The rowers, eighty degree heat wrapping around their bodies, sunburns inching up their necks, settle into the boat. Everything stands still. Even the water beneath them refuses to make a sound.
The rowers pat each other on the back, a before-race ritual, and despite the tension-filled air, junior Andrew Stoddard feels calm. He and his boat mates are one. One mind. One synchronized powerhouse.
Like a switch, the boat goes from still to catapulting ahead. Short fast-strokes to longer ones. Time is nonexistent, but the burning sensation in the rowers’ legs is real. Energy melding together, Stoddard and the rest of the boat surge on.
“I never looked at the meter markers,” Stoddard said. “I never knew where we were in the whole race. It felt almost like I was in a dream.”
Stoddard and the rest of his boat came in first in the JV race at the Southwest Junior Regional Championships (SJRC) in Sacramento, where Oakland Strokes got a record breaking 18 medals in total, according to oaklandstrokes.org. Additionally, seven of their boats advanced to Nationals.
“When we have moments when we all win, we’re like wow,” Stoddard said. “We really accomplished something amazing together.”
Junior Elizabeth Hosler, whose boat won Nationals last year, is on one of the teams that qualified this year.
“[Last year] we were the fastest lightweight boat in the country, which is a huge honor and a huge accomplishment,” Hosler said.
To find success as they did at the SJRC, Stoddard said that he and his Oakland Strokes teammates practice for about 20 hours a week.
Practice, Hosler said, is not easy.
“I love it. I really do love it,” Hosler said. “It just a little hard sometimes.”
At the SJRC, both Hosler and Stoddard row in lightweight boats, boats with specific weight requirements – under 130 for women and under 150 for men. Lightweight boats were created to provide a chance for smaller athletes to race on a competitive level against similarly sized competition. However, if any of the rowers in the boat exceed the weight cut off, the entire boat is disqualified.
“It evens out the playing field because everyone’s the same weight when they race,” Stoddard said. “Crew’s a very strength based sport, so when you are bigger, you have more advantages.”
Hosler said that despite the challenge of cutting weight, she feels that the experience of rowing is worth it.
“I definitely say while I’m dieting,” Hosler said. “‘Jesus, I just want a cookie right now.’ But remembering the successes I get from it, that is really helpful.”
Contrastingly, open weight rower, sophomore Julie Ray said that for her team, the culture centers around eating. Ray said that this culture offers a sense of empowerment that she never knew existed.
“As a young woman there are so many messages that say that you shouldn’t eat too much,” Ray said. “But in open weight women’s culture, people will post pictures of their huge plate of food and say ‘I’m going to demolish this.’”
Despite the restrictive nature of light-weight compared to open-weight rowing, Hosler said that she appreciates not only how crew has helped her with getting into college, but how it has shaped her as a human being.
“Rowing has made me a more disciplined, controlled person, and has just taught me to grow up a little bit,” Hosler said.