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A group of high school girls who have all joined a crew team for various reasons. Some are athletes, some want scholarships, some are the right body types, some have never been athletes, some have friends on the team, and some are being made to by their parents. The team is small and no cut and always in need of more rowers. As they row they come together as a team, they all gain in confidence and learn what it is to be an athlete both on and off the water. The protagonists are a novice four, that means five girls who have never competed in crew before racing a boat with four rowers and a coxswain (cox for short). The coxswain is normally small, in High School women's rowing they try to get as close to 110 pounds as possible, who yells out commands, steers the boat, and encourages her rowers. She is the only one facing forward and is generally sitting in the back of the boat. The four rowers in a four face backwards. The stroke is the rower closest to the cox and faces her. Behind the stroke are 3 and 2 and bow is in the front or bow. Although the novice four is not the entire team, the boats practice in shifts so they don't spend much time with the rest of the team.
The five girls are all there for different reasons. The cox, Hannah, is actually the only one who had been involved in sports before, but she is the smallest, loudest, and most of a leader. Stroke is Amanda, who is tall and has the "ideal" build for crewing and decided to start in hopes of getting a scholarship when she goes to college. Lauren, the three seats, is being forced to participate in a sport by her mother and heard that you wouldn't have to run for crew. Diana, two seats, is Amanda's best friend, and decided to tag along, and Jessie who thought she'd join for kicks is bow. Once they are set into boats, they have their first water practice as a team. Their coach, Molly, grew up having to fight for the right to participate in a sport other than cheerleading or dance, and feels that the girls have to live up to her legacy. They should be proud and see themselves exclusively as athletes, especially when they don their uniforms.
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"What it Means to be an Athlete." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Aug 2018
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On the water they are as disorganized and bickering as any crew team, but as they learn to work together they improve. Their equipment is old and shoddy as the team is only in its second year and they are severely under funded. Because there are very few crew teams in their regions, they have to go long distances to go to the three regattas that they do go to that season. Each girl things of giving up at some point; bow thinks that the stroke is setting the pace to fast; the ports don't feel that the starboards are pulling hard enough; the stroke thinks everyone is "rushing" her, and they are all cold and wet and frustrated. The girls have to try to balance their five weekly lake practices with weight training and classes. Because of their rigorous schedules they become each others best friends, because they at least all have the same schedules. Although they find that they love this quirky sport, they increasingly find themselves in conflict with their coach, who does not sympathise with their desire for free time.
Even though they have different plans for their future rowing careers, they don't want to dedicate their whole time in high school exclusively as rowers. They also want to be known as students, dumb teenagers, girlfriends, friends, sisters, and daughters. They are all sick of smelling like the polluted lake, of having blisters on their hands, and never having time to spend with their friends. Then comes the first regatta, they load the boats on to the trailer with the rest of the team, drive six hours, and roll out at the location of their first race. Of course it is raining, of course it is freezing, and it is the first week of April after all. The team sets up tents, prepares the boats, and before you know it they are on the water. Four boats with each with four stoic rowers and a cox tucked into the stern are lined up next to them. Hannah is worried about steering the boat straight, the stroke about what pace to keep, everyone's stomach's are full of butterflies and they are off. They pull hard and they tie for last. They come out exhausted and heart broken, but Molly is waiting at the finish line to fish her boat out and get them off the dock. She comforts them pointing out that they were racing teams that were cut and only let their top novices compete, and these teams were private clubs with plenty of funding, and people who had been rowing since they were young. They realize that although their coach, cannot understand their lack of focus, she really does care for them as a team. They are determined to improve.
They spend the rest of the season training harder than ever, dreaming only of the ribbons that they will win in their final regatta. The time for them to prove themselves comes, they line up, they row their hardest, and finish third in their heat, and fourth overall. No ribbons, no pictures in the paper, and now trophies, but they come out realizing that they worked their hardest and they became a team. They no longer bickered or tried to blame other team mates on the failure of the boat. They all cared for each other and came out glowing with the knowledge that they could not have rowed any harder or better. The coach works as an antagonist in some ways simply because the girls cannot understand her. Molly won't let them show their midriffs for instance, even when they aren't in uniform. The girls think this seems prudish; old fashioned, and downright uncomfortable, while Molly thinks the girls are trying to make themselves sexual objects instead of athletes. These clashes are common and as time goes on they begin to understand that they are simply coming from different experiences. The girls come to appreciate the coach's struggle and the coach appreciates that to be a high school athlete, one does not have to think of only one's sport. The girls learn what it means to be an athlete, to have confidence, and dedication. They learn what it means to work hard for something and that sometimes the journey matters more than the goal.