Barry S. Strauss

The feel of a good row stays with you hours afterward. Your muscles glow, your mind wanders from the papers on you desk and goes back, again and again, to that terrific power piece at the end of the workout when it felt as if you and the boat were flying, as if you legs were two cannons and your arms were two oars and the great lateral muscles of your back were pterodactyl wings and the brim of your baseball cap was a harpoon.

The Greek in me wanted to know what it felt like to pull an oar. The intellectual wondered about how to get eight individuals to move to the same beat. The athlete wanted to check what has been described as the ultimate workout. The romantic craved seeing if the quirkiness of the sport – there is after all, little practical value to oarsmanship in the postindustrial age – stirred his blood.

When you are rowing well and hard, the rhythm of the stroke takes over. It drives your days and restores your nights. It imparts cadence and direction. You feel like you and the boats are one, you feel that no obstacle will put up any more resistance than the water does to your oars, you feel that hard work and grit and mental toughness will always win it for you in the end.

The rower need to know technique and has to be in shape. He won’t wrong by using strategy. Yet what it takes to win races is the ability to reach inside and pull out something to keep you going – no, to go faster – when you have nothing left to give. There’s a word for what that takes and the word is not magic, the word is guts.