Selected for Rowing

I am sitting in the second year maths class. It is a quiet morning. My class is organised into three rows of desks with six desks in each row. I sit at the third desk in the row next to the wall. Notebooks and pencils are uniformly laid out in the top-right corner of the desk in front of each child. The teacher, Mrs Lindner, is speaking and all the children have turned to face her.  

When the door opens, everyone shifts their gaze to the door. Three adults come in. Mrs Lindner interrupts her lesson and takes two steps towards them. They talk quietly to each other. They look serious. Mrs Lindner turns back to us and explains. These visitors are here to see if any of the children would like to join a rowing club in the south of Berlin. She asks us to stand up, next to our chair. The noise of moving chairs scraping the floor fills our classroom, breaking the silence in the room. We are standing and waiting for the next thing to happen. The strangers start to move along the rows of desks. They do not stop at the first bench, but they pause briefly at the second bench in my row. They are looking at Ivo now, my friend. ‘You. Go over to the window’ the woman tells him, pointing towards the teacher’s desk. Then she takes a step back to make space for Ivo. He steps away from his desk, fills the gap the woman just made for him with his body and, without looking at me, hesitantly starts going to the teacher’s desk next to the window. The strangers come to me and Holger. Holger is three months older than me, but visibly shorter. They don’t look at Holger but they turn to me. The woman who was speaking to Ivo points at me: ‘You. Go over to the window.’ I try to read the tone of her voice. Is this good or bad news? I don’t have a clue. I don’t know what will happen to me once I reach the window, but I find some solace in Ivo being there. So I start walking towards him.  

The three adults are walking from one desk to the next, and the little group of us at the teacher’s desk grows to six people. When the three adults finish their round through the classroom, our classmates are allowed to sit down. The woman who told us to go to the window now tells us to stand in a line. Sensing the looks of the others, with no hint of what will happen next, we position ourselves next to each other. The two men walk behind us, in the space between us and the wall where the blackboard is. ‘Lift up your arms,’ one of them says to Ivo, and I see Ivo lifting up his arms. ‘You too. Lift up your arms,’ says the second man to me. I can’t look at Ivo to my right anymore. I lift up my arms. Mrs Lindner and our classmates are watching us standing there in silence with our arms lifted. I feel the fingers of the man on my shoulder, moving up my arms, to the elbow and the wrist.  

‘Bend forwards,’ he says, and a moment later, I hear the man behind Ivo saying the same. I bend forwards, assuming that Ivo would be doing the same by now. Again, I feel his fingers on my spine, pressing my vertebrae one after the other, starting at the neck and ending at the hip. 

‘Alright,’ the man behind me says. ‘Go and wait outside the classroom.’ Together with Ivo, I leave the room. Once the door closes, I ask him ‘What are they doing?’ Ivo explains to me that it has something to do with rowing. I know what rowing is – I learnt how to do it during the last holiday. I can already row a boat with my whole family sitting in it. But what these three adults did has nothing to do with rowing, I think. The door opens and Stefan and Antje, two of my classmates, come to join us. 

When the door opens again, not only do the last two children join us, but also the three adults. In the dark hallway, they tell us stories about the rowing club, about the boats there, and the water, and that they will teach us how to row very quickly. They chose us because we were tall, the woman says. We can become really good rowers as our bodies fit well to the sport. I did not have any sense that my body would fit any sport. It had never occurred to me that in order to do a sport, one body is better suited than another.