never seem to go away. People start to cringe when they shake your hand.

     I used to be a rower.
     University of Iowa, Division I. Practice six days a week during the on-season, waking up every day at 5:30 to manipulate my muscles to the point where it looked like they were ready to burst through my skin.
     I am five feet, four inches tall, and because of this I was constantly overlooked in spite of my admittedly solid work ethic. In fact, my dependability seemed to be the only thing my coach ever praised me for, apart from the time when I passed out during a fitness test and nearly bit through my lower lip in the process. He thought I was being brave, but I just wanted to prove him wrong once and for all that small means mighty.
      Rowing. People are drawn to it because it is unique, it's fun at first before you are capable of understanding what it means, it is one of the most picturesque sports alongside maybe fencing or equestrian. The coaches at Iowa take advantage of that. They snag you at their informational meetings, then they ensnare you in the ties of the word "team." After that, everything is for the team, with the team, so much to the point that you begin to lose your identity a little when you are away from the team. The team becomes your family, and the idea of leaving your sisters or letting them down by failing to make a new personal record on the erg becomes unbearable. So you stay and you work your ass off.  No matter how small you are. No matter how many times a coach puts you down or screams at you that you are doing something wrong again. He just sits there in a motorboat with a megaphone, and you can't help but grit your teeth as you pull through the drive, mutinously thinking, When was the last time you were on an erg?
     They make you break your back for a cause you're not sure you believe in. You sacrifice the friends you could've had for the feel of an oar in your hands. Instead of getting your nails done, the pads of your palms get broken open by blisters and calluses that never seem to go away. People start to cringe when they shake your hand.
     But in spite of all that - in spite of the unadulterated hate that they inspire in you - there is something beautiful about rowing. There is a very pure, uninhibited feeling you can achieve when you take a perfect stroke - that feeling. What it's like to be praised by a coach for once instead of being put down. The way your teammates really do love you after everything you've been through with them. You are united in your pain and in your joy. Being on the water, together. That is where the harmony lies.
     Then there is the feeling of winning a race. Because believe it or not, that's what you train for in rowing. I could understand why someone wouldn't believe it, because the hell of rowing is how much time you spend inside on a rowing machine. But when all of that time pays off, when every drop of sweat that runs down your face, down your ears, down your neck, back, chest, elbows, comes to mean something, it stands for the fact that what you've done up to that point is actually worth it- There is nothing like it. Euphoria. Like a drug - that's why we kept coming back, in spite of everything we ever had to bear, which was always too much.
     But like all drugs, I knew that in the end rowing would ruin me. I was ready to focus on becoming a novelist, and I was starting to understand that rowing would never take me past college. So I detoxed and I became sober.
     Now, I have friends on and off the rowing team, I have a job, and I have a boyfriend. There is so much more peace in my life now that happiness is no longer something that I just remember, or that I am only able to associate with competition. But sometimes, in spite of everything I learned last year, I miss the feeling of that oar in my torn-up hands, being called Brink so often that I started to believe it was the only name I had.
     The one thing I no longer have is rowing.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


EMILY N. BRINK

Emily N. Brink is a student at the University of Iowa.

This page was first displayed
on August 03, 2011

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