Unlike most adults in the rowing community, I never rowed crew in college, and so far, have never competed in a single on water, race. However, I assure you, (and I’m certain Jimmy would back me on this) I am a sculler through and through. I know this because it is 4:15 am, and my reliable Hudson Sabre (lovingly called Skegosaurus) is atop my car. Only a non-sculler, would consider heading off to practice gliding across a large body of water alone, in total darkness at such an hour, the height of madness. On the other hand, I am leaving momentarily with my only concern, to remember my bright yellow reflective vest.
I am simply a writer who carried passionate dreams about sculling, and spent many hours erging before realizing any of them. I was working on a machine at the gym when a friend suggested connecting with Concept2. I logged 2 million meters over the next nineteen months. During that same timeframe, I read every single book I could find, on both the science and art of sweep rowing and sculling. Following each elite athlete and coach’s lineage, stories, and reference points led me to the next book. By far the most affirming for me were Aquil Abdullah’s “Perfect Balance”, Sara Hall’s “Drawn to the Rhythm”, Tori Murden McClure’s “A Pearl in the Storm”, and later, “The Mind’s Eye”, by Jim Joy.
In 2009, at the tender age of 53, having consumed vast quantities of the courage and fortitude of my heroes, I finally took a major step forward, to spend a good part of the summer happily involved in adult learn to row sessions in a heavy club four, that captured my heart. I could barely contain the enthusiasm I felt at the end of that fall.
Unfortunately, when the new season arrived both finances and time constraints due to increased demands of being a full time caregiver for my mother, a 90 year-old WWII vet, rendered being on the water impossible. At first I was devastated. I thought again about the stories I had read, and with a new sense of purpose set my sites on the only goal I could imagine at the time – to compete in the Crash B’s in February.
I consoled myself with the idea of being an ergononaut, (although most of the people in my life, considered me more of an ergonut). That is, until my sweetie bought a new single and passed the old one on to me, after the HOCR in 2010. I had no idea how to transition from my erg to the water. I only knew that I strongly believed the path would appear.
As a member of team Ariel Toy, over the course of the thirty day 2011 C2 January virtual challenge, I logged over one million meters, fueled by the images of athletes I felt I knew, and the site of the compelling boat wrapped in plastic in my garage. In the midst of that, I was training for the upcoming competition. (note to self: distance OR speed for next January, not both)
My erg-fueled enthusiasm earned me a scholarship to attend the CRI coaching conference in February, one week before the competition. I was looking forward to meeting a few of the brave men and women whose words I had read, and carried in my heart. What I never expected was, that not only would I discover such a kindred spirit as I have found in Jim Joy, let alone become the editor of Hanlan’s Spirit, or be asked to write a Foreward for what I consider, groundbreaking work.
From the moment we met there was an instant bond, and I was sad to say goodbye at the end of that weekend. Over the course of those first few days after the conference, my thoughts returned many times to what I experienced. In Jim’s quest for authentic connection I recognized the compatibility of my own desires to communicate such thoughts. I sent him an email before fear conspired to change my mind. He responded by sending me an early version of Hanlan’s Spirit.
A week later after reading his manuscript, I finished 7th out of 15, which for me felt like a major victory and somehow gave me the courage, to send Jimmy a link to my blog; Middlescapes.com. After he read it, Jimmy and I formalized my role as editor of his book and our work together began in earnest. Since then I have logged hundreds of hours in service to his vision. It has been an honor, as well as privilege to participate in what I have come to think of, as an apprenticeship of sorts.
In June, Jimmy’s material began to spring to life, when I attended Craftsbury filled with the confidence of beginner’s mind, blessed with the capacity to be blissfully unaware of all that was unknown, to the point that I hauled Skegosaurus along. On the last day of the three-day camp of practicing in recreational boats, I innocently asked if I could try my single. Discouragement came, along with a dire warning, “if you are going to try out your own boat you had better wear your bathing suit, because you will surely need it.” Needless to say, I wish I had been braver but there was no way I would risk being humiliated in front of the race prep group that shared the lake.
The day after rowing school, although determined to get into my own boat, unassisted, the fear of doing so was quite overwhelming. Jimmy patiently reminded me that I had been editing since Feb and due to that fact, knew far more than I realized about how to row a single. Jimmy helped me develop a strategy to not only get on the water, but do so with confidence. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to move up the slide until the instinct to do so became overwhelming. He then assured me it might take many sessions to accomplish that single goal. Jimmy was clearly with me the weekend after rowing camp when my neighbor and I headed off to the lake near my home. I heard…. “Remember to the wiggle waggle, and other drills for your hands. Practice your one arm rowing and maintain a sense of play.” At the end of the month with daily practice and many bruises, I had progressed to the point where I could: negotiate the boat onto the car, off of the car, into the water, down and back the length of the lake, with full slide, out of the water, back onto to the car, and into the garage completely unassisted.
At the beginning of the second month although I continued to progress, I experienced a little setback when I swam in the lake with my boat not once but twice, due to rooky missteps. This led to a few less than pleasant practices. Jim reassuringly confided in me, that not only had he himself had a couple of similar experiences, but that the fact that I continued to shove off from the dock daily despite them, proved that I had officially become, a sculler.
Working on Hanlan’s spirit with Jimmy has been an honor. It has challenged me in so many ways. Trying to find a way to enhance someone else’s words without changing either the intent or meaning has brought new awareness of both our talents. In the process I have come to understand myself better, not just as a sculler but as Jimmy and Hanlan continue to remind me, as a more integrated, intuitive, whole person than I was before.
In my third month of sculling I have begun to enjoy long slow strides, and a greater sense of joy in anticipation of a day when it will become more integrated into the fiber of my soul. Jimmy’s tireless attempts to eloquently convey Hanlan’s message, have brought a deep humility via the recognition that, it will take a lifetime to perfect and truly understand all the lessons that sculling offers. Through the impassioned voice of Jim Joy, I have at last found the courage that resides in a body that was made to stroke and glide, with a mermaid’s tail.
It is my sincere hope that readers will enjoy grasping these wonderful concepts as much as I have had playing, with the man who created them. Jimmy is full of energy, and has often worked long into the night when I am at last at rest, basking in the sensations earned from the lessons of that day’s water. I knew we really had become friends the day that I told him to stop working, at least until I had time to finish that current round of edits. His reply was to gently tease me about having his hand wacked twice in one week.
The boat is safely suspended back in the garage. Tomorrow I will rise in the dark to work on driving my femur bones down before taking the stroke. May the wisdom of Jim Joy, and the spirit of Hanlan continue to guide me on my way.