Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

February 21, 2001:
Intersession by the sea

Dolphins by day, lap dances by night

By Kate Swearengen '04

I SPENT intersession in Florida with the crew team. We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, where there was a swimming pool, two hot tubs, and a vending machine that sold 60-cent bags of animal crackers. Our room was on the third floor, and it smelled as though the hotel's employees took smoking breaks in it while I was at crew practice, so I spent most of my time reading by the pool reviewing Arabic grammar.

THE HANDSOME and woefully inaccessible men of the heavyweight varsity team organized an "ugly mustache competition," and awarded prizes at the end of the week to those who had cultivated the most unattractive facial hair.

"They don't look as good as they normally do, Perri," I said to my friend as I stared at a blond rower with a particularly atrocious mustache. "In fact, they're almost average looking now. Think I'd have a chance with that one?"

"No way in hell, Swearengen," Perri said.

THE LIGHTWEIGHT girls had a "tacky spandex day," which involved hideous pairings of magenta shorts and turquoise tops. One rower sported a black spandex shirt with a picture of Batman on the front; another wore a black thong over a pair of yellow spandex shorts.

"Yeah, they look tacky, but let's face it, they all weigh under 130 pounds," one of the girls on the openweight team commented morosely.

"Big deal," our coxswain said. Seeking to boost team morale, she shouted at a cluster of the lightweight girls, "We could look a lot uglier if we tried."

AFTER A grueling day on the water, the men's lightweight squad went out for lap dances. I asked two of the rowers who stayed behind why they hadn't joined their teammates.

"Not all the guys are going," one of them answered huffily. "And I'm not going to go unless everyone else goes, too. There's a fine line between having fun and being a pervert, you know."

"Yeah, and we're not going to cross that line," the other one said. "It's bad enough that we're sleeping four to a room, and that I have to share a bed with another guy."

WE HAD our own fun, though. Dressed in borrowed sandals and my coxswain's "MY DRINKING TEAM HAS A ROWING PROBLEM" T-shirt, I hit Ybor City with the other girls on the openweight novice team. Our first stop was a tattoo parlor. After perusing the store's selection of mesh shirts and leather pants, I headed over to watch as Lisa had a geometric design etched into her lower back.

"Does it hurt?" I asked, watching her expressionless face.

"Not really," she said.

"Is it better or worse than a five kilometer piece on the ergometer?" I asked.

"Much better," Lisa laughed.

WE KEPT our boats in the University of Florida–Tampa boathouse and rowed on the Hillsborough River. Our coach followed in a launch and shouted abuse, while a group of menacing seagulls circled above. On the first day, two of the rowers in the stern spotted a group of dolphins frolicking, but were unable to communicate this information to the rest of the boat because they feared repercussions from the coach. Irate at having missed the dolphins, our coxswain devised a plan.

"From now on," she said. "If you see dolphins, just shout '' I love rowing at three o'clock', or at five o'clock, or wherever the dolphins are."

"But you're sitting with your back to the stern," one pragmatic rower pointed out. "Three o'clock for us would be nine o'clock for you."

"I can figure it out," the coxswain snapped. "After all, my job is to think for all eight of you Rhodes Scholars."

WE ROWED five hours every day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. At some practices the coach seemed satisfied with our efforts; at others, our inability to slip the blades into the water seamlessly infuriated her. One day she sadistically ordered us to row at full pressure with our eyes closed. I pictured the boat capsizing and the novice crew team being devoured by hostile waterfowl, before deciding a worse scenario would involve wrecking the $30,000 boat and having to pay punitive damages. On another day, after stopping her launch to criticize our form, she was unable to restart the motor.

"Keep your elbow high, Swearengen!" she shouted, as our boat sped away from her.

"I hope the sharks get you!" I shouted back, but she was too far away to hear me.

MANY OTHER crew teams also use the University of Florida-Tampa facilities to train during the winter. They return with better rowing technique, but leave behind graffiti on the numerous bridges overhanging the Hillsborough River. Graffiti left by the 2003 women's team read "Andrea's Big Girls: We're Hungry," while a cryptic message left by Rutgers stated: "Rutgers 2001: Doin' Your Sister." After heated discussion, we decided to write "Princeton 2004: Keepin' It Horizontal," a double entendre and homage to an oft-repeated order from our coach. We took turns painting the easily-accessible portions, and Lisa volunteered to be suspended from the side of the bridge in order to paint the others.

"I've done a lot of graffiti, and I'm always the one who gets dangled over the side of the bridge," Lisa said. "I've been detained by the cops three times in the past. They usually just take your name and tell you that the city might press charges. But at least if I fall in the water, I won't get typhoid. For instance, when I was training at junior development camp, the water was really dirty. One day the police dragged the lake for a body. They ended up finding four."

WE ARRIVED back on campus on Saturday, and as we drove by the boathouse we sang "Old Nassau." Some cynics on the bus pointed out that Carnegie Lake was still frozen and that we would be sweating away on the ergometers until the end of February. For the most part, though, morale was high as the bus backed into the parking lot next to Dillon Gym. I pulled my luggage out from the compartment underneath the bus and walked downhill to Butler College.

You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu