Rain falls violently from the cold March skies above the Schuylkill River. The novice crew team approaches the starting line, their exposed bodies drenched from stern to bow. Quivering groups of eight, with hands gripped firmly upon their oars, surround them on either side. Motorized fins cut through the currents, stirring waves as they move past. The boat rocks uneasily while the team struggles to keep their blades planted in the sea. Voices are faintly heard from the crowded banks and the bridge looming over their heads. One voice reigns supreme through a megaphone echo as the race is about to begin. Nervous pupils shift quickly to the eyes’ outer edges, then quickly to the tensed back ahead. The fatal thud is finally heard. The race begins.

      In unison, eight sets of legs burst from their footboards, followed by a swift heave of oars into eight chests. The coxswain screams above the boat’s united, labored breath, “Power 20! Give it everything you got!” Each man struggles to keep the pace with the one in front of them, replicating every subtle movement that can be realized in the blind fury. “One!” the coxswain screams, oars rip through the water as the bridge’s shadow creeps up to the stern. “Two!” the riggers ring as the eight gasp for air. “Three!” a pair of hands are losing their grip of the wet oar. “”Four!” shouts from above grow louder and louder. “Five!” opposing boats are pushing further away. “Six!” a hard wind strikes from under the bridge. “Seven!” the coxswain screams for the eight to “pick up the pace”. “Eight!” the lead rower surges towards the gunwale, the seven behind him rush to follow. “Nine!” a chunk of sea crashes to the boat’s shell and lifts starboard oars temporarily out of the water. “Ten!” the boat picks up speed as it emerges from under the bridge. “Eleven!” port-side oars dig deep into the river, starboard rowers finish the strokes with oars left in the air. “Twelve!” the balance shifts to the other direction, a tired rower holds on desperately with slippery hands. “Thir-” the rower’s oar is halted mid-stroke, then, with unforgiving velocity crashes to his jaw. The crushing momentum sends his torso flailing to the rower behind him. His oar, left stranded atop the restless waves “-teen”. The boat veers towards the next lane, with its pressure now uneven. Exhausted shouts of frustration and confusion fill the air; all eyes turn to the fallen rower.

      The rower frantically reaches for his man-less oar, not knowing or caring about the blood pouring from his lips. Adrenaline escapes through his pores; he is caught in the devastating moment. He throttles the oar back into the stalled vessel; the coxswain screams “fourteen!” but it is in vain. Boats vanish down the river, lengths away; that much closer to the finishing line. All chances of victory are diminished. “Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty.”

      The race ends, as the eight finally cross the line. Every ounce of power is released, and the blades slap delicately across the water. Rain and sweat drip from their foreheads, their eyes filled with disappointment. The rower sinks his head into his huddled body as they paddle back to the boathouse, awaiting the fate that lies on land. They are no longer eight. They are seven. He is one.

Matthew Glasgow was born and raised in Philadelphia. He currently still holds residence in the city. Glasgow is a young writer, 22 years old, and attends Temple University. This is his first publication.


Soon after I started high school, I decided to join the crew team. I really didn't know too much about the sport, but I heard that it was good exercise, and a few of my friends were joining as well. Practices took place on the Schuylkill River, not too far from the Art Museum steps and a few other famous Philadelphia landmarks. Crew is one sport where everyone must perform as a cohesive unit to succeed. When there is individual weakness, there is usually united failure. Power 20 is based on an event that happened to me during one of my first crew races. In rowing slang, what happens to the rower in the story is called  catching a crab  and is perhaps the worst thing that can occur in a boat. When someone  catches a crab , the race is all but over in the short instant that an oar is stuck in the water. It is in this instant that an individual is literally jostled from the rest of the group, and though a chance of victory is gone; they must still cross the finish line together.



Copyright 2009