Everyone has them.  It may be that we have more of them since a rower’s appetite for tee shirts is only second to her appetite for carbs.  

When I started rowing in the ’70s, betting your shirt was a tradition for the men’s programs.  If you lost your race, you handed the tank or shirt that you were wearing (the uniform back then!) to your counterpart in the winning crew.  It was common at the end of a regatta to see guys with armfuls of spoil, and many more washing boats sans shirts.   Women’s crews decided to trade instead of bet--teams tried to design a shirt that other programs would covet. 

 Betting of shirts was eventually replaced by trading for the men too. Now it is not unusual for teams to order up to hundreds of trading shirts.  I understand there are even sites for the trading of unisuits—makes me nostalgic for the days when it was a face-to-face transaction.    

 Nobody though ever traded away the one shirt that had to be earned.   In my case, it was the outrageous (at the time) ScrewU shirt.  I’m sure every program has or had one like this—a shirt that shouted scrappiness; defiance; with an inside joke that to us seemed so fresh.  This is my oldest and most treasured scrap of cotton. 

And then there are the clubs I trained with and raced for, followed by exotic international threads--exchanged during the trading frenzy at the end of the regatta.  I have scratchy wool from the Russian bow seat, a tank with the felt letters ROMANIA hand-stitched on the back.  There were so many more men than women in the ’80s, and many of my international shirts came off the backs of lightweight men who needed a gift for the woman in his life.  There is a universal language in these situations when “Change?” opens up more than your kit bag. 

But here’s the rub.  I can’t possibly wear them all and they take up space.  Yes, I relish the memories of each one, and the stories behind their acquisition, but there comes a time when we just have to move on.  This is not an easy process. What to do with them? Goodwill just doesn’t seem right for a shirt that says Olympic Training Camp 1984.  Or the USA Rowing Team 1982.  Who will appreciate them the way I do? 

I create piles. I sort and re-sort.  Decisions are made and then reversed.  Finally, though, I say goodbye.  Washed and folded, these will go to one of my local rowing programs, for their kids.  May they enjoy these truly retro prizes as much as I did! 

April 08, 2019 — Joline Espraza

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