Like many other students in the class of 2020, I initially struggled to adjust to university life. Orientation and most first-year events were moved online due to COVID, and all I wanted was to participate in activities on campus with actual people. Instead, I was met with nothing but Zoom calls. Starting my sophomore year, I showed up to the club fair, bright-eyed and excited by the possibilities of an in-person year. I was determined to sign up for the most random clubs I could find. I saw this as the quickest way to have that classic “college experience” I had been hearing about for years.
Then, I saw a boat sitting in the middle of the quad.
Rowing was completely unfamiliar to me. I had no idea what the sport was all about, other than the fact that rowers wake up super early and are usually tall and strong. I had actually seen the team row past me when I was in high school touring the University of Rochester, staying overnight at a hotel right by the river. I thought that whatever they were doing looked super cool, but not even for a second did I consider trying it myself.
Still, something drew me to their table. I don’t know if it was from the amusing tactics of the rowing team members thrusting flyers in people’s faces. Or maybe I had been craving the team environment I had left behind in high school track and music programs. Maybe it was because one of my roommates was also eyeing the rowing team with curiosity. Or maybe, it was from the absurdity of the idea of my 5’3 self, who could barely do a push up, muscling my way into a division three sports team full of recruits. But, something in me decided that it would be a good idea to show up to the rowing interest meeting.
After the meeting, I decided to continue with the “learn to row” program, almost ironically. I thought that I was comically bad at rowing from the very start, and I was completely clueless when it came to lifts or any sort of workout on the dreaded erg (aka rowing machine). Despite all of this, something kept me coming back until I was officially part of the team.
Soon, my life was consumed by rowing. I showed up at the boathouse every morning at 5:45 a.m. I felt like I lived at the training center, constantly doing our extra assigned workouts and working on my technique. I was slow on the water, but I was grateful every second to be there and to be part of something. Each time I showed up to practice, I saw small improvements, and I held on to those moments as motivation.
Slowly, things started clicking for me. I met people who I now call my best friends, and the rowing team quickly became a central part of my college experience. I traveled overnight for races, went to Miami for spring training, went to every team bonding event, and soon, started to feel myself falling in love with the sport. After my first race in a varsity boat, I no longer felt like me being on the team was some sort of joke, but instead, I felt accomplished and competitive. This led to a continued drive to improve.
All of this is to say, trying something new really worked for me. My high school self would never have imagined I would join the rowing team in college, but now, I cannot imagine my life without the consistent routine of practice, the thrill of competitions, the sense of accomplishment that comes from improving, and the never ending support of my teammates.
College is the perfect time to try something unconventional, whether it takes place in a classroom, on the Genesee River, or anywhere else. The most “random” activity you think of trying out might eventually end up giving you your family on campus, and you never know where any opportunity might take you unless you fearlessly jump in and give it your all. If I had not trusted my gut and went to that initial interest meeting, I would have missed out on an immense opportunity for personal growth, and would not have met some of the best people in my life.
I believe that anybody can find their “crew” on campus if they are willing to put their whole self into trying a new experience. I had stumbled through countless clubs and activities here before I found what really clicked for me. There is a lot to try here, from music, to dance, to sports, to theater, and everything in between. The best thing anyone can do is to avoid putting yourself into a box. I did not see myself as particularly strong or athletic prior to joining the team, yet I chose to ignore these labels. It is never too late to search for a new passion and discover a new part of yourself, and you never know where branching out can take you.