|Patrick C. Crowell
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AN EXCERPT FROM HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT
"Adel Blair! Will you come to the starting line please?" the elderly
referee barked through his megaphone, as annoyed as any of the cantankerous,
crusty old men in the sometimes stuffy sport of rowing. Because the racecourse
contained six lanes and there were six female rowers on the lake water, each
in their own single racing shell, he assumed Adel was in the women’s race.
I’m not in that race," Adel yelled, loud enough to be heard on the
float-boat behind the starting platform.
What do you mean?" he said, still irritated.
Check your sheets; I’m in the next race!" she yelled, a little annoyed
herself. An argument with an official was the last thing she wanted now.
But that’s the men’s single race!" His face bore distinct incredulity.
Preposterous, he thought.
That’s right. I’m racing the men today," Adel stated as though
it was the most natural thing in the world.
Thank God!" a female rower yelled to the laughter of the others at the line.
Adel looked around, trying to erase the conversation from her mind. The bright
blue sky was laced with scents and sounds of the lake. A huge decorative fountain
was off center in the lake, and gulls whirled about and screeched as though it
were spewing French fries. The water was serene with a light, steady chop. The
slight breeze would serve as a helpful tailwind for the rowers. Mallards and
black swans mingled with spectators on the banks as the rowers watched the referee—each
with quite different feelings on the issue.
There were eleven rowers in racing shells—five males and six females—each
waiting for their respective race, or so it had seemed. The females had all maneuvered
their long, sleek shells into their lanes. They backed their boats to starting
positions and began inhaling deeply, then forcefully exhaling as they made final
preparations of their bodies. All, that is, except Adel Blair—she didn’t
go to the line. She placed her oar handles between her knees and abdomen and
folded her long, muscular body forward on her sliding seat to relieve her ever-sore
Self-assured determination exuded from her unruffled face outlined by wavy, golden-brown
hair pulled into a ponytail. Were it not for her racing sunglasses, one would
see the resolution in her eyes. That she was going to race the men that day was
never in doubt, even if she had to row unofficially.
Adel could see the referee turn to the other officials on the float-boat. They
were checking papers and speaking to each other with a variety of gestures and
Outrageous! Absurd!" the referee protested to the others. "Who does
she think she is?"
There’s no rule against it," the lone female official reminded him. "It’s
an ‘open’ event," she explained. "She can race."
After much turmoil, the referee turned to face Adel and raised his megaphone. "Have
a good race, Ms. Blair," he said with deliberate emphasis, confident she’d
be clobbered by the men. This was something he’d never seen in his forty-year
association with the conventional sport of rowing, but she’d get what she
He turned to the five lady scullers and polled them to ascertain their readiness. “Are
you ready? Row!” came his harsh starting command.
Adel watched from the side of the course as her friend Annie Jakes predictably
pulled ahead. Then she refocused, visualizing the effort she’d need to
accomplish her own unthinkable challenge—beating the men.
Copyright © Patrick C. Crowell 1995-2004.
All rights reserved. Rev. 3-2