Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Hot Dog Story

July 1993, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Boathouse Row.

The sun had set. I was alone on the upper deck of my boathouse, Pennsylvania Athletic Club Rowing Association, famously known as Penn-AC. The Schuylkill River was calm and lazily falling over a small damn. Remember the museum steps that Rocky climbed in the movie? That museum, with the lit cityscape above, formed the backdrop to one of the most memorable moments of my life. But on this night I was sad; I was saying goodbye to what was the opportunity of a lifetime and one of the best experiences of my life.

Six weeks earlier, I had arrived, along with 3 dozen of the best rowers in the country. I had only been rowing for 10 months but somehow was invited to Penn-AC, the premier rowing camp in the country, for 3 months of world class training and racing under the direction of US Olympic Coach Ted Nash. I will never forget walking into the boathouse on that first day and being introduced to Mr. Nash. He shook my hand and said to me, "I was watching you row upstairs - you know what I like about you? You're the shortest guy here but you bury your hands in the cage anyway and get the same length as these other guys. You're a good athlete - you're one of Chuck's boys right?"

For the record, I am 6'1" so hardly short. But rowers are an unusual breed of broad-backed giants. I was able to compensate because I have inhumanly large quads, the powerhouse muscle needed to row hard and fast.

Chuck was my rowing coach at the University of Delaware. He was and still is one of the best known and well respected rowing coaches in the country. All he had to do was say to Ted, "I'm sending one of my athletes to you this summer." I showed up hardly a good rower but my athleticism made up for what I lacked in experience.

I was gonna have to prove myself everyday at this camp or I would be sent home. I remember sitting in the #4 seat of an 8 man crew and Ted hollered into his megaphone, "#4 - make your catches faster in the next 5 strokes or you're out of the boat." Funny how you learn quickly when you're given that kind of ultimatum.

Practices were 3 times per day. I had planned on getting a job to support myself but I simply didn't have the time or energy to work. I took a waiter job at a local restaurant but quit on Day 2. I was here to row, not wait tables. But cash - I needed cash. I was losing weight very quickly because I wasn't eating enough. I ate to survive. I bought a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly. I'd eat that for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it was gone and then I'd buy it all again. I picked up side jobs moving furniture, painting fences - anything I could squeeze in between practices.

I was becoming desperate for food. On one afternoon practice, I hit rock-bottom - I waited until my crew mates were ready to launch from the dock. I excused myself, ran back into the boathouse, bound up the stairs and raided the small clubhouse refrigerator. Nothing in there. I opened up the small freezer compartment and buried under lots of frost were 2 frozen hot dogs. Fine. I scarfed them down my throat as I ran back down the stairs, onto the dock and into the boat.

I lasted 6 weeks. My crew was headed to the national championships in Topeka, Kansas (I guess they have water there) and I was told to stay behind and catch up on sleep. In other words, I wasn't cutting it.

So while my teammates were competing at nationals, I had the boathouse entirely to myself; I sat on the upper deck of the boathouse and wrote a small note thanking my coaches for the opportunity. I hung out there alone all weekend and reminisced. I packed up my gear and rode my bike back to my hometown which was about 60 miles away.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently - I should have asked people for money on the street. I could have put on my crew jacket and told my story. Why didn't I put up a sign on the street and row on a stationary rower on the street telling people why I need money or food!

I gave up, packed my bags and went home. I could have found food. But what I would not have found is the maturity to realize that I did belong there and that I could figure this out.

I'm okay saying that I have this regret. I won't be that person that's lying on their death bed that says, "I have no regrets." I would much rather say, "I've had regrets, but I made things right in the end."

I am making things right. My memory is bittersweet; it was not my time. But my time is now.

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About Me

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NY, New York, United States
I'm 34 years old, the proud father of 2 beautiful children and husband to Jennifer, a beautiful, smart, and very caring woman. I'm an athlete - someone that was blessed with the ability to move fast and fluidly past, around, up and over my opponents. But, my body now reminds me that those days are numbered. I'm the Founder of Agile Fitness, a company dedicated to helping others achieve their fitness goals. Resume: - Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist ('96). - Bachelor of Arts & Science, University of Delaware, ('95) - Masters in Business Administration, Baruch College Zicklin School of Business ('01)