When I was accepted to Durham University, I was the apple of my family's eye. Durham University is one of the biggest and most renowned universities in the whole of England. It comes beneath only Oxford and Cambridge as far as I know, and what that means is that in order to get accepted to Durham, you've got to be one of three things: Very, very rich or very very intelligent or very very good at rowing.
Thankfully, I am slightly intelligent!
Although, I do want a single scull of my very own...
The Sport of the Upper Crust
Durham is divided in its class system. It's a tiny town in the north of England that was once central to the UK's mining trade. Durham is a town that is surrounded, on all sides, by smaller villages and locations that each had their own pit. These are called pit villages, and it is from a pit village that I come, which has been an interestingly eye-opening experience on both sides.
I paid attention in school a little, but my prime came when I went to a technical college and was lucky to be studying a subject that I loved more than I loved to get into trouble and go partying on the weekends. I'd also never contemplated Durham University because it was Durham University. As far as I was concerned, it was so out of reach I couldn't hit it with a far-reaching cricket ball.
There's more to rowing than the Henley Royal Regatta.
When I first got into a boat, it was a small rowboat on a small lake in the middle of summer. I'd seen people rowing on TV with the boat race and such (because the revolution will not be televised but people rowing sure will, annually, whether you like it or not) and I'd seen them on the rivers in my hometown, but that was as far as I'd gotten.
Actually getting to hold the oars in my hands instilled me with an incredible sense of responsibility. If I was in control of where the boat would go, then I would be the one, as the coxswain, that would be responsible if anything happened to anybody who was in the boat with me. Rowing that little tiny boat taught me diligence and that I secretly wished I had been born on the right side of the tracks so I could actually do this for fun.
In Durham, on the river, the University students row there to practice for championships, so you see them all of the time, but anyone can go ahead and hire a boat for the afternoon, and so that's where I got my actual start. You know, on a boat longer than a rowing machine.
That One Summer
I mentioned the class divide in the city and that has always been the case. I am a Durham University student now, but I am also a mature student whose youth was spent being otherwise inclined.
That first summer I started rowing on a regular basis, I was with a friend and we'd gone to the place where you rent the boats to see how much it would cost. He let us have twice the time than other people had because I guess he recognized I knew what I was doing (or that he knew a member of my family, more likely).
We rowed to the boathouse where the students kept their boats. There's a wooden dock that's really good to fish on or just to sit on to get a tan. We docked our boat there and sat on the wood to have lunch and exist for a while.
A group of students whose crew had to practice for their competition soon came down to get their racing shell from out of the house and we thought we would get into trouble but instead, we ended up talking about dozens of things, like how they got into rowing and why they like the city so much.
The river around the castle, where you row, winds in tight bends which make it pretty amazing on the south side of the bridge to row on. The current isn't too strong and it is, for the most part, level. I was surprised at how nice these students were, though I had some FOMO (fear of missing out) that these guys were getting to do what I loved professionally when some of them didn't even really enjoy it.
Watching the World Go By
These days, I return to that dock a lot. The students seem to be getting younger as I'm getting older, but now I have a sense of age-related superiority, they ask me questions as if I know what I'm talking about in regards to rowing, which I always did, but I suppose I never knew how to give off the air of being a rower.
I've been to the Regatta and I've even been back to the tiny lake I got into my first boat at, which is a trip and a half to go back to. I think people seem to underestimate what it takes to be in control of a boat. Not only does it take arm and leg power, it takes a sense of confidence you can't fake and the ability to remain calm in the toughest of situations.
When you are in the middle of a river, just you and the oars, while people are watching you, you can watch them in ways those who race cannot. Rowing doesn't have to just be for one type of person because education also doesn't have to be for one type of person.
For me, the two are intravenously linked; as if it were being comfortable with who I was that got me into university, and it was a thousand percent because of rowing that I had that confidence and comfort to realize we're all the same at the core.
The river is in charge of us all.