It was the first time I had seen rowing (crew) in person and I found it breathtakingly beautiful. Shortly after the race I signed up to cox which was fun but not enough, so then I started rowing. Trust a poet to choose a sport based on beauty.

My teenage years were very couch potato-ish. I did some yoga now and then, but that was about it. Then during my junior year abroad at Oxford, a friend invited me to a rowing regatta. She was a coxswain for a men’s eight. The coxswain (or cox) steers the boat, relays orders, encourages the team, and keeps track of the rate of rowing.


It was the first time I had seen rowing (crew) in person and I found it breathtakingly beautiful. Shortly after the race I signed up to cox which was fun but not enough, so then I started rowing. Trust a poet to choose a sport based on beauty.


Lesson 1: Sometimes a casual invitation can lead us to try something new that we really love.


Rowing was a good fit for me. My hand-eye coordination stinks, but in rowing you must not watch what you are doing. You watch what the people ahead of you are doing and try to do the same.


Lesson 2: Play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses.


When I returned to my college stateside I had to row as a novice because the style is so different here from in England. I had to unlearn some things, and learn new ways. This was tough but eventually I began to appreciate that while the British method was more elegant, the American way of rowing was more powerful.


Lesson 3: There can be power in learning new ways of doing things.


Rowing here was also more serious than the intramural rowing I did in England, so I began really training – running and lifting weights in addition to regular practices.


Lesson 4: Sometimes in order to do our best at something we must work on our skills and fitness in other ways. It turns out I loved lifting weights, and still do.


At 5 foot 5, I was the smallest person in my boat. However, my teammates called me “the power pack” because I was strongest in our fitness tests. Those years doing farm chores, busing tables as a truck stop waitress, not to mention all those extra hours in the gym, paid off.


This illustrates lesson 5: Looks can be deceiving because sometimes the smallest are the strongest, and lesson 6 (which I re-learned this year): Strength is built slowly over long periods of time. Fitness requires perseverance.


My favorite rowing memory is from a spring training practice. The Connecticut River was remarkably calm. Even though we were rowing at a very slow pace, we were in wonderful unison. We were “sitting the boat” perfectly, keeping it level and balanced. This is actually harder to do the slower you go. It was late afternoon, and the sun was setting over the water. Our coxswain was unusually quiet. When we reached the bend of the river she whispered over the intercom, “Guys, that was awesome!” It was.


In rowing, if the boat is balanced it goes faster and more smoothly through the water, but it can only be balanced if every rower maintains his or her own balance. Lesson seven is that things go more smoothly if everyone is responsible for maintaining his or her own center and balance.


As important as our individual contributions are, in rowing as in life, teamwork is essential. The boat also goes faster and more smoothly if everyone rows in unison, oars into and out of the water at the same time.


Lesson 8: When you remain aware of what others around you are doing, you can pull together and go further with less effort than if you are all doing your own thing.


In a boat, do this partly by listening to the coxswain, learning to trust her and follow her calls. The cox is responsible for steering the boat around obstacles, which frees you to concentrate on your rowing. If we rowers were constantly looking over our shoulders for obstacles or second-guessing the cox’s decisions, the boat would have gone out of balance and not moved as swiftly.


Lesson 9: When you give someone responsibility to do something, you must also give him or her the authority to do that thing, not looking over shoulders or second guessing decisions.


That said, the cox and the rower just in front of her (the stroke) do talk to one another and so collaborate. The team does have a spokesperson.


Lesson 10: It is good when teams and leaders can work together. This increases the trust necessary for the whole boat to work more happily and efficiently together.


We can apply these ten lessons I learned from rowing to a variety of work, sporting, and family situations. They may also be useful in helping learn to work together as lay and professional leaders in a church community. If we apply these lessons in life, we may have more experiences like that night on the river – peaceful, harmonious, and awesome.


The Rev. Tess Baumberger, PhD, is minister at the Unity Church of North Easton, Mass. You can reach her at 508-238-6373 or tbaumberger@uuma.org. For more information about Unity Church, visit www.unity-church.com.