Brad Alan Lewis

Unlike boxers-or any professional athlete for that matter-rowers have little motivation to do it longer than necessary. With a modest amount of self-realization, you’ll know when you have acquired the nebulous gifts that rowing has to offer, whether it’s courage or a strengthened soul or a powerful body. Once you have it, drop back ten yards and punt. Someone new will pick up the ball and run with it.

Unless you’ve also had some experience dragging around a boat trailer, [topping off the gas tank] may not sound important. But trailer driver’s know: a gas stop can be a traumatic experience. You need enough clearance on every possible side. You can’t cut the turn too sharp or you’ll clip the gas pump. Getting back on the freeway can be as challenging as sending a man to the moon.

The last great unknown, in terms of physiological training, is the optimum length of a piece. Is three minutes enough? Is ten minutes too much? No one knows. Perhaps someday the question will be answered-we’ll find out that thirteen minutes is the perfect length for a training piece when preparing for a 2000 meter race. Until then, coaches will continue exploring the whole scale, up and down, from thirty seconds to sixty minutes and more, in hopes of capturing the optimum time.

One training device is the ergometer. I never owned one, never trained on one, and practically never used one. The few national team tests I took on ergs were dismal failures, which worked wonders to further my dislike of these beastly creatures. Boring. Tedious. Noisy. Ergs have greatly cheapened rowing. Graceless. Greasy. Grim. The erg is to rowing what having sex by yourself is to having sex. Stop it!

White Hot Concentration is the unappreciated fruit of hard ligting, especially squats. When your in the squat rack, with a serious amount of weight overhead, your life literally depends on maintaining concentration. You learn to block out the swirling images in the mirror, the obnoxious chatter of the people next to you, the fat drop of sweat running down your nose. Once you’ve mastered this concentration in the weight room, duplicating it on the race course is relatively easy. Champions have only a few things in common. One weapon they all possess is White Hot Concentration.

The window of X Factor opportunity opens up in the closing seconds of a race-you might be sprinting at the time or just hanging one, trying to get across the finish line. With a supreme act of will, you can prolong your effort, essentially fighting off the inevitable lactic acid shutdown. You’ll have little time for contemplating the options: either wholeheartedly go for it, or back off. You must train your X Factor to unequivocally respond the way you want-go for it. Once the window is closed, it’s closed forever.

Racing serves as a formal demonstration of your ability to ride the three-headed monster. The first monster is your physical preparation-lifting weights for strength, running for endurance, working on your technique. The second monster is your mental preparation-all our jabbering about humility, battling for your life, taking complete responsibility for the outcome. The last monster is your X Factor, your soul, your courage. Taken altogether, I call this three-headed monster the Process of Winning.

Rowing is an absurdly simple sport. I can easily guide a beginner throught the right technical motions. The difficulty arises when the beginner attempts to repeat those motions on a bumpy race course, at 40 strokes a minute, with his heart rate zooming, and an opponent charging up his stern.

One of the unique aspects of rowing is that novices strive to perfect the same motions as Olympic contenders. Few other sports can make this claim. In figure skating, for instance, the novice practices only simple moves. After years of training, the skater then proceeds to the jumps and spins that make up an elite skater’s program. But the novice rower, from day one, strives to duplicate a motion that he’ll still be doing on the day of the Olympic finals.

Like any good drug, anger can mask all reality. But anger is not an easy emotion to call up on demand, which is why an enemy is so wonderful. You’re tired. Didn’t sleep well. You have zero energy. Then you get lucky. You pull into the boathouse parking lot and see your favorite enemy. Celebrate. Your workout is saved. One look at that chowderhead can put you into the angerzone. As you turn off your car, you can feel your whole physical being change. Respiration increases. The dull look on your face is magically transformed into the power-stare of a true rowing warriot.

I’ve always thought that Boathouse Row looked best at night, when hundreds of electric lights outline the shape of each building, truning them into fantastic postcard themes. I knew, however, from many visits to Boathouse Row, that at the same time, armies of rats were holding maneuvers in the basements.

The toughest part of the whole damn sport is the X Factor. To me, the X factor is your soul. It’s your courage. It’s your unique driving force. Suppose for a moment that [you] and I were [running]. Suppose that in every possible way-physical and mental-we were identical. Which one of us would emerge as the champion?