The boat waddled under Larry Davis’ feet as he hustled to the bow and took on a tall and powerful stance. His red jacket was bright in the sunlight of the golden 6:30 morning hour. The air on the Black Warrior River was cold and the water was even colder.
“Ladies, do we know what ‘Zen’ is?” Davis called out to his two boats of University of Alabama rowers as they sat in their boats, awaiting his instruction.
“Effortless effort, it’s the Zen to rowing,” Davis said.
The young women stared up at their head coach through squinty, sleepy eyes with paddles in their hands as they nodded as if to agree with him.
“The sad thing is, these girls all think I’m some crazy old man,” Davis said. “I’m not, I’m just trying to get them to understand what I’m telling them half the time.”
Maybe a little crazy is just the ticket for the Crimson Tide rowing team as it takes on a season of vengeance. Last year Alabama barely missed its chance to compete in the NCAA championship and finished fourth in the Big 12 conference championships. This season the team hopes to achieve a greater finish and that requires focus and dedication across the board.
“It is kind of hard to get up six days a week so early and get down here to the water,” Alabama senior Maggie Gillespie said. “There is a team aspect to it though which helps. We all share a goal and you know if the girl next to you is getting up and going to practice then you should too.”
Full attention to the team was all Davis could ask for, and in his opinion – it’s what can make a good rowing team great. Davis did not see the progress he had hoped for when the team returned for the spring season and felt it can be tough to get young people to buy in to anything anymore.
Alabama finished the fall season strong with a win against Central Florida. The Crimson Tide will host Eastern Michigan for the first regatta of the spring season in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
“It’s hard to get people to tune in these days, especially young people,” Davis said. “You have to come out here and be an engine for a boat even when your body is screaming at you to stop and you get no individual attention online for your success. No matter how successful one person may be, it’s only because there’s a team of people around them who helped get them there.”
A typical rowing practice may last two to three hours and can include cardio or other physical training as well as drills on the water in the boats. Senior coxswain Erin Hayes acts as an extension of Davis, steering the boat and motivating each rower to push through and physical or mental fatigue.
“I think we’re on the right track right now and making progress,” Hayes said. “Everyone is getting a lot faster and working on the water helps technical skills with putting that speed to the best use we can will help come time for conference and NCAAs.”
Before the Crimson Tide can take on the NCAAs in late May of this year, they must first succeed in the Big 12 Conference Championships on May 12-13.