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If you knew me freshman year and have not spoken to me since, you are probably wondering why on earth I am standing up here right now. For everyone else, let me explain: I did not come to NMH as an athlete. Actually, to say I was not an athlete would be a fairly gross understatement. I was the antithesis of an athlete. I hated sports and was resolutely determined to keep a couple hundred feet between me and Forslund Gym at all times during the next four years. Well, for those people who are shocked to see me up here right now, let me give you some updates. I care a lot about sports now. Well, actually, only one sport: rowing. I’ve spent the past few years training and am going to be on a Division 1 team next year at Columbia University.

So, how could this radical transformation occur? What force could possibly be strong enough to make me, who despised sports, willingly sign up for rowing, a notoriously difficult sport? The answer, embarrassingly, is fear of missing out. At the start of my sophomore year, three out of four of my closest friends were rowing and the other was doing JV soccer. I had this deep fear that they’d all bond and, soon enough, forget about me on the daily walk down to the lower fields. This was admittedly irrational, but if you’ve ever been an insecure 15 year old, you know FOMO is a force powerful enough to move mountains and, even more challenging, get Phoebe Rossman to day one of rowing tryouts.

My first year of crew was an uphill battle, both physically and mentally. I walked to practice every day plagued by self-doubt. I felt like I was making the team slower, and freaked out every time I was the last to finish team runs or the first to collapse during planks. I was convinced that I would never succeed and that everyone around me was judging me, thinking “Why is she here?” Pretty much every minute, I wanted to quit. And, had it not been for the support of some really exceptional teammates, I would have. I remember sitting on the Rikert floor with Toyesha Khatau, stressing about what boat we’d be in for hours at a time and then pestering my incredibly patient RL, Leah Shukan, with an infinite number of rowing questions at pretty much all hours of the day. And, of course, talking to Krystal Kim, who believed in me way before anyone else did. Learning how to row and how to be on a team was really, really hard. But the relationships I formed were almost enough to make the pain and anxiety worth it. What really got me hooked, though, was that I was able to prove myself wrong. I’d go to practice convinced that I was destined to fail and that I was holding the team back, but then  I’d win a seat race or PR on an erg piece and it would force me to rethink the way I saw myself. Even though the thought of caring and putting in effort terrified me, I realized that it was a lot cooler to work hard and fail than never even to try. By the end of my sophomore year, I started to think that maybe, somehow, by some weird, sick twist of fate, I actually enjoyed a sport. Even stranger, I wondered if I could start calling myself an athlete?

Right around this time, I got an email from a study-abroad program I’d applied to on a whim, telling me I’d won a full scholarship to do an exchange year in Amman, Jordan. This was exciting, but moving to a country that’s almost entirely desert threw a big wrench in my rowing ambitions. I trained at the gym on and off while in Jordan, but came back this year having absolutely no idea what to expect.

What I found was an entirely different team. All three coaches were new, and there were more strangers than familiar faces around me. As if that weren’t enough, we were now racing in a whole new league. On top of that, I hadn’t even started the recruitment process even though rowing in college was definitely on my radar. To say that all this was stressful would be unfair. I was freaking the heck out. You see, I care a lot, but that can be really scary when there’s so much out of my power to control. So I focused on what was in my control. I did extra workouts in the morning, core after practice, and pushed myself as hard as I could every day. There were times where I probably pushed myself a little too far — I’m still struggling to find the balance. But  what I did learn this year is that working hard is actually really fun and that, sometimes, you get cool results. I was — and am — honored to have been voted co-captain and to work alongside the amazing Skylar Nieman and myriad other leaders on the team in rebuilding our team culture. I got to race at the world’s largest regatta in likely the single greatest boat ever to row down the Charles River. At the Head of the Charles, I met with the Columbia rowing coach, who had shockingly replied to my email a few weeks prior. And now, after a long winter of training and a really strong start to the spring season, we’re gearing up to race at New Englands in eight short days.

Rowing has made me into who I am today. I am a stronger, harder-working, and more confident person because of crew. It taught me how to unapologetically, unironically, care. But the greatest thing rowing has given me is an outlet. I’ve talked about this before, but, as my coach Lou once said, there are so few spaces in the world where young people — especially young women — get to focus just on going as hard as they can and supporting each other. During a race, I forget everything, even my name sometimes. The only thing I’m thinking about is pushing harder. Despite the pain, it’s weirdly like a form of meditation. I’ve had a really tough year. Two people who were very important to me passed away this spring, and there’s been a lot of turmoil in my family back home. There have been days when the weight of everything was so heavy I didn't think I could get out of bed. But then I’m at practice and nothing else matters. I spend two hours solely focused on being the best version of myself and being there for my boat, and soon enough I’m laughing with my teammates on the walk back up to campus, and everything just seems a lot lighter.

I’m so blessed to have this outlet in my life. Many people don’t; I didn’t for 15 years. A lot of people have helped find this space: my parents, who sent me to NMH, which was step one in the cosmic chain of events that got me to a boathouse. The trainers, especially Jesse, whose patience is endlessly appreciated. The coaches, Lou, Emily, and Liz, who make what we do every day possible. And most importantly, above all else, my teammates. Y’all are the toughest, funniest, most kick-butt, and most caring 35 people I know. I’m so not ready to not be on your team. I know I will always, like, be an NMH rower, but adjusting to not seeing y’all for multiple hours every single day is gonna be really friggin hard. The one thing that lessens this heartbreak though, is how pumped I am to watch you all fulfill your potential next year and in the many years to come. This is a team to watch.

In all honesty, I struggle with calling myself an athlete. Whenever I don’t get the results I want, I fall down this mental rabbit hole of “you’re never gonna be good enough, you’re never gonna be strong enough, you’re destined to fail.” But what’s really helped me is realizing that nothing is predetermined in rowing. You don’t win races because you’re somehow, cosmically, good enough; you win races because you fought for it.

So I want to end by thanking my teammates for letting me fight alongside you. It has been an honor and a joy.

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