Open water. To me, those two words are synonymous with surpassing all expectations. Confused? Let me back up. I was on the crew team in college.
I was the coxswain. No, I didn’t have my hands on an oar. My legs, back and arms were not propelling us. It was not my job to match the blade work of the person in front of me or to adhere to the stroke rate from the stern.
But… I could see the course. I knew where the competition was. I could see if all eight oarswomen were together at the catch and then again at the release. The rower faces the back of the boat. She focuses on the teammate directly in front of her. She cannot see all that I see. It is not her job to do so.
I am also the voice in the boat. I have to come up with the words to bring all eight women to the peak of performance collectively. Unlike other feats of physicality, a crew race is won when the whole power of the boat is greater than sum of its individual members’ strength.
When the oars catch together, the boat lifts and flies almost on top of the water. It is transcendent to experience the propulsion of such collective power. To sustain it, the coxswain glances across at the competition and begins to name seats in the opponent’s boat. You might hear, “I’m even with the seven seat and climbing.” Or perhaps, “I’m walking through their engine room.” You move through the seats across the lane like rungs on a ladder. The moment when the coxswain no longer sits across from a rower, she yells “bow ball,” which means we have taken a lead a boat length in front of the competition.
“Bow ball” connotes our race plan, our collective effort has been successful, but the true call is “Open Water.” When there is space between the stern of one boat and the bow of another, it is called “open water.”
The call “Open water” doesn’t mean you can relax we have this race won. Instead, open water translates into an adrenaline rush. Having achieved open water it no longer feels punishing on the body – it is exhilarating. It is no longer about the competition and where they are in relation to us. Open water inspires you. Open water demands more.
Being a coxswain was good training for being the Head of School at Wheeling Country Day. We have worked hard to find our rhythm, to define our race plan, to get the push and pull just right. I’m no longer looking across and comparing our community of learning to imposed benchmarks or the seats of an opponent.
We have achieved open water and with it we are just getting inspired for what more can we do collectively. It is exhilarating. Join us.