The Up Beat
By Amy Wong

Angel? Mysterious Encounter?

I like to exercise. So much that I spend my lunch break at the gym (don’t worry, I eat at my desk afterward). All that working out has made me strong and fit. But that doesn’t mean I’m athletic.

Far from it. I’m pretty uncoordinated. Sometimes downright klutzy (I mean, I blew out my knee landing awkwardly while jumping in boot-camp class). Some people instinctively move in a biomechanically perfect way, getting maximum results with the least wear-and-tear on their bodies. Me, I need a lot of instruction and practice before I can do a new exercise with proper form.

A month and a half ago I injured my hip running (I’m sure my unbalanced gait had something to do with it) so I decided to try something low impact at the gym: the rowing machine. Get someone to show you the right technique, I thought. Or you’ll end up hurting yourself again.

A trainer gave me a quick demo and set me up on one of the machines. I tried to follow his instructions but I still wasn’t getting the hang of it. “Watch him,” the trainer said, nodding toward the guy on the rowing machine on the other side of the stairs. “Now that’s perfect technique.”

The trainer went to help another gym member. I kept rowing, sneaking glances at the guy across the way and trying to mimic his motions. After 20 minutes, I was getting blisters on my palms from gripping the handle. I was done.

The guy stopped rowing at the same time. I don’t usually talk to people on the gym floor; I don’t want to interrupt their workout. But something made me walk over to him and ask, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing you have perfect form. Would you mind showing me the right way to row?”

“Sure.” He seemed a little shy at first but once he started breaking down the rowing stroke for me, he got into it. “There’s the recovery, the catch, the drive and the finish,” he said, then proceeded to explain in great detail the body movements and positioning, the proper biomechanics, for each phase. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m probably boring you. I get all geeked out when I talk about rowing.”

“I’m not bored,” I said. “I’m totally uncoordinated, so I’m really grateful you took the time to explain everything.” Then I asked, “Why do you know so much about rowing? Are you a rower?” (Clearly I’m not shy.)

“I was on the crew team in college,” he said. “Ithaca.”

That wasn’t the name on his jersey. “What’s Vesper?”

“A rowing club in Philly.”

“Did you row there after college?”

“No,” he said. “Oklahoma City.”

“What’s in OKC?” One of my college roommates was a rower, and I didn’t remember her mentioning crews from Oklahoma.

He got all shy again and answered so softly I had to ask him to repeat himself.

“The National High Performance Center,” he said.

“National... wait, you were on the U.S. rowing team?”

He nodded.

Wow, I couldn’t have dreamed up a better rowing coach! I thought. Before I had a chance to tell him that, his phone rang and he dashed off to take the call.

I’ve been doing rowing workouts–with good form–several times a week ever since. I’d like to thank my high performance rowing coach, but I never saw him at the gym again.

Colleen would call him an angel on earth. Adam would say I had a mysterious encounter. I’m going to think positive and say they’re both right. Someone was looking out for me at the gym that day, someone who always knows exactly the help I need.

Amy Wong is the executive editor of Guideposts and was a founding editor of Positive Thinking. She lives in New York City with her adopted dog, Winky, a natural-born positive thinker who believes that everyone has a treat for her and every day is the best day of her life. Amy hopes to be that optimistic someday (she’s working on it!).

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