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Peter Mallory's Blog


By pmallory - Posted on 26 November 2012

21 November 2012

It is the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and I am taking the occasion to savor all the things I have to be thankful for. There are a lot, but I’ll stick to one particular rowing-related one in this newsletter.

I have begun coaching again!

Oh, my! After seven years spent writing my book about the past of our sport, it feels so good to return to the world of the present!

All my life I have tried to make the world a better place. Lord knows I don’t always succeed, but it has often seemed that I am most effective when I use coaching crew as my lever to move the world. The lessons we coaches get to pass on to our team members are lessons they will return to and rely on all their lives.

So I welcome the Loyola-Marymount University Men’s Novice Crew to my worldwide newsletter and into my life. You are at the awkward stage of struggling with the basic fundamentals of team rowing, and one of those has been attendance, so here is a story dedicated to you from forty-five years ago. It is adapted from my first book, An Out-of-Boat Experience, used copies of which I am told can sometimes still be found on Amazon and eBay.

It is the early spring of my senior year of college. I have been a key member of the Penn Lightweight Varsity Eight since I joined the squad, and I have been stroking the boat now for more than a year. We set the course record at the Head of the Charles last fall and are looking forward to a very competitive spring season. One afternoon I wake up from an unscheduled nap and break into a cold sweat as I glance at the clock and realize I’m going to be late for crew!

In my entire four years at Penn I’ve never missed a single practice! This will be the only one I am even late for. The only one!

Imagine that!

I jump in my car, race like a demon through the streets of West Philadelphia, leap out, dash through the boathouse and out to the dock . . . just in time to see my team disappearing around the bend past the statue of Viking explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni at the end of Boathouse Row.

I stand there on the dock, listening to the water gurgling under my feet, glancing at the cars across the river on the Schuylkill Expressway, looking down and staring at my leg curiously . . . as . . . if . . . it . . . belonged . . . to . . . someone . . . else.

Hmm!

Muscle tissue of the right thigh is fully exposed through a deep gash, a window, if you will, a window into the interior of my leg. Fully developed quadriceps lateralis. Well defined. The product of three years of power squats. Excellent! Look at the individual fibers. Interesting.

Fascinating even . . .

Hmm!

Hmm!

What’s wrong with this picture?

It takes me a minute or more to conclude that I must have run headlong into a protruding metal boat rigger . . . and that I must have done this damage as I sprinted through the boathouse just moments before.

How long ago was that now? I apparently don’t even care enough to bleed. I observe from a great distance, feeling nothing.

I’m having an OUT-of-boat experience . . .

Eventually a team manager gathers me up and binds my leg. Here comes the blood! He’s horrified, but there’s no time to go to the university hospital or I’ll miss the second shift.

The team comes back. The Third Varsity stroke, a tall-soft-spoken sophomore named Joe Lehman, never has there been a nicer guy, but whose body was putty to my steel, is sitting in my seat in the Varsity, and everybody is saying that the boat is going way better without me. Our coach directs me to the 6-seat in the Jayvee. Me, in the Varsity boat every day since the beginning of my sophomore year, the top weight lifter on the team, no one more hard core, now relegated to a lower boat for the first time ever. How could this happen? How could this happen to me?

Never again would I see the inside of the first eight, not because I was being punished for being late that one time in four frickin’ years . . . but because someone else was there to take advantage of the opportunity I let slip from my hands that fateful afternoon.

Many times I have retold this story as a coach, each successive team of mine gathered around the metaphorical campfire and feeling my pain. A host of lessons to be learned here. A parable for rowers. A morality tale. And every time I have retold it I have called it:

“The Curse of the Jayvee Scar.”

Incidentally, I will carry the mark of this experience till my dying day, not only on my soul but also on my body.

The scar. It’s still there. Just ask me. I’ll be happy to show it to you.

Happy Thanksgiving.