Art and Chemistry

February 3, 2013
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It is known as a universal truth that one pair of average human hands cannot shatter a brick wall. Hands have been known for climbing branches, scrawling the faces of bolded symbols across expanses of unblemished pages, carving names into trees and faces into mountaintops. They will clutch at the sky, cup together to catch the rain, "reach for the stars," even—but no brick walls.

My own hands are blistered, beaten, but unbroken, ringed with scars and mottled raw. I have endured the rough press of weight on my back, the gritting of teeth, the sweat that drips from my fingertips when I sit out on the water, untouchable, an oar in my palms. My hands are my connection to the water, the bending, smooth, white waves that spill away from me, and the eight other girls in my boat that drive me forward.

We are a crew because we want to push ourselves—the sinews of our bodies, the muscles of our sharpened minds—to the very limits. We are a crew because we like to balance on the precipice of physical potential, glance at the pain we thought we felt before and scoff, become stronger, plunge over the edge. We are a crew because we are willing to spend endless hours perfecting the sweep of the blade, the art and chemistry of winning, despite the winds that thwart us and the holes that grow in our wearied sneakers. There is nothing easy that we do, because life itself is not always easy.

I remember the first time I sat at the starting line, legs coiled, head up, fingers jittering across the oar’s wooden grip. Quickly I recalled the motions of the wrist, ground the slides of the seat below me into perfect non-squeaking submission, gave my hair a final tuck into its ties. I breathed in the smell of skin before sweat, felt my spine grow and my shoulders relax, and imagined the soft thuds of each stroke against its tightened oarlock. I already heard the roar of the crowd, two thousand meters of cool spring water away. My heart’s fierce beat drilled into my ears so deeply that I could almost not hear the voice that dropped like an anchor in my gut. "Attention," it said, reverberating around the walls of my pulsating brain. "Row!"

My eyes widened and the first few strokes settled in and suddenly I was listening to my own labored breathing, the wind raising its voice to a near-screech in my ears, asking me why I was pulling so hard. I shrugged it off, only for the spark of exhaustion to visit me at the 500-meter mark, again at the halfway point. Something within me begged to stop. The sagging features of the girls in the boats fighting alongside us, the seemingly endless stretch of water that still existed between the last stroke and ourselves was discouraging— but our oars never ceased and the boat continued its bobbing pursuit of the lead over the remaining meters.

After solid months of training, we have discovered what it is like to really pull; to throw everything we have, every thought, every drop of energy, every pound of force we can lift from our legs, to realize a new goal, fly through a new finish line. This is not only a sport; it’s a lifestyle. I will live with my memories of all the times I pulled through those last lines of red buoys, when the blast of the first boat to cross the finish line resounded in the ears of each and every girl on the water, no matter who came in first, and I will work harder still to assure that in the future, not only my boat, but my teammates will be the ones with their fists in the air and the medals around their necks. If there is one thing crew has taught me is that I can excel at anything I truly focus on; sprinting that last mile, putting in the effort to make a polished piece, being absolutely sure that I’m where I’m really needed in order to make and keep my promises.

Some may argue it “impossible,” what we do, extending our bodies beyond what we should be capable of, reaching deep within for that last, vital push to carry us to victory. They will say that a pair of hands cannot overcome a brick wall.

I will laugh as I show them that wall crumble in my wake.

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