by Jessica Sabat, Row New York Masters Team
There’s buoyancy in my step as I skip down the Dyckman station’s stairs. Exiting, I deftly dodge the elevated tracks’ perpetually splashing drip. Heading east along Highbridge Park’s rocky edge the air suddenly changes. I breathe damp earth, fresh greenery and oxygenated coolness. I am happy.
Darting across the Harlem River Drive, skirting kids, bicyclists and birthday parties in Swindler’s Cove Park, my anticipation increases. Finally, the first glimpse! The Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse, floating like a fairy-tale cottage on the Harlem River beyond the gate of metal oars.
I am a rower. (I get misty typing that.) I. A.M. A. R.O.W.E.R. How did this happen? I swear I was never an athlete before. But I am now. I am nearly 55 years old.
About four years ago I discovered the rowing machine at my gym. The elliptical, flowing movement was appealing. I “scooched” back and forth, got sweaty and had fun. Then my daughter, Olivia, left for college and joined Haverford’s crew team as a novice. She was good at it! Over breaks she tried to fix my form on the erg. We attended her regattas. I read “The Boys in the Boat” and cried at the end.
After two years, Olivia said, “Enough is enough. Get on the water.” She knew of Row New York from a teammate, so in the spring of 2016 I signed up for Learn-to-Row. I brought my pretty good erg form and my secondhand knowledge of rowing and found out…I knew next to nothing. It was deeply humbling and felt fantastic!
By midlife we have become experts at a lot of things: our jobs, child-rearing, an encyclopedia’s worth of life-knowledge. It is delicious to be a newbie again.
Despite being a rank novice, rowing crew was comfortingly familiar. As a musician, I am accustomed to following a conductor, here our coxswain. Just like in chorus, in the boat I am not a soloist yet I had better bring technique and follow the tempo every beat, every stroke in order to create beauty.
Rowing’s imperative of cooperation (operating together) and camaraderie draws the nicest people. At the top is our smart, knowledgeable, and supportive coach, Mel Abler. She fosters community in the boat and boathouse that expands into teammates getting together for birthdays and other social events.
In March 2017, I joined Row New York’s Recreational Masters team. I worked hard on the water and off, at practice and on my own, building my erg distances from about 4,000 meters to 12,000. Determined to improve as a rower, I was also determined to improve myself. I was strong but had been carrying a lot of extra weight for years, so when the season resumed, I joined Weight Watchers. Pounds melted off at the rate of ten a month. In April when my meeting leader had referred to me as “Our Athlete”, l had scoffed incredulously. Now six months later, fit, focused and feeling fabulous, I know she was right. Rowing has changed my life. It is my life sport.
A friend of mine, also a passionate rower, brought erg workouts to residents in their 80s and 90s at the senior center where she works. After six months, these folks set new American and World rowing machine records. The way I see it, I’ve got 30 years to beat ‘em….