Saturday, December 5, 2009


I enjoy rowing and row with a team once a week. I also have a single that I row, although I tend to spend more time sailing than rowing the single anymore. We aren't competitive by any means and just do it for the sheer enjoyment of being on the water.

Tonight, we are rowing in the annual Parade of Boats. We are a crowd favorite because we are human powered, we sing off key, and we row close to the crowds where the larger boats can't. I'll post some photos hopefully of our Row-Ho-Ho adventures from the Parade.

SB thought about my love of rowing and sent me the following inspirational article by Jane Fishman of the Savannah Morning News.

Chris Banks is a competitor. He's a risk-taker. He's also stubborn, persistent and determined. He loves anything to do with water. Savannah, says this Orlando native, was a perfect fit. He trolls Tybee Island for shells and sand dollars. He kayaks. He walks the beach.

During his first few years in Savannah, he kept thinking he'd meet someone with a boat so he could go fishing. He didn't. Then someone told him about rowing - sometimes called crewing - so he called Scott Nohejl, who heads up CARA, Chatham Area Rowing Association. Nohejl took him on.

A few weeks ago, Banks rowed in his first competition, the 13th annual Head of the South Regatta down Augusta's segment of the Savannah River. Banks and his partner, CARA co-coach A.J. Certo, rowed a 5-K race in a double.

"We finished," laughed Banks at his first race. "I didn't really care about winning." I could relate. I rowed in the same competition in a boat of eight. Rowing may look cool from the shore or on TV, but it's hard. It's scary. The boat wobbles. It moves fast. Every stroke has to be synchronized with everyone else's. It's ballet on steroids. Once you get going, you can't stop to scratch your ear or get the hair out of your face or get a drink of water.

If you don't place your oar in or out just so, the force of the water can catch the edge and you can go flying. That's called crabbing. No one likes to crab. Sometimes you forget to breathe.

It's a very technical sport. While the stroke is explosive, the recovery time -when you move up the metal tracks in your moveable seat to get ready for the next stroke - is slow. Banks compares that part of it to cross-country skiing.

"It's about getting the right rhythm," he said. "You take a step, then glide and slow down, like the recovery in rowing." Feel the boat move, the coaches say. Listen to the water. Be one with your team.

"It's an amazing feeling to get it right," Banks said. "To get that perfect unison." It's a tough sport for a "sole player, a lone wolf," said Banks who is used to doing things on his own. "You have to learn discipline, restraint."

Once again, I could relate. He laughed when I repeated a frequent scolding from the coaches: "There's no 'I' in team, Jane."

Visualization helps nail down the form. All during rowing season, Banks said he would sit in bed at night and picture what he was supposed to do, when to move up the slide, how to plant his oar, how to move his hands away fast, how to hang onto the oar instead of yanking it back with his arms. I did the same thing.

"But that's where I might have an advantage," Banks, 37, said. "I am used to visualizing." Banks is blind. No distractions.

He could see a tiny bit as a boy, "kind of like looking through a pinhole," but his retinas, which never completely developed, started to deteriorate when he turned 15. When he's out on the water rowing, he says, he's not distracted like the rest of us. He's not looking around at his blade or the dolphins or the stars. His posture is good. His head is facing straight ahead. He's not doing anything to interfere with the keel of the boat.

Instead, he feels the stroke. He feels the oar. He feels the boat. He's also not afraid. "What's to be afraid of?" he said. "Over time, I've run into just about everything I could. I've broken every bone. I've lost a few teeth, fallen down stairs, slid into poles when I was water skiing. When I was a kid, my parents took me to a place in Tennessee with Astroturf where you can ski in the summer. They told me, 'Now don't go straight down.' Of course I did. After that, they got me a T-shirt that read: 'No guts, no glory.' They learned to let me do my own thing. I was going to anyway."

Banks was 21 when he got his first guide dog. That decision was hard; he did not want to accept that he was blind. But the dog, he said, changed his life. "I figured here's the ball, there's the touchdown." Banks got his first dog, Chevy, a yellow Lab, when he was a student at Florida State University. Together, they traveled to seven countries in seven weeks. Banks is not afraid to change directions. When a degree in hospitality from FSU didn't lead to meaningful work, he took up massage therapy, a job he brought to Savannah. Then, a few years ago, after listening to Richard Adams' "Watership Down," a fantasy novel about a group of rabbits, and another Adams book, "Traveller," a chronicle of the Civil War told by Traveller, Gen. Robert E. Lee's favorite horse, Banks decided to write his own book. "Hop Up! The Story of Pasco the Guide Dog," which is geared to young children, tells what it's like to be a guide dog from the dog's perspective. There's also a CD of the book.

"If I see something I want to do, I'll fight tooth and nail to do it," he said. "If I'm bored I tend to get in trouble. Such as? "Well," said his girlfriend, Linda Ravalli, "there was the time in Florida when I came home and found him on the roof. He was sweeping leaves and branches out of the gutter after a hurricane." Banks just shrugged. "I like a challenge."


  1. I hope the waters are calm, and the night is warm, Syd.

  2. What a inspiring story! Have a blast with your crew and the parade! Can't wait to see pictures!

  3. You lead a fascinating life, Syd. Is it as exciting as it sounds in your blogs? Lucky guy and I'm sure you've worked hard for it.

  4. Nice story - thanx.

    Blessings and aloha...

  5. Thanks for this inspiring and very intriguing post, Syd. That was a great story to share. Never been on the water like that. You just broadened my horizon a bit.

  6. Wonderful post Syd. I like the inspirational like this. Where we walk our dog there is a rowing club, which some of our friends are members of. I love the grace with which they teams and individual row.

  7. Crewing sounds like quite the experience.

    I like how Banks related his experiences, I take my sight for granted sometimes. Often, actually.

  8. I dated a member of the college crew team back in the late 80s. What I loved most of all was the early morning practices when I would hang out at the harbor. The peace and tranquility, the stillness, of the bay in those early morning hours cannot be forgotten.

    I can't wait to see pictures of your adventure. And such an amazing story to share with us.

  9. Sweet. I like your life.

    I am in awe of anyone who does crew. It takes a lot of upper body strength and looks so fun.

  10. I enjoyed all of this. Thanks for the inspiration.


  11. So glad you participated - and in such a unique way. Believe it or not, I started the "Christmas Parade of Boats" in Charleston, organizing and chairing it for its first 12 years. Never did I imagine there would one day be rowers participating!!! Way to go!

  12. Enthralled by the adventure of rowing! Thanks for sharing the anecdote.

  13. Syd,
    I'm touched that you included the article in a post. Jane is one of my favorite columnists. I've been reading her for ages.

    I hope you had fun. I'm sure you did.

    Love, SB.

  14. I will anxiously await the posting of your photos. Sounds like a really great time! I can see me crabbing quite a bit:)


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.