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Male Bonding

Male Bonding

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Published by Tom Matlack
On rowing, basketball, and what it means to be a man.
On rowing, basketball, and what it means to be a man.

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Published by: Tom Matlack on Mar 18, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/16/2012

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Male Bonding
By Tom Matlack 
 There's a gash under my left eye. My right thumb throbs like ason-of-a-bitch. I keep seeing stars. My whole body hurts. I have a redbeard—if you can call it that—after a week of uneven growth. On theplane ride home from Florida to Boston, people look at me like I’msome kind of pirate and wonder where the patch is for my batteredeye. After all, at 45, I’m too old for this.I’m thinking back to my college days as a Division III rower. I wasa determined, if not great, athlete. Will, our coach, used punishingwinter training regimens to build boats capable of beating superiorcrews on sheer grit and determination. We cut lengths of old pipe,1
 
painted them black, and sank one end in industrial-sized tomato soupcans which we had salvaged from the dining hall and filled withcement. Once it had set properly, we turned it over and sank the otherend into another soup can filled with cement to create a device weaffectionately titled a “bear bar.” On cold winter days, 30 guys wouldpile into a dormitory lounge, move the couches out of the way, get outthe bars, and crank up the Rolling Stones full blast.Will, in cowboy boots, sporting a thick beard and chewingtobacco, presided over the afternoon ritual with a sickening delight. Heestablished two simple rules: “The bar never touches the ground” and“It ain’t over till I say so.” We did a rotation of exercises, fifty secondson and then ten seconds off—just enough time to prepare for the nextset. A deep squat to a military press was followed by a triceps curl withthe bar behind the head, a lat pull to the eyeballs, and a jumping lungewith the bar overhead, getting up high enough in the air to switch legsforward and backward simultaneously, ideally without crashing oversideways.Fifteen minutes in, steam would start to rise off our bodies. A half an hour and some guys would begin to falter. Will encouraged us to getin pairs, staring into each other’s eyes for strength. During particularlygrueling workouts, he’d get a bar himself and start doing lunges in hisblue jeans, his piercing blue eyes jumping out of his head as if he werepossessed. When he’d finally call practice, bodies would drop to the2
 
ground like they’d been shot.On Saturdays we’d escape the bear bar and head for thecemetery on the edge of campus. The road through the oldgravestones wound about, flattening out in a false peak, only to revealits steepest section just before we reached the top. Will would sit atthe top of the hill, perched on the back of his pickup truck with aclipboard in his hand, spitting tobacco juice and keeping score.One Saturday, I had a memorable exchange with a youngerteammate. Snow from a recent storm was piled high on either side of the road. The day was crisp and clear and the sun shone brightly. Thebitter cold had turned patches of damp pavement into glare ice,making the final uphill stretch particularly treacherous as lactic acidand oxygen debt locked our muscles in place, requiring keen mentalfocus to command our legs and arms to keep pumping.I knew that Jon had been out late the night before, but I stillexpected him to excel at the hills since he was the best runner on theteam, often beating me at the long runs, which were my specialty. Webattled out the first couple of hills, snorting on the way up andswearing at the searing pain upon reaching the top, only to blow off steam and mentally reset for the next one. Then I noticed that hewould stay with me for one hill and even as I sprinted up the nextrepetition, he would lag way behind. He was working hard on everyother piece; taking a break while the rest of us pushed through the3

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Helen Winslow Black added this note
Wednesday is Non-Fiction Day, and here's your offering folks! The hallmark of great writing is that it's both personal and universal...think Jed pointed that out to me....and I see it here. I' a woman, I don't row or play basketball, but this piece truly resonates with me. Thanks Tom!
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