On The Water: Starting (Again)

(Graphic: Chase Manze)

(Graphic: Chase Manze)

Before this spring, I had never been on the water with a crew. I trained for months on the indoor ergs, all in preparation to finally hold an oar in my hands.

The last time I learned a new sport I was in the seventh grade. It was my first year at Hopkins, and I expected to play the sports I always played—soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. But when the beginning of the school year approached, my mom said I should try field hockey. I had played ice hockey for five years at that point, but I had never even seen a game of field hockey.

At first I didn’t like the suggestion. I just wanted to keep playing soccer because I enjoyed it and was good at it. The challenge of a new sport was too tempting, though, so on the first day of the seventh grade I stood on the field-hockey field, black-and-orange stick in hand, ready to learn.

I was new, but from day one my competitiveness kicked in. I am very driven, and strived to become the best player on the team. I soon began teaching myself new stick tricks, like air dribbling and around-the-worlds, and how to drive hard to goal. The excitement I got from scoring goals, making fast breaks up the field, and winning games was similar to what I felt playing lacrosse, and I immediately fell in love with the sport. In the span of two years, I went from learning how to dribble a ball to leading my team to New England Tournament appearances. I felt immense pride in helping build a successful program with my teammates during my time at Hopkins.

It was my first time ever picking up a racquet and stepping on a court, whereas my opponent had been playing for a few years. That didn’t matter to me.

My mom encouraged me to change my athletic experience again that same year. In my 7th grade winter, she suggested I try out for the squash team instead of continuing with basketball. I had the same reaction as in the fall; I played basketball my whole life up to that point and many of my friends were on the team. But after watching some varsity players from my school compete on the squash court, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.

The first day of the season, I grabbed a racquet and goggles and ran onto the court, eager to mirror how I had seen others play. I lost my first squash match. It was my first time ever picking up a racquet and stepping on a court, whereas my opponent had been playing for a few years. That didn’t matter to me. I don’t like losing, and never have, and that loss fueled my determination to become great. I showed up to practice early to get extra hits in and stayed through lunch periods to play a few more practice matches with my coaches. As a junior schooler, I always went to the squash courts after school and tried to mix myself in with the varsity practice.

As I entered high school, I began to challenge players on the men’s team to matches. I continued playing everyday after practice, long after the sun had set. I might have only recently picked up the sport, but I was going to run with it as far as I could. The sport change brought some of my closest friends into my life, and gave me many exciting memories.

So, when I unsteadily entered the boat a few weeks ago, I was reminded of my 12 year old self. I remembered the feeling of being the new player, the one who had to pick up skills and techniques quickly so that they could compete. My teammates were all very excited when it came time for me to get on the water. On the 6:15 bus to Overpeck, they asked me how I was feeling, if I was excited, and they told me that it was going to be fun.

For my first day I was placed in an 8-person boat, one filled with people who had all been rowing for years. Megan Walsh, a fellow sophomore who sat in the seat in front of me, helped with all the small tasks necessary to get ready to row. She helped me unscrew the oar hook and set the blade in the water. She made sure the hook was tightened and that everything was in the right position. When we finally pushed off the dock, she showed me how to place my blade in the water to steady the boat. The entire morning, she kept giving me advice and led me through my first experience on the water.

I kept trying to find something to immerse myself in, but nothing could fill the hole that lacrosse had left. Then, rowing came along.

That morning was an inundation of terms, techniques, and skills. The feeling of moving in unison with everyone was exhilarating. It wasn’t perfect, there were moments when we had to stop to break down the motions, but once I caught on I realized how fun the sport could be.

Undoubtedly, lacrosse was my first passion and love. I started playing in the first grade and could have never imagine my life without it. It filled my summers, weekends, and after school time. I was happiest when I was on the field, where I could challenge myself and work towards big goals with my friends. Hearing my teammates hype me up as I set up to take the draw is a feeling that can’t be replaced, and jumping into their arms when we scored or won was pure elation.

The happiness I felt on the field is something that can’t be replicated anywhere else. The thrill of running down the field on a fast break, connecting with a teammate on a hard to finish pass, and dodging defenders to score a goal was addicting. The joy the game brought me truly can not be put into words. So when I found out this fall that my lacrosse career would be coming to an end, I was devastated. It felt like I was losing a part of myself and my identity. I didn’t know what to do, and I suddenly was left questioning who I was. How could I be myself when so much of my identity was intertwined with lacrosse?

That question followed me throughout October. I kept trying to find something to immerse myself in, but nothing could fill the hole that lacrosse had left. Then, rowing came along.

I walked onto the women’s rowing team, a Division 1 program, with no prior rowing experience. Rowing is unique in that almost anyone can pick up the sport at any point if they are willing to put in the work. There is a very strong walk-on culture in collegiate rowing, not only here at Columbia but at most schools. Still, I never imagined myself being a college rower.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited to be on a team again and was looking forward to learning a new sport and meeting new friends, but most of all I wanted the sport to give me a purpose. I wanted a goal that I could work towards that was bigger than myself. I wanted to have a space where I could be the athlete I had been my whole life.

Rowing gives me the chance to fulfill all of those goals: hit a specific time on the erg tests, keep a split time steady through a long piece, master the positioning of a stroke. I’m used to being the top player on a team and having others look up to me, yet on the rowing team I am tested mentally have to look around and learn. Though I miss lacrosse, I also know that I have a special opportunity in front of me. I feel the excitement I felt in seventh grade all over again. And I’m ready to win.

EssaysDunia Habboosh