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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Column: Crew intentions

We’ve all seen them on campus. They’re kind of a fall quarter staple. And as far as marketing techniques go, they take the cake. How could you not notice the neon shirts with massive lettering that read: “JOIN MEN’S CREW”? As someone who is not athletic at all (unless you count some free-form Quidditch), the crew team always catches my attention. Maybe I’m just easily distracted by bright colors.

It was my first day at UCD and the day before classes started. I was wandering around Tercero with my friend Jeff, who towers over me at a statuesque 6 feet. We were approached by a girl who couldn’t have been much taller than I, which was puzzling because she was sporting one of those fabulous t-shirts. I instinctively labeled whatever she was going to say as “reserved for tall people,” and tuned her out. She looked at Jeff and said: “Hey, have you thought about joining the UCD crew team this year?” He gave her a solid maybe. To my complete shock, she started talking to me. She lowered her eyes and said: “You know, we have spots for people like you too. That’s what I do. I’m a coxswain.”

Meet Justin Nool, a first-year undeclared life sciences major and coxswain for men’s crew. Nool came to UCD interested in crew, but says that he assumed being over 5-foot-10 was a requirement. However, when he happened to overhear a coxswain talking about the position one day, his interest was reinstated.

Coming in at 5-foot-4, Nool found his place on the team – an essential one at that. The coxswain serves as the in-boat guide for the team, relaying all directions from the coach off the water. He is their leader and motivator. “It takes a lot of concentration, strength and confidence to do what I do,” Nool explains, “as I am responsible for steering, commanding and critiquing the rowers’ technique in the boat.”

His size, he says, actually serves as an advantage to the team, for the smaller the coxswain, the less weight is added to the boat.

While he may be the smallest person on the team, Nool doesn’t feel as out of place as the lone non-plaid-wearing fan at a Vampire Weekend concert. On the contrary, he’s gained immense confidence and has built strong friendships with his teammates. Sounds like a snap-worthy success to me.

Stories like Justin’s remind me that everything isn’t as straightforward as we may think. While height may throw some curveballs in our desired path, it doesn’t have to be a heart-stopper (like Tim Lincecum). I’m not saying that 4-foot Frodo would make the team as a rower, but his height could serve another purpose.

What has really sunk in with me is that crew seems to unite the supposed “outliers” on the height bell curve, a take on inclusivity that is rather refreshing. A quick look at the current roster for the UCD Men’s Crew Varsity and Novice teams makes it clear that the team members fall on the two extreme ends of the height spectrum, with the tallest member being 6-foot-6, and the shortest being 5-foot-1.

So here I am, looking at the [wo]man in the mirror. I was stubborn that day. Why was I so quick to judge the girl who approached Jeff and me about crew? I’m pretty sure it was jealousy, the I-pretend-like-this-doesn’t-exist green-eyed monster. And where did that leave me? Ignorant for a year and a half about something I’ve come to appreciate. Ignorance is most definitely not bliss. Being in the dark only perpetuated my own reservations about my size.

Ah-ha moment: we can be more prejudiced toward ourselves than the people around us. Those voices in our heads that preach: “If I start dancing, I’ll crush everyone in an 8-foot radius,” and ” I won’t get the job because I look like I’m in middle school,” ultimately cause us to limit our own potential.

To answer Sara Bareilles’ question, no one made us king of anything. No one ordered us to sit on a throne and let opportunities pass by, so I see no reason to. The pressure is off. And if we choose to stop creating it, we won’t have to deal with it ever again. Instead of being all “oh woe is me” that day, I could have learned something new about a sport I never thought had room for me. And who knows? Maybe I’d have the pleasure of staring at one of those neon shirts in my rainbow of a closet every morning.

Reach MAYA MAKKER (use a step stool if you need to) at mgmakker@ucdavis.edu.

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