Row, row, yer Viking boat

In Sports /

By Amit Shilton

It felt as if I was dragging the entire team behind. Then I noticed I actually was.

It took me some time to realize why everyone on my team was staring at me. I tried tot act cool, doing my best to look over my shoulder and imitate what everyone else was doing, but the stares didn’t go away. It wasn’t until my captain Nikolai started rolling his eyes that it finally hit me.

Without daring to look any of my teammates in the eye, especially the girl behind me, I quickly flipped my oar around five minutes into the tryout and continued to pull it as hard as I could, praying no one else had noticed. I knew I was in for a long day.

It was with more than a little bit of hesitation that I signed up for the Rams rowing tryout. Not only would I have to do my best to fake a sport I’ve never thought of trying, but I was going to do it in front of the much-feared and admired head coach Dominic Kahn, rowing champion Andy Guiry and other rowers vying for a spot on the team.

Hell, I can’t even swim.

My Saturday started on a sour note with the early dread-filled shriek of my alarm clock at five in the morning. I slowly crawled out of bed and left my Thornhill home tired, groggy and cold only to meet one of the brighter smiles I’d see all day. Nestled under a mess of tightly coiled hair waiting in front of the empty team bus was none other than Guiry, clearly unphased by the early hour.

After a 15 minute bus ride from Pitman Hall down to the Bayside Rowing Club on the lakeshore, the bus turns into what looks like an unmarked junk yard. A few dusty cars seem to be eternally parked on the front lawn with only a beaten path to mark the way to the entrance of the rowing club. Behind a metal chain-link fence the only things in sight are two old, rusty ships and a series of big red storage cabins. This was definitely not your suburbian country club.

Guiry hops off the bus and starts walking towards the water as the rest of the 20 odd rowers follow. I think we’ve got to be lost. It isn’t long before we see two dogs chasing up to him with barks and yelps that sound more like a dinner bell. Seems like he knew where we’re going.

Meet Rocky and Diamond, Kahn’s two dogs that seem to always be at his side. We settle into leather couches under a huge canopy as Kahn goes through names and contact information. Once the formalities are cleared, he gives us a tour of the club and its boats. Next thing I know, I’m climbing into one.

Cue the rain.

Kahn pulls up to our 12-man Viking boat in his powerboat, we lower our oars in the water, and we’re off. It takes Kahn only a few moments before he starts barking at my team.

“Row! Hard!”

Aye Aye, Captain. As the rain starts pouring down his face, Kahn transforms from the easy going Trinidad native into a tenacious sea admiral. When we’d later get back on land, he’d say that he barely even noticed it was raining.

My team gets off to a good lead, and for the first time I don’t stick out as much. My timing improves, my posture is better, and I’m starting to have fun. The race brings out a level of competition that lets you forget the fact you don’t know how to row, that the rain against your back is the first ingredient for a cold and if you had the choice, you’d probably still be in bed.

We finish strong and just edge out the other practice team in a tight race. Smatters of high fives go all around and a feeling of accomplishment is in the air. Nobody really loses here, and everybody is satisfied, no matter which team.

Heather, a rower on the other team’s boat, splits a cab with my photographer, Scott, and I back to campus as my time at the try-out comes to an end. She tells us that the team was just about to get into weight lifting and training. Looks like we left at the right time. I’ll have to save all of my energy if I want to have any chance of surviving the volleyball tryout.

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