(Another reason) Why you need a working cox box

Below is an email I received from a coxswain who wanted to share her experience of coxing without a working cox box. I will never understand programs that look at cox boxes as an option rather than a necessity or say that sending them in to be repaired, serviced, whatever is too much effort, too expensive, etc. Cox boxes are expensive, yes, but so are boats and oars and riggers and you rarely, if ever, see programs so flippantly write off issues that arise with them. So … why are cox boxes any different?

“I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I have seen several stories and questions about not having a cox box. I just wanted to share my story about not having one.

My freshman year of high school I decided that I wanted to try out for crew. I was put as the coxswain because I was one of the smaller girls. At the start of the season, our team had 4 varsity 4s (coxed) and the novice team had an 8 and 2 extras. Between the time the season started and when we really started to learn how to row effectively, more girls had joined which gave the novice team an 8, a 4 (coxed), and an extra. The eight was the worst boat and I was given that boat because the other coxswain was better than I. I didn’t have any problem with that because I wanted our team to be fast.

Since our freshman year (I am now a sophomore) both the other coxswain and I did crew in the fall and spring of freshman year and fall of sophomore year. This spring season however, she decided that she wanted to do lacrosse. Now I am going to get to cox the second boat – in the fall I was in fourth boat because there are only 2 experienced coxswains. But my story really starts with the eight novice year.

Our school has a total of 8 boxes. Box “A” is the newest and the best. Box “B” is the next best. Box “C” is third best (and mine for this fall season). Box “D” is fourth best. Those are the four varsity boxes. The novice boxes aren’t named because they change hands ever year. One of the boxes that we have really does not work at all but another one works fairly well. The last box, my box for my novice season, did not work in the eight or the novice four and was just really staticky in the varsity boats. I brought this up to the coach and he said that there was nothing that we could do so I should just try and yell. IN AN EIGHT. I some how managed to make my self heard and when the other coxswain and I switched halfway through the year we kept our boxes because at this point I was pretty good at projecting my voice so my rowers could hear me. Now though I was in a bow loader four.

At some point along this path I had developed a cough that sounded uncannily like a goose. Like not even kidding, the geese on the dock would honk back at me. Now this cough didn’t really bother me, it was just part of who I was and it didn’t hurt. My rowers though told me to go to the doctor. Being a silly fourteen year-old, I did not connect the cough to the coxing so I continued as normal. Fast forward through the winter (during which I play ice hockey) and the spring season (when I decided that I wanted to try rowing for some unknown reason). My cough continued but was less noticeable. Spring season ended. At our school spring sports end before finals start and at the end of the two week finals I get a cold (right before my oral Chinese final…). Of course along with a cold comes a cough. At first they were just normal coughs but towards the end of my cold they turned in to the dry deep coughs I refer to as my “goose cough”.

I took the first two weeks of summer off from doing anything and my cough continued. Soon though my summer job started up. At my summer job I biked 7 miles to a pool and then helped with swim lessons for the morning. I also knew that I was going to take the life guarding course at the end of the summer so I started swimming laps. I used to be able to swim laps with pretty good stamina but now I started getting out of breath after one lap. This shortness of breath continued throughout the summer and continued getting worse. Eventually at the end of the summer I had to go to the doctors for my regular physical. I mentioned my breathing problem and my doctor said it will probably pass and not to worry about it so I didn’t. Well a couple weeks later I’m back for some reason and I mention that it had gotten worse and she was able to hear me cough because I had been slightly sick. Without running any tests she “diagnosed” asthma and prescribed an inhaler, which didn’t really help. I went back to tell her that and she put me on another inhaler that was every morning and night rather than as needed like the other one was and yeah, it really didn’t help. It made me dizzy, tired, and was such a hassle.

Now school starts again and my breathing gets to the point were I am out of breath when walking down the hallway and I simply can’t do stairs. The crew team decides to go run Harvard stadium for a workout and the coxswains decided as a group that we would do this workout with the team, so I took along my inhaler. To warm up we run once around the stadium. I used my inhaler and tried to jog with them. I managed to get around but it was a very big struggle. We start to run the stairs and I do the first section with lots of problems. By section 3 I have to take the inhaler again because I physically can not get air in. I made the decision to stupidly do at least half of all the sections because … I was stupid. I took probably 8 puffs by the time we were done with 30 of the sections. Cut to the car ride home and the entire way I could not breathe. My mother was close to turning around and bringing me to the emergency room. She didn’t but made an appointment for me with a pulmonologist (lung doctor). He had me do a bunch of tests and when they gave me the asthma medication they normally used, my breathing capacity went down. So they gave me the proper tool to use the inhaler with and sent me on my way with a follow up appointment in 6 weeks.

I go back in six weeks and – surprise surprise – the medications are not working. They take me off them and suggest a possibility that had not previously been discussed. They asked me if I had ever misused my voice for extended periods of time and I was like “yeah try the whole fall season my freshman year.” They said I most likely had something called vocal chord dysfunction where the vocal chords actually close when you try and breathe, making it feel like you can’t get any breaths in. This perfectly described my situation and they put me on a different medication that mostly worked for the first couple of weeks (as in I no longer get out of breath walking down the hall) but I am still not completely well. I go back in two weeks and they will probably change my meds to better fit my needs (probably a stronger dose or something). And who knows, I might not ever be completely better. My breathing problems at one point made it so I was afraid I was going to faint while walking to chemistry class.

DO NOT LET ANYONE COX WITH OUT A BOX BECAUSE IT MIGHT CAUSE PERMANENT DAMAGE. I shared this story because I wanted to tell someone how dangerous coxing without a box is. By the way, love the blog, it has definitely helped me improve. Thanks for reading.”

I know I’ve talked to several of you recently via email about similar breathing/coughing issues so if this isn’t something you’ve already explored as the cause, I’d talk with your parents about it and make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you’re able.

Thanks to the coxswain who I sent this in, I appreciate it and I’m sure other coxswains (and their parents) will too.



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