Handcrafting High School: Year 1, The First Four Months: Crew

P.E.: Once There Were Vikings, and that Is the Last Time Any of Sean’s Relatives Rowed!

The Boys in the Boat
The Boys in the Boat

Rowing, or crew as I am just beginning to call it, has been the surprise favorite this year. My husband’s grandparents emigrated from Norway, but they were farmers there and in North Dakota where they ended up. The last relatives in our family that we know of who rowed were Vikings. In fact, everything I know about this sport I have learned from watching my son compete and reading the book The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, which is a good read. Honestly I don’t even know the prow from the stern (I think I got those terms right). 😉

Sean's curly hair earned him the nickname Broccoli
Sean’s curly hair earned him the nickname Broccoli

Rowing is a physically intense, demanding sport, something we have learned Sean likes very much. The harder the coaches push him, and the tougher they are with the workouts, the happier Sean is. Sean likes everything about rowing. He likes the camaraderie with the other kids. He likes how it is a team sport but that it asks a lot from each individual in the boat. He likes his coaches. He likes the venue in Mission Bay. And he likes the club, The San Diego Rowing Club, SDRC, http://www.sdrcjrs.com/. He has even come to like the nickname his teammates gave him, Broccoli, because of his curly hair.

Sometimes the curls are even blue
Sometimes the curls are even blue

Rowing was not a planned class. Another homeschooling parent posted that there were free rowing tryouts for 1 week to see if kids liked the sport. I had been trying to get Sean interested in something athletic for the better part of a year, ever since he got healthy again after breaking his ankle. Sean is a person whose mental psyche benefits greatly from regular exercise. I know everybody benefits, but with him it is immediately noticeable, and he’s an awful grump when he is not regularly exercising. He told me he would try rowing, but then changed his mind. Luckily, I forced the issue.

Since the beginning of September, rowing has become a part of our life. Most of the kids who do what is called crew, not rowing, are not homeschooled. Crew practice is from 4 to 6:30ish every weeknight, with an optional practice from 8:30 to 11 most Saturdays. Several of the Sundays have races on them. Sean is on the Novice Men’s Team. It is a team of boys who are high school freshman or who are in later grades in high school but have never rowed before. Next year Sean will automatically graduate to the Varsity Team.

Race days start early, before the wind starts up making the water choppy
Race days start early, before the wind starts making the water choppy

My husband and I took him to the first tryout. We sat in the car and watched this crazy, intense, challenging workout. About halfway through, the two of us looked at each other and said, “Oh, he must be hating this. We should make him stick with it for the first week just to see if he likes it though, okay.” When Sean got in the car the first thing out of his mouth was, “Best sport ever!”

Rowers spend a lot of time on the erg machine
Rowers spend a lot of time on the erg machine

It might surprise you to find out that athletics is a reason we are lucky that we are homeschoolers, but not for the reason most people mean when they say that. For many years, Sean was on a competitive ski team. He was on the race team, then after much begging on his part he moved over to the Freeride team, what a lot of people call the trick team. Sean was very injury prone. Sean has broken his nose, his ankle, both his heels, and the pinky fingers on both hands. More significantly, Sean has also had two complex concussions. You might think from reading this that we are negligent parents who just kept throwing him back out there, but some of these injuries are from things like hopping across a creek while playing tag with friends.

The first complex concussion he suffered was in an event where he was jumping and he over rotated on the jump. He landed on his nose, breaking it, and suffering a complex concussion. It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life. The second complex concussion was a freak accident where he turned out of the way to avoid a snowboarder and into a tree. Once you have one complex concussion you are much more susceptible to others and you get them from a much lower force of impact. I won’t go into the details of what it was like having a child with a complex concussion. (It was a dark time for us, though. I could relive it in talking if it helped someone, but not in writing.)

When Sean went to the concussion specialist, the doctor asked me how good Sean was at school. I replied that he was a good student. The doctor told me that was good because Sean needed to take the rest of the school year off. Sean injured himself in the first week of February. Your child can’t do any academics if you want his or her brain to heal completely. Sean wasn’t allowed to read. He couldn’t exercise. He was unable to do simple math tasks. He couldn’t even play video games. According to the doctor, all Sean could do if we wanted his brain to heal completely was watch TV, and only if he was watching shows that didn’t require any mental focus. If Sean went to traditional school he would have missed so much school, he would be a grade below the rest of his same age classmates. Between the two complex concussions, Sean took almost a year off school. The only left over effect from Sean’s concussions is trauma induced migraines. That and he cannot participate in any sport where there is a risk of getting another concussion.

Here Sean is racing in a 4
Here Sean is racing in a 4

It’s hard to imagine how you could get a concussion participating in crew. (Now I am imagining how a boat could fall on his head while carrying it to the water!) I have been skiing since I was two years old. Sean also started skiing when he was two. Sean, my husband, and I really, really love to ski. I was lucky enough with my skiing that I never seriously injured myself. My son wasn’t so lucky. Sean’s mental health is linked to his participation in intense physical activities. When he is not participating in them, he gets very down. When he is participating in them, he is sunny, joyful, and very humorous. If you have a kid who needs this sort of physical activity then you know what I mean. It is like turning a light switch on and off. Crew is the first sport he has tried since skiing that he loved enough to want to participate in on a regular basis. We are lucky to have found it.