As a born and raised city girl, I never imagined myself to be a collegiate rower at Vassar College. Coming from Jakarta, Indonesia, I had lived most of my life in a concrete jungle where my landscape consisted of skyscrapers and villages scattered across a congested metropolis. Much of the population did not have access to clean water, let alone rivers and natural lakes to engage in recreational sports. Ironically, living in the largest archipelago in the world offered little to no access to water sports such as crew.
I found out about crew during my first year activities fair. As a walk-on member of the team, I had virtually no knowledge or experience with rowing. Prior to my introduction to the sport, I had never seen someone row in person or even on television. In fact, like many rookies, I was shocked to find out that rowing had little to do with the arms, and that the seat slides in the boat with every stroke you take. During my first row on the water, I mistakenly locked my oar on the oarlock in such a way that risked capsizing the entire boat. I assure you that my coach at the time was very disgruntled with me.
As a young novice, I watched the varsity boat glide over the (uncommonly) still Hudson water with grace and control. It was only after being thrown into a boat for the first time that I realized that the ease and serenity that I had witnessed did not come without pain and frustration. The struggle of setting the boat in rough waters while also trying to keep in time with seven other members of the team is a physical and mental exercise that is not experienced in any other sport. Hence why we are swole as heck.
Rowing for Vassar has become a crucial part of my college experience. As a seasoned four-year rower, I have learned so much about myself and my teammates. In a sport where every movement and every stroke demands perfect synchronization, I believe that rowing is the ultimate team sport, testing both mental and physical limitations. In a grueling head race or a 2k sprint, we are able to push harder than we believe we are capable of pushing. We are able to push ourselves beyond the lactic acid build-up because, including the coxswain, there are eight other people in the boat who are counting on you, and you are counting on them to do the same. Giving up is not an option when there are eight other people fighting to win.
While we practice and compete like other varsity sports on campus, Vassar Rowing is actually a club varsity sport. As a club varsity sport, the team faces unique challenges that other varsity sports on campus do not. We receive less funding and less attention from the Athletics Department. For example, we will often compete successfully in major races across the state yet receive virtually no recognition for this. As a club varsity sport that often gets left in the shadows of the school’s varsity teams, rowing at Vassar calls for a unique level of commitment. Every member of the rowing team has faced challenges ranging from the unpredictable Hudson waters to the sudden and tumultuous changes in leadership we have experienced. Despite these challenges, one thing that remains constant is our integrity and sense of community.
Recently, our team participated in the annual Ergathon during the 27Brew2 challenge. The team rallied together to reach over 600 donors and raise over $25,000. As a club varsity sport that is trying to rebuild itself and gain recognition from the athletics community, it was important for us to approach our fundraiser through fair and ethical means. While we did not receive the award for most donors accumulated, the money we worked hard to raise will not only improve a rowing program that many of us feel committed to but create a moral standard that will hopefully exemplify good sportsmanship (both in the boat and in the larger community).
When I am asked why I row, I can list many reasons. The Hudson River at dawn is a beautiful sight to see. The motion of a set boat gliding across still water is a special feeling that cannot be described. The strength and endurance that the sport forces us to build is a great physical benefit. But the most important reason I row is my team. Being a part of the women’s rowing team at Vassar has given me the opportunity to meet a group of wonderful and strong women. We have shared countless experiences: from the morning Deeces to miserable 6 a.m. practices on the cold and unforgiving Hudson River, and everything in between. These are moments that I will remember fondly.
I am proud to witness the development I have seen in the Vassar rowing program, as well as the growth I see in my teammates. Being able to watch the development of my rowing family, and also share my growth with them, is the reason I have continued to row after almost four years.
My time as a rower has challenged both my mental and physical limitations. Thanks to the support of my team, I have been able to push myself to do better and be stronger. Through shared experiences and shared boats, I have been lucky enough to forge lasting bonds with my teammates that will extend beyond the water.