On The Water: Wake-up call
On the Water is a weekly column written by Dunia Habboosh, CC 21’ , a member of the Columbia Women’s Rowing team. The column will offer an inside look at the day to day life of a student athlete.
It’s dark outside, my roommate is asleep, and my alarm is ringing. I quickly get out of bed and click the off button to silence the song I selected to wake me up that morning: Roar by Katy Perry.
I struggle to keep my eyes open. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I pause for a second and struggle to gain some semblance of consciousness. My room is still dark, so I use the flashlight on my phone to take out the workout gear I will need for the day: leggings, socks, tech tee, long-sleeve, sweatshirt, joggers, and a quarter zip.
After getting changed, I put my hair into a braid and pack my backpack with things I will need for the rest of the day: a Spanish notebook, laptop, and flashcards for a psychology midterm.
We try to move through the terms quickly, but we are running on 5 hours of sleep (for the second night in a row) and it's hard to concentrate.
My friend Adriana, who is on the women’s soccer team and lives two doors down from me, meets me in the hallway so that we can walk to the bus together. Both of us are tired from the night, but we laugh off the exhaustion and start quizzing each other in preparation for our psychology exam.
We try to move through the terms quickly, but we are running on 5 hours of sleep (for the second night in a row) and it's hard to concentrate. We walk across campus while discussing the material, all while also debating if we should try to sleep during the 25 minute journey to Baker Athletics Complex or just continue to study.
After boarding the bus, we greet our teammates, all of whom are leaning against the windows trying to catch five more minutes of sleep. As we settle into our seats we break out the flashcards. It doesn’t take long for us to change course, deciding instead that it’s better to take the nap.
The bus leaves campus filled with the women’s rowing and soccer teams and heads toward Baker. Conversations peter out as the bus driver turns the lights turn off and people fall asleep, finish their breakfast, or listen to music. I lean my head against the window on my right side and watch Amsterdam Avenue rush by. I can feel my body relaxing into the back of the seat and my eyes slowly close as sleep takes over. It’s silent on the bus for the rest of the ride.
As the bus rolls into Baker, they turn the lights on. I stretch and rub my eyes as I wake up. Our team files off the bus and walks toward the boathouse. As I’m taking off my joggers and sweatshirt, a girl starts passing around a box of cereal. They also distribute granola bars in case anybody wasn’t able to eat something beforehand. Once everyone is dressed for practice, we head upstairs to the wood-room and grab mats for stretching out.
Now, our coach is explaining what we are going to do for practice. Today, our workout is an inter-team competition (one of my personal favorites). The team is divided into two groups and each group will row three, ten minute pieces.
The coach calls for us to start, and we quickly fall into unison by starting and completing strokes at the same time. We reach a steady state, and the music gets turned up. I try to keep my eyes off the clock, and instead focus on the people rowing in the front row. Three minutes later we move up in stroke rate again, and by now I’m watching the seconds tick by. The coxswains start walking around the room, encouraging us to push harder to get a faster split time so we can beat the opposing group.
Sweat falls down my face as we enter the last minute of the workout. The coach starts calling out the times my teammates are achieving. 1:40! 1:44! I watch my split time go down as I put all my strength and endurance into the final few strokes.
There is little time to rest, though. The bus back to campus leaves in 15 minutes.
Finally, the timer hits 0 and we all let up our pressure and cool down with a slower pace. When we get off the ergs, I give a high five to my teammates next to me and I am greeted by fist bumps and congratulations from the other girls in my group.
There is little time to rest, though. The bus back to campus leaves in 15 minutes. We quickly pack up our things from the locker room while someone calls to place our foods orders. The phone gets passed around until everyone is done and then we rush to pick up the food before we leave.
We all settle into the bus with our breakfasts, starving after the hard workout. As I unwrap my breakfast sandwich and chocolate milk, Adriana sits next to me so we can continue studying for the midterm which is now just two hours away. We’re both tired from our practices and check in with each other on how each other’s workouts were.
Although we are both sweating and tired, our academic schedules demand that we shift into school mode immediately. All around the bus, my teammates are pulling out study guides and flashcards for midterms they are about to take that day.
Everyone has been awake for at least four hours, and has pushed themselves physically and mentally on the erg, in the weight room, or on the field before most classes have started.
We arrive back at campus and everyone scatters to class, dining halls, or their room—sometimes a nap is necessary.
I have a 10:10 everyday, like many student-athletes, so I speed right to class in Pupin. I’m equal parts fatigued and energetic, from the early wake-up and exciting start to my morning, respectively.
On the whole, I feel strong and ready to take on the day.
After my first class, I go to take my psychology midterm. I have a few hours off after I finish the exam, but those three hours are spent doing readings, completing problem sets, and studying for upcoming tests and quizzes.
While in season, our team practices 20 hours per week.
This includes early morning practices, second practices in the afternoon twice a week, and a Saturday morning workout. These session are physically taxing and our persistence is tested every day as we rush from practice to class and complete work during any free span of time we can find.
These times often occur in short blocks and at strange hours. Due to practice demands, student-athletes have less available time slots in which to schedule our classes , which is why we race to 10:10s and pile into courses that end at either 8 or 10pm. Planning a semester means scheduling Core classes, major requirements, and electives at any time we are free, even if that extends our days until long after the sun sets.
Because of this compact schedule, student-athletes often come to class still in their practice gear, sweating and flushed from the workout, chugging water, and sneaking in a snack. So when you see an athlete walking in with their grey sweatpants or Columbia Athletics long sleeve, know that they are attempting to stay active in both spheres of their life: academics and athletics.
After my economics class is finished, I meet up with my friend from the men’s basketball team to get dinner.
After we finish eating, we head to a dorm lounge to do work, and as we walk he explains to me his upcoming assignments that he has to get done tonight. With an 8:10 tomorrow to accommodate afternoon practice, he needs to be efficient when studying. I’m in the same boat as I ideally try to go to sleep at 11 or 11:30 PM every night so I can be well rested for morning practice and a day of classes.
Because I wanted to reach a higher level, I learned how to balance my academic and athletic ambitions at an early age.
Although I fill my days with activity, I’m used to it. It’s normal to me to complete a two-hour team practice followed by individual work at the gym. My high school experience was defined by training sessions that occupied more of my free time than anything my peers were doing. I spent every spare moment studying.
Class from 8:00 - 3:30, practice for my school team for two hours, and finally practice for my outside club teams or a solo strength workout. Because I wanted to reach a higher level, I learned how to balance my academic and athletic ambitions at an early age.
It’s been 18.5 hours since I woke up. In that time I pushed my body physically at practice, studied for a midterm on a crowded bus, discussed a movie in Spanish, took said midterm, finished an Economics problem set, completed 100 pages of reading, finished a project, and wrote this piece.
Now, I’m setting my alarm for tomorrow.