One of the many happy March rituals we enjoy in Cambridge, where I live, is the return of the crew shells to the Charles River when the winter ice has finally melted. A morning run along the river is so much better when it includes flashes of those sleek shells gliding by on their way up or downriver. Eight strapping college rowers or gorgeous ponytailed young Amazons move in stunning synchrony, pulling backwards on their oars to make their boat shoot through the water. Each shell is guided by a contrastingly small and lightweight coxswain. Often a female, the cox is the only one facing forward as the crew navigates the sinuous turns of the Charles. It is amazing to watch them as they approach the infamous “dead man’s curve” and thread a very long, fragile and expensive shell backwards through a very small opening in the Eliot Bridge.
For decades, visitors to New England could enjoy watching the gorgeous spectacle of rowing, but for a variety of reasons it was never possible for them to participate. In recent years, the Community Rowing organization has started a program that within a few hours teaches a group of visitors to row, gets them into the boats and onto the water and allows them to actually participate in a race.
The program has been amazingly successful. It is superbly organized and run by crew coaches who love the sport passionately, are fun and talented teachers and good at sharing their enthusiasm. The experience lends itself especially well to corporate team-building groups. One of the most important lessons these new rowers learn experientially translates perfectly into the world of business. It turns out that the success of an individual boat depends not on one or two stand-out performers who outshine the rest, but just the opposite. It is up to the leader of a crew of eight to make sure that the least talented rower is encouraged and supported to row as effectively as the rest. If just one of the crew is not perfectly in sync with the others, the boat will not perform well against the other boats. Success depends entirely on learning to function smoothly as a team.
And if for whatever reason there are some who choose not to participate in learning to row, it is a gorgeous riverside setting to spend an afternoon. When the race is on, we distribute cowbells to the spectators and the rowers are encouraged by a loud clanging chorus on the dock cheering for their colleagues in the boats. More often than not, frosty beers and lobsters will be waiting for the returning oarsmen as they share stories of their adventure on the water, and a new crew of rowing enthusiasts is born. When they return to their homes in the far corners of the globe, they will have experienced New England as a true New Englander, and will have valuable lessons in teamwork to bring back with them.