To scull in Craftsbury is to run in Flagstaff – devotees flocking to the home of expert coaching, elite athletes, and an ideal training setting. I have never been particularly drawn to the sport, but life in Craftsbury undoubtedly spotlights the mystical allure of sculling. After trying it out once last summer, I never managed to get myself back out on the water for subsequent attempts. This year, as the ice finally melted and the sculling bustle began, curiosity again took hold. Troy, our Director of Sculling, generously allowed me to join his first week-long camp of the season. And so to sculling camp I went!
On the first morning of sculling camp, I ran the four miles from my house to the Center, arriving energized for our 7:00am session. On the second morning of sculling camp, I again ran the four to the Center, arriving decidedly less energized for the pre-breakfast session. On the third morning of sculling camp, I drove. Ever the runner, I was hesitant to replace my sport with another, even if only for a week. But as the fatigue of camp life quickly took hold, I surrendered myself to the world of sculling.
Attending sculling camp as a novice is an exercise in patience, humility, and resilience. The key: accepting the awkward and abandoning fear. Sculling is a very technical sport, and requires a hefty mix of coordination, power, and precision. As a runner, I am fairly unpracticed in all three components. Beyond the odd soreness of my lats, hips, and core, the focus needed to execute an effective stroke was mentally exhausting. For me, running frees the mind. Running is my time to think through problems, process emotions, and stimulate creativity. Some days running is a chance for thinking to stop entirely. While heading out for a run is simple and mindless, learning to scull was thinking-intensive.
This intimidating learning curve of skill acquisition turned out to be one of my favorite parts of sculling camp. As a beginner, learning to scull felt akin to learning a new language. Not only was there quite literally a whole new set of vocabulary to absorb, but also a new way of moving and understanding my body. With its full-on schedule three sessions a day plus workshops, sculling camp mimicked an immersive study abroad program for language acquisition. And I can tell you – it works! There were several dock talks or small group sessions when I was sleepy or otherwise not fully engaged, but bits of knowledge were still sinking in. On day three I realized I had picked up concepts I didn’t remember focusing on. On day four I noticed that readying my boat to launch felt surprisingly easy. By week’s end, I put enough strokes together to complete the camp’s lake-long ‘Head of the Hosmer race’ – and with only a moderate amount of flailing!
Camp was a great reminder that our minds and bodies will only get better at what we regularly practice; running everyday will make you a good runner and skiing all winter will make you a good skier. While such consistency is satisfying, sculling camp highlighted how refreshing and energizing it can be to step out of the expected and into the unfamiliar.
As running camp director, spending a week as a camper was, in many ways, a reconnaissance mission. Taking off the leader hat and swapping it for the camper cap allowed me to personally experience a week in the shoes of a camper. The week showed me the basis of what camp is all about: A welcome change of pace and departure from typical routine. Amidst the busy routines of our daily lives, it’s rare we have the opportunity to try a new activity or indulge in our favorite sport for week. Even when the opportunity does arise, we often hesitate for a myriad of reasons or excuses. The reality is a shift in routine can be unsettling, even exhausting. The new is always uncomfortable, but we only grow when we embrace this discomfort; the elation achieved and perspective gained is well worth the energy, nerves, and uncertainty.
Am I an avid sculler now? No, but I do have a new-found appreciation for the sport and respect for the people who subscribe to it. The sport requires not only an impressive amount of strength and focus, but also fortitude to cope with volatile conditions on the water. Some of the sessions during camp were cold, rainy, and windy. Being caught in a heavy downpour on the middle of Big Hosmer and fighting a headwind back to the docks was enough to make me vow to never complain about a wet or blustery run again. Looking ahead, my goal this summer is to scull at least once a week, with the hope to stay in touch with at least some of what I learned at camp. I may be a fair-weather sculler, but I now recognize the joy of gliding over glassy waters on a clear, crisp morning row.