Why I row | KUOW News and Information

Why I row

May 3, 2016

At 5 a.m. on a late winter morning in Seattle, dawn is a distant hope.

But if you peer through the dark, you'll see small white lights pulsing their way along the shores of Lake Union. They mark the bows and sterns of dozens of rowing shells, launched early to take advantage of the smooth morning water.

On a calm, dry day hundreds of rowers will be out training for local regattas or simply enjoying the peace that comes before most people’s days begin.

By the time the sun rises, passersby can see these boats glide under the bridges that span Portage Bay and the Montlake Cut.

EXPERIENCE: What it’s like to be out with the Huskies on the water

I’ve been rowing for almost 25 years. Like many adult novices, I started off in the big eight-oared sweep boats, the kind the Husky crews power through our waters. For the past decade though you’re more likely to find me tooling around in a single shell, dipping my two oars into the water in search of that perfect stroke.

Rowing is about rhythm. It’s a ballet with your small boat, which is propelled through a combination of your muscles, the oars and the water itself.

Rowers in the big boats call this "swing" -- the sensation of eight bodies moving in synch, taking each stroke at exactly the same time, levitating a 200-pound vessel up and above the water line.

Reporter and rower Marcie Sillman.
Credit KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

When you’re on your own, the swing is the melding of your boat and yourself. When swing happens, it feels like magic. And you seek out that magic every time you get into your rowing shell.

Some days, when it’s cold and windy, rowing is hard work. My hands blister and my quadriceps burn. I row through those days, with an eye to the next time I'm out on the water.

READ MORE: The man behind Seattle’s boys in the boat

Rowing is my meditation practice. It’s my chance to breathe and to move, to catch the water with the blades of my oars, to feel the sensation of my small shell as it skates across the lake. I leave all my worries on shore; there's no room for them when I'm rowing. I can only concentrate on staying upright and moving forward.

Rowing is great physical exercise, but to me, it’s far more than that.

The great boat builder George Pocock put it well in a 1973 documentary film:

It’s a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion. And when you’re rowing well, why it’s nearing perfection. And when you near perfection, you’re touching the Divine. It touches the you of yous, which is your soul.

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