Yaman Saqqa









By Yaman Saqqa

Memoir of a novice rower








Involuntarily awaken after four hours of sleep, it is 4:51AM. I get into sportswear and take my rowing gear – which Ghadeer my wholehearted wife had bought me the night before on our anniversary. My alarm clock went off 10 minutes after. I was just thinking: that is precious sleep time wasted.

I may be lying to myself if waking up this early was driven by sheer excitement. It was way too early, for anything. The biggest commitment early AM where I come from is that to Fajr (dawn) prayer, and you are given leeway until sunrise anyways; 7:15 at this time of the year here in Oxford. But the real reason why I really had to get up is the fear of failing 7 other fellow novice rowers. This is strictly a group sport after all.

The walk to Hertford College Boat Club from my house is 40 minutes so I hit the road to catch up with the water outing, scheduled quarter to six. It was such an experience to go through Oxford city center when it is completely vacant. As I got off the Folly Bridge to the path adjacent to River Thames, things started taking a different vibe. The remaining lights from the city had faded and it had become pitch black around me. Not seeing beyond my nose was no longer a figure of speech. There was also no railing between me and the river. To top it up, I could not sense the presence of any other human being, nor even non-humans, around me. And honestly I was hoping I do not encounter either in such a setting!

I remembered I had taken my cell phone in a last minute grab as I left home. So the flash light came to the rescue; turned it on and was able to at least see where my feet were taking me. Having a little bit of light only made me more aware of how much more I can’t see! I hesitated to look sideways. With the cold breeze and killing silence– apart from infrequent rustle of the trees, Stephen King started creeping into my head.

I could not resist the urge, though, so I did move my flashlight towards the river for a glimpse. I felt my heart stop pumping for a second there and then as I saw tens of dark little beasts lined up looking at me along the river shore. That quickly turned into a pleasant moment luckily as my brain enhanced the dark image and figured out they were merely ducks!

I only had to remind myself how safe Oxford was until I got to the boat house. No one was there. Solo I stood, double checking my wristwatch that it was the right day for the outing. Minutes later a distant light approached ending the tension of my morning when the bike of my GTC colleague Pip emerged. I am not alone on the planet.

Our super cox, Capt. Kiran came not too long after and soon the six of us were on ergs warming up. Boats are not allowed in the water sooner than an hour before sun rise. As it ticked 06:15 we were still two rowers short of eight. Ouch! I have to give it to Kiran. He kept his composure. He asked that we do not judge the two who did not show up, and apologetically sent two of us back home so that the rest get a boat of four into the water. I was selfishly delighted I was not chosen to go home! Moreover, I got to row as bow, and it turned out a smaller boat provided a better learning experience for boat stability. “PUSH, pineapple, pineapple, pineapple, … PUSH!” we trained for an hour.

Ok so why am I doing this? For starters I was amazed by the split-second precision synchronization eight humans can get to with enough practice and unspoken communication. I was also influenced by the talks of Kurt April on elevating the mind’s consciousness level by doing something less brainy (i.e. less MBA work). It could either be along the lines of meditation and yoga — which I am not personally geared to, as of yet. Or less preferably via a physical activity thus I opted for rowing. Either route you take will help you reflect on your learning experience.

P.S. I just bought a bike.

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