It will come as no surprise to the regular reader that I’m not sporty. The rest of the household do lots of things, and the Brother has competed for Ireland, but even before ME struck, my sporting endeavours were limited to walking to work.
Apart from a brief period that is. As students, HM decided we should join the sailing club. We joined the rowing club instead, sort of by accident. It remains a mystery that I lasted longer than 2 minutes. From couch potato to training 6 days a week- running (ha!), weights, the aptly named ‘sweat sessions’ and then actually being in the boat, wobbling on the water. HM dragged me away from the fire at night and I got her out of bed on a Saturday morning. It’s unlikely that either of us would have stuck with it on our own.
Rowing was a most unlikely sport for me; while I was fairly strong, I have always struggled with coordination and balance. It’s hard to imagine what I brought to the crew, apart from heft. Ballast? Most remarkable of all is that I enjoyed it. The hours of training, the blisters on blisters, all amounted to naught. I was on the water, rowing. The unexpected moments where it all worked- when 8 lumpy leaden women made the boat move at some speed; when we could sense the crew working together, physically feel our achievements. We were probably the worst novice crew in the country, but we had fun. I was part of a team- with all the in-jokes, crises, travelling and camraderie that goes with that.
After about 2 years, life and injury intervened. The rowing clubs in Belfast relaxed when I stopped. They could stop with the ‘support’ and the ‘encouragement’ and get on with the ‘coaching to win’. I will always enjoy watching rowing- I admire the effort that goes into making it look easy, the crew moving as one, the power.
This year, the annual University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge was won by Cambridge. That’s not what people will remember. What will last are the images of a man in the river, disrupting the race, and an Oxford oarsman collapsed in the bow, needing hospital treatment. The race was stopped when the crews were neck and neck, restarted, the oars clashed, and Oxford had to row on with only seven blades. Excitement, tension, anxiety. Drama of the best and worst kinds.
photograph from the guardian
Me? Former rower, regular shouter at the TV when rowing is featured? What was I doing during the fuss and drama?
Um, well, yeah. I slept through it all.