Returning to Boston for the Head of the Charles Regatta always reminds me of going home to visit my family, even though I grew up in NYC, two hundred miles to the south. I lived in Boston for five years and then left to move to the great Northwest, home of rainy winters and long, luxurious summer twilights. That was nearly thirty years ago. I’ve lived more than half my life considerably west of the Mississippi, and likely thrived as a result, but everything I’ve done in those three decades doesn’t seem to make it on the plane with me when I head east for the world’s biggest regatta.
It’s no wonder that I associate Boston with my adolescence, even though the ink on my college degree had barely dried when I packed it up with the rest of my gear and headed north on Interstate 95. I moved there because I had to go somewhere and I sure wasn’t moving back home to NYC. By then I knew I was a city girl, but not a big city girl. At least Boston offered the presence of my college boyfriend to keep me company, and a river with boathouses to keep me occupied during my job hunt. Of course, I planned to quit rowing once I landed employment, but the pull proved too strong, and I spent the next five years developing a deep intimacy with the Charles River and participating in the community of national team wannabes.
I was already an Olympian when I moved to Boston, albeit an unrequited one. The 1980 Games had taken place a month before I moved, in Moscow, without the US team and 64 other countries. Nothing quite as dissatisfying as earning a coveted spot on the Olympic roster with nowhere to go and nothing to do as an encore. The point, however, is that I was a bona fide national team athlete, competition or no competition. And, by the time I left Boston in 1985, I had raced internationally three years and won two medals. A two-time Olympian, I was no longer a novice national team rower.
Yet, whenever I return to Boston and re-integrate into the community of former national team competitors, I feel myself shedding the years I lived away from there. No longer am I the founder and CEO of an investment business, the co-owner of a WNBA franchise, a social enterprise entrepreneur, a writer, a mother of three grown children. I am simply a rower, a supplicant to the rowing community, wanting to be included not because of anything I’ve done beyond the river, but because of what I’ve done, however long ago and far away, on the river. The years fall away, along with whatever successes I would have defined as accomplishments in any other context. All that matters, it seems, are the memories of time on the water, racing with each other, racing against each other, and yes, the memories of training on dry land, often gruesome ones.
I still want to prove myself to this crowd. If that’s not ridiculous, I don’t know what is, but that’s why I feel like I’m returning home to my parents. I want my former rowing compatriots to see how grown up I’ve finally become. See, I can function in the real world! I’m good! And, of course, I find I can’t prove anything, at least not in the only realm that matters. Time has passed. My moment as a top athlete has passed. I have what I have, and whatever left there is to accomplish will be, and in large part has been, done by subsequent generations of rowers. I have to take solace in what I have accomplished as a rower, because my list of big wins and major achievements isn’t going to grow any longer.
Our common currency of connection is our shared experience of accomplishment in this one slice of life. All others seem to fade away, lost in the sun’s sparkling reflection on the surrounding water.