Posted by Caitlynn Fortner


From the annals of Caitlynn Fortner’s memory, sometime in spring of 2013:

Smack! I spilled into the boat, making a sound resembling that of a suitcase as it slams inside the trunk of a car. Legs flailing helplessly over the gunnel, I said a quick prayer, glad that I had landed safely in the boat aside from a few bruises and a busted chin. I briefly considered my future as a stunt double as my coach once again interrupted my thoughts. “Row!” Surprised by this ridiculous command, I was forced to remember that I was, in fact, in a boat, with neither my foot stretchers in place nor my oar handle secured to the rigger. My giggles only enraged the coach more, prompting him to choose my oar, out of all eight, to launch the boat. He grabbed the blade and forcefully pushed on the oarlock, knocking the handle out of my unsuspecting hands. I grappled with the shaft until I finally had oriented myself, a surprisingly inelegant process compared to the leap I had just completed, or so I like to think. We were ready to row as I tightened the bolts on my foot stretchers and, five minutes behind and a little jostled, we began our pre-race warm-up. 

Needless to say, senior year on my high school’s crew team was a rough one. In my memory, our coach was a lumbering, fear mongerer with failing hearing. This story blared in my mind when Grace McClure, another McDermott Scholar, invited me to join a rowing class with her this summer. Never mind the 6 A.M. practices and the 30 minute drive; I was much more worried I would have another infamous dock-hopping escapade added to my ledger. But the thought of Dallas’ White Rock Lake at sunrise and Grace’s winning smile won me over in the end.

On the first day of practice, I reluctantly flicked on my bedside lamp, revealing my cat’s perturbed, blinking eyes. Zombie-like, I brushed my hair, combed my teeth and threw together some semblance of breakfast in time for Grace and I to leave. Upon arrival we regarded our boat-mates: six men and women, ranging from late 30s to early Baby Boomers. But regardless of our ramshackle nature, we now comprised two formidable quads, racing each other during our thrice-weekly practices.

The best part about rowing with Grace at White Rock is that the coach is genuinely constructive. I have learned more in the last weeks about rowing technique than I did in four years on my high school’s team, mostly because I am not in constant fear. We are now three weeks into our rowing adventure, and I can confidently assert there is no place in Dallas more beautiful than the center of White Rock at 6:15.

That is not to say I haven’t had my share of mishaps (i.e. running the boat over-top of a giant orange buoy), but I am mostly thankful for Grace and our team for making this such an enjoyable summer. I hope to join the competitive team in the fall and will certainly be recruiting heavily from my fellow McDermott Scholars!

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