Row, row, row your boat
It is rarely disputed that I was rather inept at team sports as a youngster. Whether that was because I simply favoured solo sport over team sport and missed opportunities to develop those skills or because I was naturally well suited for solo sports and thus excelled at them is really a moot point. I don’t like team sports so I’m not good at them and I’m not good at team sports so I don’t like them. Whatever. Give me the choice between going it alone or trying to make it on a team and I will always choose the solo endeavour.
Cross-country skiing and running, track and field, canoe/kayak and speed skating filled the glorious free time of my youth. Save for the odd experiment with soccer or touch football to satisfy adolescent social pressures, when it came to sport I was happiest alone in my own element.
Some might argue that solo sports such as these – where repeating the same movement over and over and over again, to the point of sheer exhaustion, simply trying to go fast – are boring. There is little excitement by way of goals scored, dramatic interceptions or heart pounding, edge-of-your-seat overtime. I suppose that could be true, but to me there was a simplicity and beauty to these sports that fed my intense desire to improve, and ultimately to experience that rare, elusive moment of Zen.
It is not surprising, then, that the first sport I’ve fallen for since retiring from speed skating is yet another monotonous, highly repetitive, endurance based, pain-inducing sport – rowing.
Gently down the stream
It took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that I joined the Adult Rec program at the rowing club, and not the Masters or Competitive Program. I resisted the urge to take it up in earnest, partly because they train at 5:00 – AM! – but mostly because my body appreciates me now.
Instead of constantly pounding away no matter what the circumstances, these days I don’t go hard unless I feel like it. I don’t spend inordinate amounts of time in unnatural positions that strain my back. When it comes to working out I do what I want, when I feel like it. For the first time in eons I feel fit, healthy and rested. I have no pressing need for therapy of any kind. This is ridiculously refreshing after a life of massage, physio, chiro, osteo and obscene amounts of acupuncture.
And that’s what the Adult Rec program is all about – show up if you want, go easy if you want, go hard if you want, go for beers if you want… I fit right in.
merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Mostly when I’m rowing I feel happy. My body and mind thrive when learning to master technical skills. The pleasure sensors in my brain are hardwired for this kind of work. That I’m not pushing to extremes on a daily basis as I once did in speed skating has no doubt enhanced my enjoyment of being out on the water with a motley crew looking for some fun. Having said that, when the challenge of how hard I can go presents itself I’m more than happy to jump on board and give it all I’ve got.
Interestingly, I have some of the same technical bad habits in rowing that I did in skating. I laughed out loud the other day when Coach Kate told me to relax my shoulders – Coach Xiuli would have been so proud!!
Rowing, like skating, is relaxed power and what a glorious feeling it is to find the optimal blend of the two. I rarely feel this in the boat, thinking instead of the endless new technical cues I’ve been taught and trying not to tip the boat in the process. But every once in a while I square my blades early, catch the water just so, and explode with my legs at the right time… in my weird world that feeling is characterized by one little word: awesome.
Life is but a dream
As I’ve slowly watched my old life drift into the distance, letting go of everything that once defined it, on the surface at least – medals, the Olympics, the pursuit sport of excellence – I’ve steadfastly held on tight to the important things that made that life so worthwhile in the first place. Learning to row has reconnected me with what drew me to sport as a kid – the intense desire to improve, and ultimately feeling that rare, elusive moment of Zen.
The other night as I watched the junior rowers enthusiastically load the trailer with boats, bubbling with excitement for their regatta the next day, I was wistfully reminded of the days when I was seventeen too, with Olympic fantasies flooding my future and reams of potential waiting to be seized. But I already lived that life and it was a dream.
In another life, in another dream, I know I could have been a rower. That’s big talk from a speed skating has-been and probably a big load of bull, but a girl can dream can’t she? I know it’s true that I will not go to the Olympics or ever be a world champion in the sport of rowing, and that’s well, just fine. The interesting thing, as it turns out, is that these days I am living another life, another dream, and in it I am, in part, a rower.
p.s. In my other life, I lived this video. Coach Xiuli was just like this and she was the best.