The Coxswain's Seat

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Sports  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is from the view point of a coxswain in a rowing race. There are quite a few technical terms from rowing for those who are unfamiliar with the sport.

Submitted: April 19, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 19, 2017



Small plastic balls are gripped between my fingers. My feet brace against the footboard with the cox box squeezed between them. A faint thud sounds every few seconds as my back collides with the backrest in time with the rowers’ strokes. The microphone tickles my lip, but I ignore it, too focused on the external environment to be worried about trivial matters like that. Glancing down, numbers on the cox box register in my mind, and I shout them out to my boat.

“All right,” I say, “We’re at a 24 right now. Let’s bring it down a notch. This is just a warm up. Save your enthusiasm for the race.”


I keep my tone easy, almost conversational with its lilt of authority earned over the weeks and seasons. My stroke complies and the number on the cox box lowers. My body’s tense, ready to spring even though I won’t be moving in the race. The physical aspect will be up to my rowers, but I’m in charge of everything else.

I take a deep breath. I’ve done this plenty of times before. We’ve been over the race plan, and everyone knows what’s at stake here.

The starting area is cramped with six eights, but we make it work. My eyes are on high alert to make sure our boat doesn’t hit or get hit by another crew. My stomach’s clenching, but I don’t let my nerves show. It’s my responsibility to keep the boat calm and focused. Me being distracted wouldn’t help.


“Ready?” I ask my stroke.


She grins back at me. “Ready as I’ll ever be. You?”

“Hell yeah,” I smirk with the air of confidence. “We’re gonna kill it, ladies. I hope you’re excited.”

One of the starting officials calls the crews to come into the staring area, and I don’t hesitate to have my bow four start rowing us up. Cutting across bright buoyed lines, I have them weigh enough and check port to swing the sixty feet of boat around.

I tell my stern pair to start backing lightly to the stake boat about half a boat length off our stern. Twisted around as far as I can in my seat, I eye the approaching stake boat before telling stern pair to weigh enough. The stern glides into the waiting hands of the stake boat person. With that hurdle down, I turn back around where my point waits to be adjusted.


My hand shoots up into the air.


“Three scull two’s oar.” I watch Two’s oar make its slow way to Three’s hands before it dips into the water and starts levering the bow into position.

“I’m lowering my hand.” I say as my hand drops back down to once again attach to the steering.


A tense period passes that may have been less than a minute but feels more like an eternity. Finally, the start marshal’s voice echoes across all six lanes.


I snap to attention while my rowers sit ready, blades in the water.


As the start marshal calls his commands, I remind my boat to bury their blades. The two words I’ve been waiting for finish the commands. “Attention…row!”


My body tenses to keep from being thrown back as my rowers dig their blades in for the first stroke. Words flow out of my mouth in a systematic stream.


“Pry…half…. three quarters…lengthen…lengthen…high twenty on this one…now!” The standard start sequence we’d practiced for weeks feel like second nature. The familiarity allows my mind to concern itself with other matters. Like the crew we’re currently neck and neck with.

The first 250 meters fly by as we shift to the base pace. I let my rowers know where we are with the other boats and race.


First 500 down and I call for a focus ten. The power from my rowers sends my back slamming against the backrest, but the pain doesn’t register in my over stimulated brain. My body takes a back seat till our race is over.


Coming up on 1000 meters, we’re still neck and neck with the other crew. I decide to call our move a bit early.


“In two,” I snarl. “I want no passengers. Two! One! Now!”


All at once, the boat picks up speed and edges ahead of the other crew. I urge my rowers on. “Just three more seats and we’ll break them.”

At the end of our move, I’m level with their bow seat.

I tell my rowers to keep the momentum going; the race isn’t over yet. As we approach 750 meters left. I watch my stroke’s wide eyes. We slip back half a seat, but I won’t let my rowers give up now.

I remind them what we’re here for and call another ten. The fire’s back in my stroke’s eyes, and within a few strokes, I go from bow seat to bow ball.

“That’s more like it,” I exclaim.

500 meters left, and I tell my boat to get ready. The rating bumps up a beat with the energy of my rowers.


300 meters left, and I call the sprint.

“In three, unleash it. Three! Two! One! Let’s go!”


The rate jumps from 34 to 36 then 37. All hell breaks loose as we tear down the course through those final red buoys. 200 meters between us and the finish. My body vibrates with energy, and my voice comes out raspier as I growl out calls.

“Last five strokes.” I count out each one.

A horn sounds, and I tell my rowers to paddle. My voice goes up a couple octaves at the call, far different from a few seconds before. When I tell them to weigh enough, all eight collapse over their oars or back into the person behind them. My stroke and I clumsily high five; then she turns and sends it up the boat.


My breaths come out in pants, but they can’t stop the grin broadening on my face. I tell my rowers well done. They’ve earned it.


Another crew says, “Good race.” And I reply. Good race indeed.


Once my rowers have gained their breath back for the most part, I tell them to bring it in to the dock. Our progress is slow. The pace sluggish compared to the minutes before, yet my rowers all have grins on their faces.

Teammates wait on the dock with our shoes and ready hands grab our oars as soon as they’re out of the oarlocks. Unplugging my cox box, I stand up straight. My rowers lift the boat up and out of the water at my call. The weight settles on their shoulders, and we straggle up the ramp to where our area is.

I stay on alert till the boat is safely on tees and other rowers are strapping it down. Only then do I let myself relax. Teammates congratulate me and my rowers on our race. The grin on my face only grows till my face might just split in two.


That night, our coach hands out medals to all the boats who medaled in their races. When she calls my boat up, I grip the cool metal in my hand as I drape the ribbon around my neck. A couple of my rowers grab me. Then, they’re all holding me, and we’re smiling into the bright flashes of proud parent’s cameras.


When my feet touch back to the ground, my hand once again finds the medal like it needs to feel the engraved metal to know it’s real and not just a dream. My grin returns full force. 

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