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Row, row, row your boat…

Posted on: May 31, 2011

I promised an update on my progress at rowing. For the last few Saturdays, I’ve been arriving at the Nepean River at the ungodly hour of 6:45am, hopping into the tiniest and wobbly-est boat you can imagine, and rowing. And rowing. And rowing. 16km, over two sessions. 16km!! Then we go to the gym to lift stupidly heavy weights (well, I lift tiny baby ones while the others lift stupidly heavy ones). This, they promise me, will build up my ‘rowing muscles’. Yes indeed, there is a sub-category of muscles that are reserved just for rowing. You don’t know they’re there until you use them too much (lifting said tiny baby weights), and then discover that you can’t actually move at all for days afterwards.

Each week as I drive down to the river, I question my sanity. Why am I doing this to myself? There are other ways of getting fit. Other, perfectly rational, non-threat-of-getting-chucked-into-sub-zero-water activities, such as soccer. Or Wii Fit, which wouldn’t even require me to step foot outside. Why am I even contemplating going anywhere near that water? Go back home, you idiot! But then, just as I am on the brink of turning the car around and sprinting home to my nice warm bed, I remember one thing. It’s bloody fun!

I’m even improving, I think. My recovery rate is anyway. Recovery rate being the number of days it is before I am able to sit on the floor again. Put on my shoes. Brush my hair. Pick up my kids.

The blisters are a killer, though. I’m developing some pretty ugly calluses on my hands, but this doesn’t stop new blisters from forming right on top of the ones from the previous week. Ouch. I’ve developed a new style of driving for the few days it takes the blisters to stop hurting. I call it fingertip driving.

But it’s not all pain! I’ve seen more of the river now than I ever had before. Once you get past the populated area (ie the posh water-front houses), the river feels completely different. The bush-covered mountains march right down to the riverbank, and you can hear parrots and lyrebirds calling in the trees. I’m told there are platypuses swimming in the narrows, too. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, especially when the sun is rising and the sky is just lighting up. It’s also breathtakingly cold up there. The narrows act as a wind tunnel, sending frosty air straight through you. Actually, you don’t notice it much if you keep moving – rowing is sweaty work – but if you stop to rest for too long, you’ll know it. Our coach measured the air temperature at 1 degree celsius last Saturday. Gulp. I hate the cold.

And it’s not even winter yet. Okay, tomorrow it is, but so far it hasn’t been winter yet. Which reminds me, I can’t think of anything more stupid than taking up a sport like rowing in winter. I’m only learning, so I’m bound to fall in lots before I get better. I could have at least timed my period of falling in lots for when it was warm. Stupid. Yet, I’m hooked.

Luckily, the coach seems to sense my sheer terror at the thought of going swimming at 7am, and so has kindly put me in a double scull each time. This significantly reduces the chance that’ll I’ll fall in, but doesn’t eliminate it all together. Doubles are wider and heavier, so they are more forgiving of any mistakes you make. I’m not kidding when I say that the single sculls I’ve rowed in have both been narrower than me! The seat, which slides back and forth, actually sits just below the side of the boat, so that when you sit on the seat, your thighs are hanging over the side! And you don’t need thunder thighs for this to happen, either. So you can imagine just how easy it is to tip over. If you look at it the wrong way, it will tip over. When I say this sport is fun, it’s really of the scary-fun variety. The threat of hypothermia keeps it real.

But I am having fun. I’m enjoying learning new skills, gaining confidence, getting fitter, meeting new people, and spending time with my sister. We joke about songs that we sing to ourselves as we row. Row, row, row your boat being an obvious one. She sings “How long, how loooooong will I sliiiiiiiiiiiide?” (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), while I sing Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the water”, in reference to the fog we row through on those early mornings. In fact, there are so many songs that make allusions to rowing, that I’m beginning to suspect that most songwriters must row in their spare time. For example, Powderfinger’s lyric “Waaaaaaaait for me, we’re pulling it together now” is clearly about a rower who is struggling to keep time with his or her team-mates, as I did when I was unexpectedly put in a quad with three teenage boys who were in a hurry! There are others but I can’t think of them right now. I’ll put them in another post when I do.

So, while I’m definitely infatuated with this sport, I’m still not sure whether I’m ready to commit. You see, sooner or later it’s going to rain. And rowing down the river in the rain, in winter, with the ever-present risk of literally becoming one with the river… well, it just may be too much for me to handle right now. Let’s hope for clear skies for at least a little longer before my relationship with rowing is put to the ultimate test.

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