Sunday, November 7, 2010


I'm grateful to this portrait of a gymnast for helping to explain the feeling of flight to be experienced in rowing. The shock of the catch is at its center, and this image foretells that explosive sensation very well, as one demanding concentration, self-control, and readiness.

I am pretty certain that the comparative weightlessness of forward motion in a rowing shell at speed, as the oar is drawn back ("feathered") only centimetres above the water, is not much less than that of the gymnast's rotation above the bar.

Time cannot be minced in the mind as this takes place, as the body responds to the ten hundred thousandth time it has performed this lightning cycle. But make no mistake: awareness is never absent of being subject to tremendous power, propelled upon an arc of pure flight, by elemental counterpoint. 

All of one's strength, relaxed for a split second, is quite suddenly engaged against all of one's inertia accelerating in the opposite direction, as the oarsman cuts the surface by no more than a few inches, the shoulders burst, and he rockets in reverse trajectory. The gymnast knows this deflection, and still he comes back for it. He couldn't fly without it.

If you are alone, the complexity of the task is magnified, and its pleasures resemble the virtuosity of the gymnast's pursuit; but in a familiar scale of forces, of other rewards. If you are in a chorus of 4 or 8, nothing will ever allow you to forget the sound you made.

J.S. Bach, Credo: Patrem omnipotentem
Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
King's Consort, Hyperion, 1997©


  1. I've always loved rowing, one of the things I never did.

  2. Jeremy, schöne, I've never known it not to be time to go to the gym, and I sense your agreement on that point. It's when I can inspire you to leave the gym, that I'll know I've achieved something fine. Still, one wouldn't want you to believe that your all-purpose comment doesn't bear repetition from time to time, as the amiable reflection that it is. But as regards rowing, one thinks of Louise's remark to Thelma on the police, perhaps it's best to let them come to us. Get a lake, Jeremy; there's never a wait.

    Ivan, I've never loved anything so much as the things I've never done, so I suppose it's the happiest man who's done the least. Rowing is in the category of things which can't be done enough. Your tailor, for one, will flail you for any defection, and your spirits, too, may flag without discernible cause. On the other hand, the equality in its partnerings is without peer; nobody is better at it than the other, plunging and hauling back behind him. Yes, I know the same thing is true of an infantry charge, but we won't go there, Ivan.