I look up at the board to find my name next to the little '2P' on the board. "Uh, Marketa? I'm a starboard, not a port." Coach looks at me, looks at the board, and again at me. "I'm going to keep you there. Let's find out what happens."
Let's find out what happens.
OK, let's review the last time I was on port side (when your oar sticks out to the left instead of the right). I was in a boat of four people, the waves were 30 mies high, it was raining, and the boat looked like a seesaw. And that seesaw part, that was my fault.
It was a horrible experience, and Marketa herself told me I could never row port again.
See, asking a starboard to be a port is like asking Gretzky to start shooting right-handed. It's like asking, "Hey, I know you're a human, but you can be a tree, right?"
It just doesn't make sense.
This is all going through my head as I situate myself awkwardly in the boat. I try to turn my concentrated grimace into a smile. They say if you force yourself to smile for 30 seconds, it'll turn into a real smile, and you'll be in a better mood. Well, it's worked for me before. Frighteningly well, actually. I was walking across campus at the time and I ended up laughing uncontrollably at nothing in particular. It was fun, but I got some really weird looks. I had to get out my phone and pretend like I was laughing at someone on the other end.
Anyway, we set off, and the warmup goes alright. My muscles are wondering what the hell is going on, but I manage to convince them to follow my fried brain (it's finals week). We start the first piece, settling into a fast stroke rate. I hang on for dear life and try not to screw up.
At the end of the piece, I wait to hear Marketa tell me it was all a mistake. To switch seats with someone else. But when she gets to me, she says, "Grace, I think you're officially bisweptual."
Wait, what? I'm about to say, "No I'm not!" when I realize that she is not, in fact, questioning my orientation. Rather, she's telling me I'm ambidextrous with the oar. A switch hitter, so to speak.
My teammates look back and cheer. All I can do is stare in shock. Here I'd been practicing on starboard side for 8 months, and now all of a sudden I'm switching to the opposite side a week before the conference championship?
My head buzzes as we paddle back to the starting line. The boat once again looks like a seesaw (and again it's my fault), I can't pull nearly as hard as I'd been able to as a starboard, and I generally feel like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. I established a long time ago that Marketa was maybe a little off, but this?
We're halfway through the second piece when it happens.
The boat lurches to one side at precisely the wrong moment. This is my fault. The girl immediately in front of me, Melanie, catches a crab. Not literally. Not like she took a stroke and a crab was hanging off her blade as it came out.
To 'catch a crab' in rowing means that the water catches your oar at the wrong time and sucks it under. As a result, the boat screeches to a halt and the oar handle flies back toward the rower, acting like a really, really thick clothesline. The rower, in order to avoid catching it in the ribs, must swing back matrix-style. If executed successfully, the handle will sail harmlessly overhead and the oar will swing parallel to the boat. If not, and if the boat has enough speed and the crab is massive enough, the rower will be ejected from the boat. The handle actually picks her up, drags her over the side, and dumps her into the water.
"Whoops" is about all you can say when that happens.
So Melanie catches a crab. And we do have enough speed, and the crab is massive enough, and Melanie does not duck fast enough. The oar catches her in the ribs and proceeds to drag her mercilessly backward. I hear a loud crack as the motion of the oar is suspended briefly, then it picks up again and the left side of Melanie is neatly deposited into the San Pedro Harbor. I swing forward and grab her arm, and the oar swings over her. She pulls herself back in the boat, only half-soaked. "What was that?" I pant. She glances up at me. "What was what?" "That crack." I say. Instead of answering, Melanie looks down at her feet. My eyes follow hers.
Her shoes have ripped completely off of the foot stretcher (an angled piece of wood inside the boat, to which two shoes are attached with screws. extremely durable.) The piece holding the shoes to the stretcher has broken neatly into three.
Coach zooms over in the motorboat. Melanie holds up the now independent shoes for her to see. I look from the shoes to Marketa and say, "I told you I wasn't a port."