Chris Abraham rowing sweep heavyweight 8 man crew GWU

I was a college rower on a college crew

My Novice GW Crew coach, Stephen Weiss, was my idol. No matter how young and strong and cocky we young rowers were during training, Steve could take us. He could row faster, he could lift stronger, he could run further, he could sprint harder. At the time, he seemed so old, but he was really only 12-years older than I was. I was 18 and so he was only 30. So young. I received this photo from him just today. I am at the far right and he’s at the far left.

GWU Novice Four with Stephen Weiss and Chris Abraham
GWU Novice Four with Stephen Weiss and Chris Abraham

I’ll be honest, I only rowed for GWU for one season. It was a coldcock to the face by a guy who has resented me all season for always making seats in boats in races that he didn’t think I deserved because he really did work harder than I did. But I was a foot taller and I was a foot wider and I was just born a better fulcrum than he was.

Or at least I thought he probably worked harder than I did; however, I was reading about rowing and came upon Advice for College Rowing from British University Rowers and something came to mind: politics!

Your teammates only know what you do or don’t do based on what they see or hear about. Pig out at breakfast? You’re a pig. Don’t see the miles you put in on the road and the meters you put in on the erg? You’re lazy.

  • Never do a hard workout without your teammates knowing you were, are, or will do it: they only know how hard you work based on what they see or know about.
  • Even if people know you’re an only child, there’s no guarantee they’ll understand that that means and that’s why you never knew to spend all your time palling around with your boatmates and teammates.
  • Your weekend runs alone don’t count unless your coach and your teammates know about how you use long-distance running as a way of keeping sane and something you share with your civilian friends.
  • People never understand if it’s physically impossible for me to be jacked and lean.
  • As an Endomorph, I will always be a little softer than an Ectomorph or a  Mesomorph.

While no crew monster at only 6-feet, 3-inches tall, I was still taller than anyone else on the GWU Novice Crew team that year. I probably would have continued rowing if he hadn’t knocked me on my ass with that sucker punch in the bathroom at the Sigma Nu (ΣΝ) house the night of the end-of-season party. I worked so hard to learn to row properly and to have good form.

And, I think the biggest problem the guy who cold-cocked me had with me was that I didn’t behave like he expected a member of the team to behave. I had other friends, I rolled with my Fraternity brothers, and even when I wrestled in high school, I never spent all my time with the wrestling kids.

To me, rowing was something I scheduled for. Wake up at 5, 5:30AM, get on the river at 6AM, get to class at 8AM or 9AM, maybe go to breakfast between then. Then 3PM second workouts or afternoon rows. And weekend workouts.

I loved it all. But I didn’t do the social networking required to make friends and influence people, my teammates, to make them trust me and rely on me. Are all only children like this?

(My mom picked me up the next day and I had the blackest of black eyes–my mom was appalled). So, I guess I spent my Sophomore year becoming a Phi Kappa Psi (ΦΚΨ) brother and much more of a lover of American literature, poetry, and, and creative writing instead of lettering in Crew properly and maybe even becoming a Varsity rower. That said, I could never afford the Spring Break and Summer trips to rowing camps. But those aren’t the best excuses.

I really think I would surely have preferred to have been a college rower for more than just one year. I did end up sculling in my 20s and 30s and even own a Hudson Elite carbon fiber single scull which I have gifted to the kids at Potomac Boat Club, of which I am a Senior Member. I am going to redouble my intention of spending my 50s and 60s and, Inshallah, my 70s on the river in a single.


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