The pain wall, veteran rowers call it. It hits every race if you're doing it right. It all looks pretty from the shore when an eight-oared shell gets in sync, but those rowers out there at the Dad Vail Regatta on Friday and Saturday are building lactic acid by the stroke, and eventually they lose the ability to clear it.
They're at the pain wall, no way around it.
"After that, you're just hanging on for dear life," said Temple men's coach Gavin White.
"I think that's what I live for," said Temple rower Fergal Barry, in the No. 4 seat of the Owls varsity eight. "I moved halfway across the world for it. You're fighting for your life. It's do or die at that stage. All the training you've done, you kind of throw out the window. The burn in your legs, the feeling that you have nothing left."
His coach mentioned that Barry's nickname is Beast.
"He's not a real pretty rower," White said of the junior from Galway, Ireland. "He's just tough."
White got all the proof he'll ever need in the emergency room at Temple University Hospital on St. Patrick's Day 2012, of all days. The Irishman, the latest in a string of Irishmen who have rowed for the Owls, had ridden his bike down to the Schuylkill just before 7 a.m. To this day, he doesn't know what hit him.
"A woman hit him and kept going," White said. "She had his bike stuck under her car. The bike was bent under the car."
Barry had gone flying in another direction.
"He was about two blocks or three blocks ahead of the other guys. They always go down in bunches," White said. "They get to where Ridge [Avenue] crosses Diamond [Street]. They see this body against the fence. They couldn't tell who it was. He was covered in blood. He was knocked lulu."
White got a harried phone call and rushed to the emergency room.
"I'm walking through the emergency room. I walked right by him. I didn't even recognize him," White said. "I never saw anything like it. The skin just under his knee was folded all the way to top of his sock. You could see bone and muscle."
Plus there was a concussion and four teeth knocked out.
"I bit through my gum, so I think my chin must have hit the car," Barry said. "My face must have planted there."
"He was pretty drugged up," White said. "He said to me, 'Coach, I'll be back Tuesday.' I looked at the nurse. She just shook her head."
White was impressed that they were able to stretch the skin and get it back in place. The coach had assumed Barry would need a skin graft.
"They let me out at like 3 o'clock that day," Barry said. "I thought I was perfectly OK. They called me back on Monday. I had torn my carotid artery. They brought me straight into intensive care. They kept me in the hospital for the week, put me on blood thinners. I still have to take aspirin forever."
Barry, who had learned to row on the River Corrib that flows through Galway, had been invited to join Ireland's under-23-year-old national team.
The accident "kind of threw that out the window," Barry said. "That was hard to take."
Otherwise, though, he kept his head. He missed two weeks of classes.
"I think I was happy to be alive," Barry said. "I think everyone else was mad. I remember talking to my brother in Australia. He was freaking out. Nothing I could do. What's done is done."
He got back in a boat last summer at home, rowed for the first time for Temple late in the fall. He was out there Friday racing twice on the Schuylkill, rowing in one of the power seats as the Owls varsity eight easily advanced to Saturday's semifinals, finishing first in an afternoon heat.
The boat is a young one, and wherever the boat finishes Saturday, nobody questions its ability to overcome obstacles. The entire program still is run out of a tent - a roomy tent, sort of a mega-tent, but still a tent - because the city won't donate land to build a new boathouse if Temple can't donate an equal amount of park space, which Temple does not have to donate.
On a list of obstacles Barry has personally overcome, the lack of an indoor shower and permanent boat rack by the river's edge is not exactly at the top.
Asked whether he was back to 100 percent, the rower was true to form.
"Near enough," he said.