in the spirit of the the olympics, how i learned to row from an olympic all-star

Adam Holland teaches Zachary McCune the joy of rowing.
Adam Holland teaches Zachary McCune the joy of rowing.

it has been an enchanting summer working at the berkman center for internet & society. everyday, i get to hang out with some of the most brilliant people on the planet. we talk, we write (emails), we blog, we laugh, we play rock band. and when things need to get done, we stay late hyped on free coffee and leftover food.

it is a distinct honor to be considered a peer among such excellent people. and i am not just talking about the fellows, staff, and faculty, though they are all outstanding. no, i mean my peers as in my fellow interns, who are almost definitely the ripening next generation of changemakers.

one of them is adam holland, a 1996 olympic rower and certified international rowing master. as an athlete, holland long ago proved his worth, but despite his olympian stature, he is kind, compassionate, and supremely brilliant. in addition to always having a clever wit about the center, adam is also a mythology and science fiction expert, and recommended that i read the player of games, my great read of the summer.

today, adam invited anyone interested from the berkman center to come down and learn to row at harvard’s 100 year old men’s boathouse. naturally, i took him up on the offer, partially because on i’ve always wanted to learn how to row, and partially because this is harvard, rowing on the charles is the very image of the made cambridge, massachusetts man.

harvard’s boathouse alone was worth the trip. built in 1900 (ish), the structure has a classic, late victorian feel. the sides of the building are lined with slate, and various porches protrude out from the building’s second floor to take in vistas of the charles or of harvard’s athletic fields on the other side of storrow drive. inside, wide bays hold dozens of rowing shells, while upstairs locker rooms and training facilities look as though they were still haunted by the ghosts of yesteryear. not to get into cliches, because the harvard boathouse is more of a icon realized that cliche manifest.

one of the other attendees, john randall, was amazed by the amount of wood used in the construction of the building. “everything is made out of wood,” he remarked.

“keep in mind it was built a hundred years ago,” adam responded.

as we walked down from the locker room, adam pointed out his singles scull. i had already seen it, and had a feeling it was his, as its name was a little… unique. the “sisyphus heureux” as i believe the boat was named, clearly nodded at the greek king who insulted the gods and was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for the rest of his life in the underworld. heureux, means happy or content. so it seems that adam enjoys arduous, repetitive tasks… like rowing.

we took a brief tour of the building, eventually taking our first lessons on the mechanics of rowing in on the building’s ancient indoor rowing tanks. this tank, apparently added over 80 years ago, was so compellingly old school that i became absolutely in love with it, and forced a group photo in the tank to remember the afternoon.

group photo in the tanks.
group photo in the tanks.

rowing was hard, but intuitive. the sport seems to be more about developing proper mechanics and sharpening instincts that powering through the water using whatever means necessary. getting out on the water was quite relaxing, and each stroke felt remarkably powerful, i can see how one who be interested in rowing up and down the charles river, as it gives on the opportunity to reflect on everything else going on around them.

like sailing.

i had long thought then when i would first learn to row, i would be immediately disappointed that i was not sailing. because sailing would seem so much more effective. that did not happen, as rowing is SO efficient.

after rowing at the end of a string that adam held for about ten minutes, i came off the water and let some of the other guys take the practice shell out for a jaunt. it was wonderful.

on my way home, i enjoyed a glorious bike along the banks of the charles. it would have better rowing.

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11 Responses to in the spirit of the the olympics, how i learned to row from an olympic all-star

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