Booze and The Body: High and Dry

by Jennifer Garfinkel | 4/11/08 3:26am

For many Dartmouth students, hangovers are no big deal. Your body reels, you curse yourself for drinking too much, but you grab a Billy Bob from the Hop and wait it out.

But for other students at Dartmouth, even a minor hangover can be detrimental.

For this reason, some Dartmouth athletes find heavy drinking and late-night partying taking a back seat to certain commitments: to their bodies, their performance and their teammates.

The men's varsity heavyweight crew team has one of the more drastic alcohol policies on campus, which this year requires team members to forgo alcohol from the end of Winter Carnival until June. And while some athletes around campus might heed their alcohol policies begrudgingly, several members of the crew team spoke candidly to me about their easy decision to abstain in order to train.

J.B. Cholnoky '08 explained that the body has a natural recovery system and adding alcohol into the cycle hurts the body's ability to repair muscles on a daily basis. To perform at their top ability, athletes are better off not drinking. At Dartmouth, the decision not to drink can mean sacrificing a colorful social life, and Cholnoky has had to make adjustments to accommodate his schedule and lifestyle, such as crashing at a friend's place the night before an early practice or race instead of sleeping in his room at Chi Heorot.

"There's just no way you can get a good night's sleep with 'What a Feeling' on repeat at three in the morning," he said. "Don't get me wrong -- it's a great song, but it gets a little old."

Cholnoky, who gave up drinking altogether a few years back, said that he thinks most of his teammates take the team's dry policy in stride, and Mike Knapp '09 seems to be no exception.

Although he couldn't pin a reason why, Knapp said that especially this year his teammates have been "pretty much happy to make the sacrifice."

For Knapp, giving up alcohol for all these months isn't much of a sacrifice at all.

"I like rowing a whole lot more than going out, so I don't really have much of a problem with it at all," he said.

Knapp said that he doesn't feel that he is in bad shape when he's not in dry season, but that while he may not be deteriorating physically he also isn't making gains. It's during dry season, he said, that he sees bigger gains in his ability and performance.

Although he loves the sport, Knapp constantly wonders if he'll look back in 20 years and regret prioritizing rowing in the way that he has during the last few years. But even if his mind changes that far down the line, right now he knows he is making the right decision by putting athletics before partying.

"If I liked drinking more than rowing I'd drink, but I like rowing a lot more," Knapp said.

For some rowers, the decision not to drink has become easier with time. As a senior, Jamie Tansey '08, captain of the men's heavyweight crew, finds that giving up alcohol isn't a huge deal.

"At this point in my Dartmouth career, I feel like the novelty of the drinking aspect of the College scene has worn off," he said. "It's not like I feel I'm missing out on something." He added that he feels better on a day-to-day basis when he's not drinking.

Tansey said he thinks that is team is happy to give up alcohol because it's less about drinking and more about being the fastest you can possibly be -- it's more about an attitude than about having a beer here or there.

"I think when it was explained that way, a lot of guys bought into it," he said.

Cholnoky said that the team knows it has disadvantages -- not many recruits, a relatively small program and long, frozen winters to name a few -- and therefore is good about committing to a dry policy in order to compensate.

"Maybe you have buy earplugs, which I've done," Cholnoky said. "Maybe you have to sleep at a friend's. Maybe you have to go down to the basement and flip tables at 1 a.m. and kick people out."

Whatever it takes, the heavyweight men seem prepared to meet the challenge.

Jennifer is a senior staff member of The Dartmouth.

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