I believe in being scared. I believe in the tremor from my fingertips to the thumps of my heart. I believe in its fragility, exposure and weakness. But I also believe that fearing is the only way to become brave.
The New England Crew Meet is a big day for me. We four racers impatiently wait dressed in our red uni-suits, hair tied back, our tanned bodies glimmering with sunscreen. I glance around and face our competitors who return our frightened gaze with a confident grin. I stare at their long legs and remorsefully back at my undersized legs. The eyes of our team meet, but no words are exchanged.
Before the race, I let my eyes wander for one last time. Flirtation Avenue is full of moms in bright sundresses, dads holding cameras, dogs with Frisbees in their mouths, and tables full of watermelon and grilled chicken. They cheer, wave “Good luck,” and even give me a thumbs-up. I am proud yet lonely. It would hurt to let them down; the looks of disappointment and contrived condolences would be unbearable.
On the count of three, we lift up our “baby” – the new red Vespoli boat— radiating with energy. Careful, careful, and splash! The striped oar handles, speckled with raindrops, sweat, pus, and occasional tears, make a good team. Today, they seem heavier, the wind stronger, and the water wavier. When Margaux, squinting behind me, blurts out, “I feel like throwing up,” I am strangely relieved. The coxswain passes down the water bottle and we drink in utter silence, sacred and still. I realize that each of us, guarded and strong, share one fragile thing in common: we are scared to death.
Nevertheless, we push off from the dock. The public beach lined in perfect white buoys, is the start line. I roll up on my seat, arms straight out, oars buried in water and hands tight around the wet handles. My heart thumps and my stomach snakes. A voice startles me, “Attention, ready all…row!”
My body jerks into motion with a loud grunt and the fear is nowhere to be seen. My feet angrily explode from the footboard. The hurrying strokes splash water all over my body, its coldness stunning me. My arms pull in fiercely, my legs kick and I fight myself. The ashen boathouse: 500m left. Swearing inside, I clench my teeth and close my eyes. The instant I let the pain in, the perfect rhythm is lost.
“Only 200m left, girls! Finish strong!” The coxswain counts down every number with throbbing intensity. I stop breathing or thinking. With the final heave, we cross the line. There is no golden trophy, no shower of champagne, but there is a victory: I am always terribly scared, but I am not a coward. I am braver now because the only way to stop fearing is to confront it boldly. It is fear that makes me row, work hard, desire, and fight. This, I believe.