I rowed novice crew my first year in college. Before I arrived at the intro session, I had never even seen a rowing shell up close. Prior to Columbia, my limited knowledge of the sport came from watching Rob Lowe in Oxford Blues as a kid. Other than that, nothin. Just a few average years of basketball and track behind me in San Antonio.
But I was committed to making college an adventure. So, in the spirit of New York City competitiveness and the challenge of conquering he unknown, I joined the Columbia Novice Crew team. Practice was from 5:30 am until 8:30 am every morning on the Harlem River, one of the filthiest places any team in the Northeast had to practice on. At the end of each practice, after exerting all the effort 8 women could exert pulling our collective oars through the water, we had to carry the shell back to the boathouse and scrub the brown nastiness off the bottom until the boat was pristine white again.
We never won a race.
Not even a preliminary round. Oh, I think we won one little race we had with the men’s novice crew team’s C boat during practice once. But, let’s not get started on Columbia men’s athletics, a school with a football team known for having more losses than any other college team.
We were a boat full of very small geeky, ethnic women in a sport dominated by six foot tall muscular WASP athletes. I was one of the tallest women on our team but I started the season at 5’8” and 118 pounds. Hardly Olympic material. And although I did manage to add over 20 pounds of muscle over the course of the season, thanks to the daily morning practices and afternoon weight and aerobic training, as Stroke I could not carry my boat to a victory against boats where the median height was 5’10”.
I look back on that year though, and I credit it with giving me the endurance and the tenacity that I have now. I overcame the asthma that had plagued me throughout my childhood. My pain tolerance is through the roof. I am way stronger than I look even though I shed the 20+ pounds of muscle and fat I picked up first year in college by picking up bicycling. And I learned that when perfectly synchronized with those in the same boat with you, it is possible to glide through even the most difficult of waters as though nothing can stop you.
This fight we are in for food access is not going to be solved overnight or by one particular person. It is a coordinated effort, each of us with oar in hand, pulling good health and a positive future into our communities.
It took over a century for things to get as bad as they are through systematic programming. It could take another century before we turn it around completely. But that doesn’t mean that the work we’re doing right now should not be done as though our life depends on it.
We are all in this boat together. Each day is a race. But sometimes the smaller races are about the learning, not the winning.
I feel like I am finally winning races.
Even though some days are discouraging. Even though sometimes I just want to stay in bed for 12 hours and not think about food at all. But I can see the larger picture. The Boxcar Grocer has opened many doors and broadened experiences and that has only been over the course of the last 8 months. It has allowed for conversations to happen that ordinarily might not have happened. And it has brought people together to make things better in the world.
This is the race I was meant for. It is an extended race, not a sprint. Thankfully, the training I have had has given me the endurance I need to succeed.