It’s Never Too Late: Lakeside Crew is Not the Answer

You have seen them around campus. They huddle in small groups. They compare the sizes of their quads and the calluses on their hands. They spend most of their time complaining about land workouts, then attend three days of it each week. I used to be one of them. But now that I am free, I want to share the inspirational story of how I escaped the Lakeside crew cult alive. Barely. 

As I sat down to write this piece, I did not know if I would be able to finish it. I shiver just thinking about all the long evenings I spent on the rough waters of Lake Washington. I got no sleep for months. All I heard when I laid down at night was the repeated shrieking of “I Want It That Way” that I endured every day on the bus to the boathouse. I re-envisioned the moment I witnessed a terrified sophomore on the novice team get pushed out the window because she asked them to stop singing. 

When I first joined crew, I was blissfully unaware of what I was getting myself into. Fresh from my first rowing experience in eighth grade, I was even excited to join the team. My perspective changed during what I thought was the first practice of the fall season. As soon as the bus pulled into the boathouse that first day, we were coldly greeted by a group of hooded figures in Lakeside Crew splash jackets. They ushered us around to the back, where a small bonfire was set. We sat there in petrified silence for hours. Then, just as the sun sank below the horizon, the hooded figures pulled girls soccer jerseys out of their bags and tossed them onto the now-roaring flames, chanting something I could not understand. That night, we burned the uniforms of six different Lakeside sports teams, including football and lacrosse. It wasn’t even lacrosse season, so I’m not sure where they got those. Over the eight months I spent on crew, we completed this ritual seventeen times. By the fifth, I got pretty into it. I did not realize the error in my ways until after I was saved.

April 22nd was the most difficult day of my life. As school ended, I walked slowly towards the crew bus, dreading practice yet somehow thirsting for it. While crossing the football field, I spotted them. My family and friends, gathered in a tight circle, were awaiting my arrival. It was an intervention. For me. I had heard rumors of such blockades happening when people got too far into the cult, but I didn’t believe them until I experienced it myself. I can’t quite bring myself to recant the experience, but I can tell you that I never got back on the crew bus after that. If I had stayed for even one more practice, I don’t know if I would ever have been able to escape. 

Now, I am free. Lakeside life outside the cult is wonderful, but the transition was difficult. Soon after I quit, I was checked into the Rowing Overdose Foundation for Lakesiders, or ROFL, an underground foundation created in 1978 after the first case of post-crew hysteria was observed. So, in case you were wondering where your tuition is going…

I attended ROFL meetings before school three days a week for an entire month. With me there were 16 other students who had quit the same season. (They will be kept anonymous to avoid retaliation from the cult leaders.) Meetings included hour-long detox sessions where we listened to calming music and focused on activities such as crocheting and watercoloring. During group therapy, we discussed readjustment as we returned to normal things like maintaining a social life and not being in constant existential agony. After that month, I graduated from the program. As I reentered society, I was forever grateful for those who helped me realize the pain I was in. I have healed. 

As I speak out about my story, I would like to extend a hand to anyone who is going through the same thing as I once did. I escaped the Lakeside crew cult, and you can too. It is never too late to make a change.