I’ve made what is in many ways a tough decision for myself this year in not going back to my university rowing team. It was also the easiest, and I’d have been stupid to put myself through that again.
The polite reason I give people when they ask is that the coach and I didn’t see eye to eye. But as I reflect on it more and more, and hear what others have to say, the pretense of an answer like that becomes quite obviously lame.
I love rowing. I love pushing myself for the sake of the other guys in the boat. I love being locked into it, knowing that there’s no possibility of stopping for myself without stopping it for everybody and there’s no way I’m going to do that. And I’ve had coaches that would push me to the breaking point until I thought I physically could not go on, then make me do that one piece more, and in feeling like complete shit after I’ve never felt better. I’ve gone as hard as I can go even alone on an erg but knowing those coaches and my crew were behind me watching my split and shouting for me to bring it down. I’ve had that feeling of barely being able to get up, and not being able to do anything but try to recover for hours after and it was in all honesty one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. I want that again.
But I’ve also had a coach that made it very clear that he didn’t believe I was going for that feeling. He made it clear that every move I made wasn’t cutting it. This was not a case of pushing me to improve, but a very clear statement that I needed to be as good as the best in that boat. Not that I needed to strive toward that, to push myself to my limits to reach those goals, but that if I didn’t already match those standards then he didn’t believe I was even trying. There’s a subtle but startling difference between being pushed to the breaking point and just being told that if you haven’t hit it yet then you haven’t tried.
How long do you take that, being told as clear as day that you aren’t good enough—not that this is what you need to do to improve, not that the improvements you are making are worth anything at all, but that no matter how hard you try you will not be good enough—before it’s not worth trying anymore. How many asshole crewmates does it take before it’s not worth putting yourself through that pain anymore?
I want to feel that pain again. I want to cross that finish line “vomiting and bleeding from the eyes” as one of my crew once put it. I want to fall off that erg with a PB on the monitor and spend two hours unable to do anything but try to catch my breath. I know what that feels like. But I want it to be for something. I want it to be worth it. And two months of having my coach break all my ambition, pulling only for myself, and hating every moment of it, is definitely not worth it.
That’s why I didn’t go back.