Row For The Cure, or “Clothing Tips For Rowers”

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After a summer of flailing around in boats I was looking forward to my first regatta. For me it would be the Row For The Cure which was held on September 29th 2013. For somebody with a grand total of 3 months experience, the prospect of a 5K row (somewhere around 20 minutes for a boat full of relatively inexperienced rowers) seemed like it would present quite a physical challenge. This much was true, however I was not prepared for the looming wardrobe malfunction.

Let’s back up a bit. One of the rules (OK, seems to be more of a guideline than a rule) is that everybody in the boat is supposed to be wearing the same colors. For my part, that would be the blue shirt of my team (Station L). I didn’t happen to own such a shirt, however there was a bin at the boathouse with some unsold shirts, so I grabbed the only one that would fit (extra large, and yes this is important to the narrative), tossed my payment in the box, suited up and headed out.

The day was rainy, so I put on a cycling jacket over my new shirt, We loaded up and rowed upstream to the starting area. On arrival we were all decently slicked down by the rain, but in preparation for our no doubt impressive performance to come I dropped the cycling jacket and got ready to go.

Here’s an interesting thing to know: cycling jackets are nice and stretchy and tend to keep all of the lower layers neatly in place.
Here’s another interesting thing: wet t-shirts tend to stretch a bit, particularly if they’re already a size too large (remember the XL bit?)

We now rejoin the narrative, several minutes into the race. At this point my brand new team shirt was good and wet, good and stretched out, and hanging down over my posterior. This was bad news because rowing involves this really cool sliding seat. Back, forth, back, forth…unbeknownst to me with every cycle of the slide that clever t-shirt tail was creeping ever closer to the wheels underneath the seat. Finally the inevitable happened: the shirt actually started to catch under the seat. With every stroke it would snag, pull down, and stretch the shirt even further.

While attempting to keep rowing hard for the team, I pondered my options. It seems that the coaches had neglected to cover the proper response to a wardrobe malfunction. Should I politely raise my hand and say “umm, excuse me but I need to adjust my garments for a moment, does anybody mind?” Do I whip out a pirate knife and adroitly cut the shirt off of my back while continuing to row? Or lacking the capacity for original thought do I simply keep going and try to power through the situation hoping that the darned shirt will just rip to shreds on its own?

Since I had neglected to put my trusty pirate knife between my teeth prior to the race, I chose option 3, kept going, and prayed that the guy behind me wouldn’t fall over laughing as he watched me struggling through my clothing-induced hunch-backed stroke.

But wait, the shirt wasn’t done. We rowed through the town, under the bridges, around the turn point, and headed back toward the finish in full view of the 14 people who had turned out in the rain to watch the race. With only 200 meters left to row I was beginning to feel like I would survive the t-shirt from hell’s attempts to kill me, and apparently the shirt thought the same and became desperate. It was at this point that the t-shirt pulled out its last secret move. It grabbed the seat, and possibly the track, and somehow managed to separate the two which left me sitting in the boat with the seat between my knees and no way of sliding fore and aft with the rest of the crew.

Once again, I blame the coaching staff for not covering this contingency. At one end of the stroke the rower in front of me was in my lap, at the other end the rower behind me was trying desperately not to break my back with his oar handle (much appreciated by the way). All that I could do was row with my arms and body only, somehow try to stay out of the other guys’ way, and cover my face as we crossed the finish line to the confused looks of the officials who were wondering what was wrong with the guy in 5 seat.

In the aftermath, everybody claimed that they had never heard of such a thing happening before. The next day my son returned from his rowing practice and said “Dad, you’re a legend! Everybody is still laughing about how your seat came off!”

The t-shirt went into the garbage. I would have burned it but it was too wet to ignite.

So much for my first regatta. I tried to chalk it up as a learning experience, but to be honest I’m not certain the embarrassment will ever completely wear off. I hoped that the next regatta, the Portland Fall Classic would be an opportunity for redemption, but that’s a topic for another posting…

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