I often think back on my experience as a member of the Boston College women’s rowing team and wonder if I made the right choice in leaving it. As a freshman at a new school surrounded by unfamiliar people, it was nice to immediately identify with a group. Rowing gave me a sense of belonging at BC, not to mention an entire Under Armour workout wardrobe, which included my beloved white backpack. Another one of the many perks of being a student athlete was having access to BC’s Learning Resources for Student Athletes (LRSA), whose tutors I owe the world to for getting me through Calc 1. Being able to utilize sports med with its unlimited supply of ice was also a bonus. There were always tons of trainers available there to help with me any injuries or to teach me exercises that strengthened particular muscles my coaches wanted me to work on. The best part about being on a team though was immersing myself in a group of incredibly strong and intense girls, who motivated me through our demanding and often early workouts.
At our first official practice after tryouts, my coaches, teammates, and I made a pact committing to the team through the year and in that moment I could not picture leaving. My initial enthusiasm slowly began to wear off, however. Everything wasn’t always as simple as camaraderie, free gear, and ice bags. I was used to the demanding nature of the sport having been part of a crew all four years of high school, but in college everything felt magnified. Any time I had a bad practice, I felt like I was not only ruining my progress, but also letting my coaches and teammates down. Rowing began to cause me more anxiety than any of my academic courses, which should have been my priority. I would chose getting a full night’s sleep to ensure I was alert for practice over taking a few extra hours to study for a test I wasn’t fully prepared for. I had a very involved schedule drawn out for me, and it was challenging to pick classes that I was not only interested in but that did not conflict with my practice times or each other. I also experienced difficulty finding my place on the team. I connected more with people outside of it, but struggled to maintain those friendships because my rowing schedule always seemed to interfere with their plans.
My experiences rowing have definitely influenced my character. I learned how to deal with the feeling of missing out after holding rowing above my social life and outside interests for five years. The sport has also taught me to minimize my stress regarding things I can’t control. When I find myself complaining about something trivial, I try to remember times rowing through unpleasant conditions, like when blisters formed, skin peeled off my hands, and the water that soaked through my shoes began to freeze over. Some practices were so cold it felt like my fingernails were being ripped out. Rowing is a very humbling sport and I learned a lot about myself through how I reacted when pushed to my physical and mental limits. Extreme weather practices are the ones I miss the most because of the way I felt about myself afterwards, when putting on warm, dry socks was the best thing I could ask for in that moment.
When the year came to a close, the idea of quitting began to fully sink in. I realized it’d be difficult to rejoin the team once I was off, so I had to make sure this fantasy of having a normal college experience wasn’t just a phase I’d been going through all year. It was very nice being able to choose classes this semester without having to decide based on a practice schedule. I have a lot of extra free time now and it can even be overwhelming having so many more options, but this freedom has pushed me to explore my other interests. Although I have yet to reach that 4.0, my grades this past semester improved immensely and I’m really excited for this spring semester to further explore what Boston College has to offer. The sport of rowing, my coaches and my teammates have taught me that I am awesome and capable of accomplishing things that may scare me at first. With the help of my teammates and coaches, I have discovered a competitive side of myself and gained a lot more confidence that has helped me become less introverted. I’m sure there’s more I could have taken from the sport had I continued on this year, but at this point I cannot say I regret leaving. I would have regretted not trying out or finishing the year, but after experiencing all seasons of college rowing, I no longer feel the need to prove anything to myself and I have finally been able to make peace with my decision.
All Photos Courtesy of the Rowing Team/Caroline Purtill