I spent my freshman year of college (1987–1988) rowing on the frosh lightweight crew squad at Columbia University. I rowed port side, for most of the season in seat seven, and sometimes in seat five, while Ted Schweitzer led the boat as starboard (or “bowside”) eighth seat oarsman (“the stroke”) — this is opposite from the usual ordering of port and starboard oarsmen in an eight seat shell. At the rear of the boat sat our indomitable coxswain, Kevin Burke, who shouted orders at our faces. I only mention these probably unimportant details because I will never forget these guys or my other team-mates from that boat.
Believe it or not you can still buy a photo of us at the disastrous Eastern Sprints race in 1988 (from the bow: Mark McMorran, Eric Carbone, John Kang, Mike Leiter, Me, Ken Kirschner, Jeff Michaelson, Ted Schweitzer, Kevin Burke, cox).
Our young boat won crew of the year that year, because of our winning record and hard work. As I recall, in regular season my squad defeated Yale, Army, MIT, Penn and others — I still have some of these shirts — although we had a disappointing finish at the Eastern Sprints.
Yes, I left the team after one year. I remember too clearly why I didn’t keep rowing. I didn’t like the early start times, and I liked partying way too much, so I quit, squandering the amazing opportunity I had been given to pursue great fitness and athletic glory in the company of good friends. Most of the time I don’t think about this decision and the consequences it has had for my life, but lately it has been bothering me a bit.
When I discovered CrossFit, part of me felt like I had come home again to my old crew days. Being a part of a CrossFit Affiliate gives me several things that are similar to belonging to a rowing squad. There is the radical commitment to fitness and pain in working out; the comradeship of the small circle of athletes working together; and the supportive, loving cruelty of the coaches. And best of all, for some reason, CrossFit has come to recognize what all rowers know: the only good “cardio” machine in the world is a Concept II Rowing Ergometer. I’m 40 years old now, so it’s been a long and prodigal journey home, but I feel like I am back in the family.
A rowing ergometer is the most incredible device for the self-infliction of pain, and with the addition of a “cox” yelling at the rower, it could be utilized by the CIA and Army as a torture machine. One of the exciting things about CrossFit, in my view, is that it offers the possibility that the hundreds of hours I have spent training on one might someday come in handy. Even if it’s been 20+ years since I regularly used one, it IS a little like riding a bike. The motion and the effort required to use one is burned into my neuromusculature.
Unfortunately, my local CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit Asheville, doesn’t have any Concept II machines, and won’t have the money to purchase one or more any time soon. This has got me thinking about plunking down the $900 for one so I can train on it myself. Is that sick?
Wish list item: one concept II rowing ergometer. Santa?