“the quintessential Greek sport: harmonious, competitive, agonizing, nautical, and above all, intelligent. It combines Odysseus’s brains and brawn and love of the sea with the tactical precision of the Spartan pikeman.” -Barry Strauss
My alarm starts to buzz; its 3.50 am and another tiring day lies ahead. I get out of bed before I fall asleep again, wash my face, grab a cup of coffee or some tea and gobble something down fast. Practice starts at 5am, so with about 20 minutes to spare till I leave, I pack my clothes and necessities for the day if I haven’t done it the previous night. I check my phone to see if any messages are there and reply to whatever and put it back on the charger. By 4.30am, my friend comes in a tuk tuk and I keep him waiting a bit as usual because I always have the strange feeling that I’m forgetting something. Then we go on our way. It’s really cold and dark, an ungodly hour for one to be up at. We’re usually still drowsy and just put our headphones on and listen to some music.
We walk into Club; its 4.55 am, if we’re lucky there’s somebody else too. As a part of our daily ritual, the rest of the guys show up eventually (specially the guys from Dehiwala/Moratuwa). After warming up, we take the oars and boats out, sometimes in pure darkness, guided only by a small torch. One could question why we do what we do, or how on earth do we do it without getting sick of it. At times it can be very annoying, since you have to do it basically everyday. But, now that I come to think of it, it’s the small moments we’ve shared during those early hours that still stay on in my head more than anything else, and manages to bring a smile to my face.
As we carry our boats out to pier, there’s usually one guy who won’t be lifting properly and not sharing the weight, either because he’s short, or he’s just being lazy. Once the boats are in, we step in, put our oars in, strap our feet, and just as we’re about to leave the pier, it seems somebody has forgotten something or has to take a trip to the bathroom – typical. We start to do our warm up strokes and slowly get the boat moving. At 5.30am you can hear how silent Colombo is, to be honest, its quite deafening. The humidity gets to you from the moment you start, and the water smells a bit (something we’re used to), but nothing to worry about.
The first 4 kilometers go at a very slow pace, because you can’t really make out where you are, so it seems to take forever, the cox uses his amazing vision to tell you things which you start to doubt, and the lack of any wind makes it worse. Close upon 6am, we’d have done close to about 6.5 kilometers, and that’s where you get to see and feel something magical, something that is very beautiful (if you are rowing properly that is). The sun slowly starts to rise as its rays hit the water and our faces, but that very moment is quite serene. As the boat glides through the water, stroke by stroke, you feel one with the boat, the strokes get lighter, the wind gets stronger, the cox shouts louder, the boat effortlessly gains speed, you start hearing the sound of water running beneath you, and what you feel in that very moment is indescribable.
I feel personally the fun moments we have spent together as a crew both on water and elsewhere are the most priceless, they’re incomparable to medals, trophies and records. Those things I can and will never forget, singing songs, playing hell, trying to catch your breath in-between sets, getting told you’re not pulling enough (vice versa), cracking jokes about each other and their ‘significant ‘other(s). During those really unbearable days of training, these little things really made it worth the while. During heavy training you maybe extremely tired, but because the guy who’s behind you, and (or) front of you is equally tired, you’re willing to push so much more, no words are needed to say it, its just the connection you develop, these guys became more than friends or crew mates, they became my family. Because in those moments where you’re struggling to breath or close to passing out, they always help out. We may not be brothers by blood, but I’m more than sure they’re my brothers by sweat and tears. Even time we spent outside, going in our Captain’s Double Cab, on the most wildest of rides were unforgettable. The most fun was our last few weeks before the 2014 regatta, where we had our ‘unusual’ morning fitness sessions at Independence Square, and then afterwards grab breakfast from none other than McDonalds! Then finally go to school, where we’d try not to get pulled up for being late or falling asleep in class.
Doing everything we did. There were also really miserable days, days which were long, tiring and really exhausting. Like the night before where we are told we’ll have erg assessments or seat races etc the next day. One fine day we had all of them, an erg assessment in the morning, and seat races by noon, back to back. That was one tiring day. It gets worse on days where we have appalling schedules awaiting us on the water or at gym, courtesy of our wonderful coach. But all those hours of pain and suffering did really pay off (not to sound like a cliché), I mean it when I say that it is really satisfying to reach your end goal after putting in the work even after going through set backs and disappointments.
By the grace of God we have won the past 3 Royal-Thomian Regattas, and this year is in His hands yet again. The guys in the Royal crew for the last 3+ years are really good oarsmen and are even better people. The camaraderie we have is special between us both in and out of water. You get to know some really nice guys and end up making some surprising, but unexpected lifelong friendships from sports like these. Rowing is one really unique sport, actually to be honest, its more than just a sport, it’s a lifestyle, a brotherhood. The rowing fraternity is something worth being part of.
“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.” -Barry Strauss