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The Ejector Crab and Other Weighty Issues

BY ANDY ANDERSON
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

I’ve been thinking about my last column—the one that praises the USRowing safety video—and hoping that my team’s fascination with the ejector crab didn’t give the wrong impression that I was glorifying this rare event. The truth is that having someone get thrown out of a moving shell after a big crab is never something to take lightly. I was reminded of a friend of mine who was ejected in college. I got him on the phone to ask about the experience.

“Toose” chuckled when I asked him about it. “There are things that you remember for the rest of your life,” he said. “The birth of your first child and getting knocked out of an eight at full speed. There are probably other things I’ll remember all my life, but those are the first two that come to mind.” 

“It was March, preseason double sessions on the Connecticut River. I was rowing bow in the lightweight eight, and we were racing some of Trinity’s other boats in practice. We were in the middle of a Power 10 at racing beat when we must have come into some turbulence. I never knew exactly what happened, but all of a sudden the oar handle caught me right in the ribs and pushed me backward and over the gunwales.”

“It happened in the blink of an eye. ‘I’m screwed!’ flashed through my mind, and I was gone. I surfaced opposite the coxswain, looked up, and saw the shell far away. Thank God Coach Curtis Jordan was right with us in the launch. He drove over just as I felt like I was going down, picked me up somehow, and dumped me into his boat.

“They put me into a hot shower at the boathouse, and I was OK. I was cold for two days, though. It was terrifying. I don’t think that there was any way the eight could have stopped, spun, and picked me up in time. I was going to drown. I’ve never been so happy to see a coach.”

I wondered whether this monstrous crab had made him gun-shy in subsequent practices.

“No, it never did. I knew that it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, just a moment of random bad luck. I rowed all throughout college and never worried about it happening again. But I’ll never forget it.”

The program director in me wants to point out to coaches the obvious: Never, ever, let your boats get out of sight.

To Weigh or Not to Weigh?

A fellow high-school coach asks, “What are your thoughts on weighing team members, both rowers and coxswains?” 

I have some definite opinions on this. Teenagers, both boys and girls, are notoriously concerned with body image. The pressure to look the “right” way is a concern for both genders. One of the benefits of being an athlete is experiencing the pride that comes with being strong and fit. But I’ve seen too many teenagers go overboard and focus on the goal of being light rather than strong and fit. I know a boy, a recruited heavyweight who was told by his coach that 200 pounds was too much for his 6-foot-2 frame. “You would make the boat a lot faster if you lost 20 pounds,” he was told. Sure enough, this kid embarked on extreme unsupervised dieting and lost the pounds but in the process developed an eating disorder. Now, the coach was probably right from a pure boat-speed perspective. Excess weight, whether of the equipment or the athletes, will slow you down. But what is the cost to the individual? Not only did he develop a disorder but also, because he was not eating right (salad is not good training food), he was less effective in the boat. At a vulnerable time in their lives, teenagers should not be encouraged to be unhealthy.

Many people weigh their coxswains. I do not. They can take weight loss to extremes. But another reason is a seat race we conducted one year with an older cox who probably outweighed the younger one by 30 pounds. After three switches, with good steering from both, the coaches were surprised to see that the heavier, older cox had been in the winning boat every time.

USRowing took on this issue recently, and I agree with their conclusion: “After careful consideration, USRowing has decided to no longer offer youth lightweight events at USRowing-run regattas, including the USRowing Youth National Championships and USRowing’s Youth Regional Championships.

“In addition, USRowing will no longer require coxswains to weigh in at these events and carry supplemental weight, eliminating athlete scales from USRowing-hosted youth regattas. 

“While we understand this may be disappointing to some, the health and well-being of our youth athletes are our primary concern. As we thoroughly considered the subject, the health risks of managing weight for developing adolescents is a dangerous practice that we cannot support. Most international rowing federations, including World Rowing, do not offer youth lightweight events at their championships. Beginning in 2022, this will be USRowing’s policy as well.”

USRowing got this right.

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