Today is a sad day for the Yale Class of 2004. Today they finally turned off our @yale.edu e-mail addresses. For the whole summer we’ve been able to hold on to that one last tie to Mother Yale, but with the expiration of our pantheon access, we are irrevocably, absolutely no longer Yale students. While many of my friends were more than ready to start their jobs and be on their way after commencement, I enjoyed the fact that I and my fellow seniors on the crew team got to be Yalies for three weeks longer. We got to represent Yale well into June at the national championships and in the Harvard-Yale Race. We had two practices a day to keep us busy — there was no time to be sad about graduating; we had strokes to take. After our four-miler with Harvard June 12, I finally had the chance to catch my breath and ask myself, “Well, now what?” I already knew the answer.
I had a great routine at Yale: I’d study and row during the school year and row with the U.S. team during the summer. Senior year, as many of my friends were deciding between investment banking and consulting or law school and medical school, I knew what I wanted but not how to do it. I wanted to continue getting better at rowing, I wanted to do something worthwhile with my time (and with my life), and I wasn’t quite ready to give up on my bright college years. And then the stars aligned, and I found a way to continue my routine: I got into Oxford.
After a summer of training for and racing at the world championships in Spain, I embarked on a new adventure in England. This year I’m studying and rowing yet again, earning a masters in Comparative Social Policy and training with the Oxford University Boat Club. It’s worlds away from Yale. Grad students over here can row in the Blue Boat, the university’s “varsity” boat. I’m one of six American grad students hoping to earn a place in the boat and race in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. This also means the range of age and experience on the team is huge — 18 year-old freshmen are competing with grad students in their late 20s or guys who just returned from the Olympics (we have four on the squad). Also different: rowing is the most popular intramural sport — everybody seems to do it or have a ton of friends who do it, and almost all of Oxford’s 42 colleges have teams. Twenty-thousand people line the banks of the river in town for the two big intramural events of the year, Torpids and Summer Eights.
But the OUBC doesn’t participate in the intramurals. We focus all our energy on one race. There is no season, there is no championship. It’s just the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. It’s a four-and-a-quarter-mile race that takes place at the end of March, and it has earned the reputation for being the most popular crew race in the world. While the Harvard-Yale Race on the Thames River in New London might attract a couple hundred spectators every year, the Oxford-Cambridge version on the Thames River in London attracts a couple hundred thousand spectators who line the banks of the river, and millions of others watch on TV. A camera crew from the network that broadcasts the race has already begun filming us for a documentary that will air race weekend.
In my first month here — a month without schoolwork (that starts next week) — the training has been twice a day every day but Monday. It’s been familiar in its difficulty (it’s been pretty hard), but unfamiliar in its technicality and the physiological feedback I receive. I’ve been strapped to the OmegaWave machine four times (it measures your body’s energy supply and how well you’re coping with the training) and have had blood drawn from my ear about a dozen times to measure my lactic acid levels. From this, I’ve learned that my resistance to oxygen deficiency has increased, which is good, but my functional reserves remain only sufficient. To increase my reserves, we might have some REG workouts, perhaps supplemented with some AEM, and after a few days of that we’ll do some AED/ANM, but not too much. We’ll save the RS/MAX workouts for next week. Fortunately our weekly training program has a little key on the bottom to tell us what all the acronyms mean.
I’ve been here for a month, and school hasn’t started yet. Term starts next week, and most students are arriving this weekend. Then, apparently, the party really starts. If the schoolwork goes as well as the rowing has gone so far, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Andrew Brennan ’04 was captain of the 2003-2004 heavyweight crew team.