I Rowed, I Coxed, and I Changed My Life
Photos provided by Lorenzo Perez
When the team no longer had enough coxswains for each boat, Lorenzo Perez volunteered during his first year. He later returned to compete as a varsity-light-weight rower.
By Lorenzo Perez
LBS Rowing Alumnus Fall 2006 — Spring 2008
When I stepped into that boathouse for the first day on that relatively warm September morning at 5:30am, wiping the crusties out of my eyes, I had yet to realize how much Beach Crew would dramatically affect and change my life.
I joined the crew team my second year at Long Beach State after having a relatively uneventful and boring freshman year. By the urging of my best friend, I decided to step outside of my box and do something completely radical by joining the team. I had always seen the boats go by as I took the bus to work going over the Second Street bridge.
Growing up in the desert, I had no idea what rowing was and had really never even heard or seen it in my 18 years of life prior to moving to Long Beach for school. Not only that, but I was most definitely NOT an athlete of any kind, whatsoever, unless you count rollerblading. I was always a super dorky (still am) band geek, super studious and quiet person throughout high school, but I had always yearned to be a part of a sports team.
It wasn’t just for the athletic nature, but for the pride in being a part of a team, working together towards a common goal. I quickly discovered how elite the sport of rowing was and became infatuated with it in every way through my first season.
I will not paint a perfect picture for you though. Rowing has been, and will continue to be the toughest physical thing I have ever endured. Even after rowing, I began competing in triathlons and while that is super hard, rowing is technical, physical, and thoroughly emotional. For me, crew was proving to myself that I could do something I had never done before, and that I had the ability to achieve something more even if I didn’t always win.
After the first half of my first season, we unfortunately lost our coxswains and were left with no one to guide us, literally. I had the privilege, as I felt, to become a coxswain for the team. I was about 20 pounds lighter than I am now, and I decided to take on this task for my team because we needed one, and I was willing to give up the rowing to give something back to my team.
This is where I really began to shine, not only in my skills as a coxswain, but as someone that people respected. I was their leader and also their equal because I still sat on those ergs every morning with them, and I would also get up and scream in their faces to row faster.
To build a crew you must break it down in order to build it back up together or else you will never be a real team. No matter how many arguments or times we lost, we all gained something from it and learned. There were days I wanted to quit and I once did. I quit and walked away. But, I came back because I couldn’t leave my team no matter how upset I was as I had made a commitment. I only won one race with my team against Chapman University as coxswain. It wasn’t a real official race, but even now 8 years later I STILL proudly wear my red Chapman tank we won together and I will keep it until it’s in threads.
I knew what they were enduring on the water, the way it felt, the pain and the energy it took and exactly what I was asking of them whenever I demanded a hard ten to catch up to the boat next to us. They could never get mad at me because they knew I knew what it felt like.
There is no better adrenaline rush than a crew race, I don’t care what other sport you’ve done, there is just nothing that compares, sitting there trying to keep your boat straight and ready for take off and that buzzer to sound. It’s so quick, but also chaotic and slow all at the same time, and I’ve never felt anything better than when my heart was pumping in anticipation.
Crew wasn’t just a sport for me; it became my social scene as I made countless friends whom I still regularly see today. It created a bond of sameness no matter of our religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, or the color of our skin. Crew gave me the confidence I was lacking in my life, as I had always felt different and at times alone.
Though it still took some time for me to come out as gay, I knew that I would never have been able to feel as great about it as I do today if it wasn’t for my experience on the team. My teammates valued me for who I was and not my sexual orientation. I couldn’t even imagine where I would be if I hadn’t made that decision to join Beach Crew 8 years ago.
My advice for anyone considering joining this season is to “just do it,” and know that you will be pushed to your limits physically and emotionally with literal blood, sweat, and tears. It will all be worth it, as you will have an experience unique to yourself. You will gain a brotherhood (or sisterhood…possibly both as I did) and people who will not let you fail or let you down. While I learned a lot in my classes at CSULB, by far my best educational experience was being a part of Beach Crew and I will never forget it.