By: Sarah Lindemann, Photography Intern
National Council of Women’s Organizations
Not many teenage girls would jump at the chance to wear spandex six days a week, but I asked “how high?” Joining a high school sports team helped to define my four years of high school. The friendships I made and the lessons I learned would not have been possible without Title IX—and the Woodbridge Senior High School crew team.
For all you landlubbers out there, “crew” is also referred to as “rowing.” The most commonly used boats for high school crew teams are called “eights” and “fours.” An eight is about 56 feet long and seats (surprise!) eight rowers and a coxswain. A coxswain is typically a smaller individual who doesn’t row, but whose job is to face the rowers and guide the boat down the river. Since I was too tall to be a coxswain, I usually sat in the seat facing them. My job was to set the pace for the rest of the boat. If all of the rowers weren’t in sync, the boat wouldn’t move smoothly through the water – making everyone involved generally miserable.
Rowing taught me a lot about working with others, both physically and mentally. It was often frustrating when I had no control over how my teammates were rowing. I could handle this in one of two ways: sulking and grimacing at the coxswain, or attempting to communicate what I was feeling and what we needed so that she could share this with the other rowers. Interestingly enough, the latter worked better. Even as a young rower, I learned that being able to communicate effectively was incredibly important.
Another lesson (that I’m still working on) that worked wonders on my teenage brain was learning how to be dependable–and how to let go and depend on others. In a larger boat, we were a community. In addition to practicing on the water, we did everything together: workouts in the weight room, running laps, and walking to the parking lot after practice. Racing shells have an even number of seats for a reason – if one person is absent, the boat is either incredibly lopsided or can’t be sent out on the water. If I shirked my responsibility, it negatively impacted people I cared about. I learned how it felt to be on the receiving end of that absence as well. In this way, we came to depend on each other to show up for practice every day—no matter what.
High school can be flat-out terrible for young women. Everyone I knew had negative things to say about their bodies or their eating habits. Being a part of the crew team taught me that my body was capable of much more than I thought possible. I was never much of an athlete before joining crew, and went through quite a transition. I had muscles! I could poke them and they would retain their shape! It was a revelation. I lifted weights and wasn’t afraid to reach for the bigger bars. I may not have been able to actually lift them, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I always rowed in one specific seat, and my oar was on my right. The constant pulling of my left shoulder and side made those muscles stronger than the ones on my right side! I grew to actually like my body and feel proud of myself and my new skills.
My high school crew team helped forge my identity in positive ways that impact me every day. Without Title IX, young women across the country would never have had the same opportunities to bolster their own senses of identity and self-confidence.
Spandex and lopsided muscles? Count me in.