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While I Was at Practice, My Mom Did All the Hard Work

For Mother’s Day we asked Caroline Burke, a recently-graduated D-1 rower from the University of Virginia, to tell us about her experiences playing sports and the impact her mother had along the way. Caroline started rowing in high school during her sophomore year at Tabor Academy and fell in love with the sport. Eventually, she was recruited to row at UVA, where her team won NCAA’s her first year, ranking as a top five program throughout her time there.

And, as Caroline so deftly puts it, all of her rowing success is thanks to her mother. Whether you’re an athlete or a parent of one, it’s obvious that those guardians play a huge role in developing their children — so, this Mother’s Day, we want to share one of these stories. Once athletes grow and mature, they often have the hindsight to look back and appreciate their mother’s attempts to help.

At the end of the day, Caroline just wants to say thank you, finally, so here it is:

“The mornings were the hardest. 4:45 AM, red alarm numbers glaring at me from my bedside table and my muffled plea of ‘two more minutes’ to her silhouette. She would always oblige, giving me two, three, sometimes five more minutes of sleep before her hand was on my shoulder once again, telling me it was really time to get up now. A reminder that it was time to get my things together, leave the house, and ensure I wouldn’t be late for practice.

Rowing is a hard sport by any measure, but perhaps one of the hardest things about it is the schedule, oxymoronic to any other human activity, and almost masochistic for the early hours it demands. My success in the sport — first in high school, then D-1 in college — I generally attributed to my own hard work and my love of the sport, even despite the blisters and anaerobic workouts. But really, there was only one person who made sure I was even at those practices in the first place instead of sleeping through every alarm.

That one person was my mother.

I remember the two or three mornings every week in the spring that my mother would have to drive me to rowing practice in high school, dropping me off by 5:15 AM, where I would shuffle over to the huddled group and we would all commiserate about how cold it was, how much we didn’t want to be there, how tired we were, all with hidden smiles at the excitement of another practice that lay before us. I never wondered what she did after, or how this early errand affected her normal routine. I’ve never asked her if she went back to sleep when she got home, or even closed her eyes for a few quick minutes before rising to get her — and my father and sister’s — day started.

But, I have a sneaking suspicion that she did not, because, of course, there was too much for her to do. Ultimately, all I thought about was my day. I focused on how long was my practice was, how tired I was at class, and how much homework I had to do that night. Sometimes we had two-a-days and, yet, still she was there.

Whatever her day consisted of, however long her work day was, I would trudge up the dock, the dusk settling over the water I was walking away from, my shoulder cramping under the weight of the crew shell I was helping carry, and, without fail, I would see our car’s headlights blinking patiently at me. I would climb into our car in soaking spandex and she would ask me how my day was: “how was practice?” — and, like clockwork, I would say fine and nothing more. We would drive home in silence after that.

I often resented her for not being one of the diehard rowing parents — she didn’t understand the lingo, and it was pointless to try to explain my frustrations with her. I would roll my eyes and a wave of self pity would wash over me that no one understood me.

Poor me.

Poor me to have a mom that cared — who drove me in all possible ways: physically (waking me up), emotionally (bothering to even ask about my day), and literally driving me three times a week at 5:45 am to practice, getting up early so I could do something I love to do. 

She was there, every morning, every evening. The vessel that facilitated every athletic event I had ever participated in, always there with a snack when it was over, always asking me how it went, even if she didn’t understand the answer.

In college, I had to drive myself to practice at 5 in the morning, that was a serious wake up call.

Instead of buttered toast and orange juice, I would alternate between a protein bar and cold pizza that I scarfed down while I drove, along with a few gulps of the world’s worst coffee that scalded my mouth while I drank. Less than a month into my freshman year, I had to call my mom and sheepishly ask her what type of detergent she had used to always keep my clothes smelling so clean, since my workout clothes had started to smell like a wet dog now that I was in charge of them. She didn’t laugh at me or give me a big I-told-you lecture, and she has yet to ever admit to me that it was extra work, taking me to rowing practice every day–not to mention the thousands of sports I tried before I found rowing, from horseback riding to soccer to lacrosse.

Every time I called and mournfully explained my current predicament — laundry woes, broke the coffee maker again, or sneakers falling apart — she patiently listened to my hysterical voice and then she fixed the situation.

Sorry, mom, for being such a typical teenager. I’m sorry for not seeing, until now, how essential you were for my every day, every game, and every win or loss. For Mother’s Day, I want to tell you this one thing: without your help, love, and support, I wouldn’t have succeeded in the activity I so dearly adore. Without you, there’s no toast, no 5 am wake up calls, or empathetic drive homes. Without you, there would never have been any victories or championships — and I certainly wouldn’t have survived on just bad coffee alone.

But with you, I learned about commitment, I learned about desire, passion, and putting your best foot forward.

And you may not realize it — but I owe so much of that to you. While I’ll never stop searching for those blinking headlights at dawn, a warm reassurance of my hard work and improvement, this is so long overdue: thank you, mom, for everything.”

Happy Mother’s Day.

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