Crazy to think that 7 years after I first ventured out on the water with ROW, I was back at it again today for a rather chilly and wet–but fun–boathouse and launch orientation for coaches and coxswains. Today had me remembering that first time I went out on the water in an ‘Eight’ and that first summer crewing with ROW.
Here is a repost of my November 2015 piece reflecting on joining ROW and my first water season as a Novice rower.
Sunday Morning Winter ROW Practice
- Where: ROW HQ at the Bridgeport Arts Center
- When: Bright & Early
- Perfect Work Out Tunes: Sunday Morning Soul on Spotify
Temps in the teens, but rather than hiding out in bed under the cozy covers, I was at ROW HQ on time for my first Sunday indoor workout of the winter season. The fact that it was so bright and sunny outside after our first snowfall of the season made the drive worthwhile.
- 5 minute warm up on the Ergs
- 2 sets of 10 lunges & 2 sets of 10 arm presses using a PCV pipe
No big deal. People start new things all of the time. Except this has been a big deal, this whole ROW thing. Joining in March, ROW has been a HUGE addition to my life. At 47, I’ve joined a team (without any prior experience) and support group composed of amazing women and fantabulous coaches and I’m learning to use and strengthen my body differently. I am in better shape than I have been in years and I’m starting to think that I could call myself an athlete rather than someone who has well-rounded athletic abilities.
Never underestimate the importance of walking your dog(s) and talking to other dog owners/walkers on your strolls. How random–yet life changing–was talking to Joan one day in March about ROW while out walking Bleu.
Active Work Out:
- 4 sets of 10 minutes of erging (2 minutes at the following rates: 18-20-22-24-20)
- 2 minutes of rest at the end of each set
Set 1: Novice Row
The initial challenge was simply learning what the darn sport was about as well as the names of other members of the team–or at least the names of the other novice rowers in ROW 1.
While on a sailboat you face the bow from the stern, but rowing in an 8-person shell is the opposite. You sit facing the stern, facing your coxswain (who IS facing the front or bow of the boat). The 8 seats are assigned numerically from 1 to 8 with 1 being the bow seat and 8 being the closest to the coxswain and called the stern seat. We had to learn about a boat’s layout and the difference between a starboard and port oar. We had to learn certain terms right away to keep us safe and not mess up the boats. We learned we always need to shut up when the coxswain or coaches are talking; where the shaft, blade, and handle are on an oar; what is the importance of the foot pad (so you don’t go through the hull); and how to properly tighten the gate on the oarlock (so the oar doesn’t pop out). We learned to row on the ‘square’, which helps keep the boat stable and ‘set’–especially for newbies–and a couple of weeks before we had our first sprint race in July, we learned how to ‘feather’ our blades, so we could go faster.
And we learned each others names while bonding over the whole novice learning process. Mary, Elizabeth, Margaret, Katie B & Katie C, Donnie, Paige, Debbie, Sarah L & Sarah M, Diane, Sheila, Sandy and Crista were all with me throughout the whole first season. All of us were connecting while becoming rowers, bonding over a shared sport–and our individual experiences with breast cancer.
We also bonded with our super-fantabulous, amazingly perceptive and supportive coaches–Jenn, Devlin, Sheena, Barb, John and Andrew–who challenged, cajoled, nudged, and literally carried the weight (of the boat) for us.
What a high to be out on the water with a group of strong women, exploring a part of the city I had never experienced, and finding a new passion. What fun to become friends with these ladies over the course of the season!
Set 2: Chicago Sprints
The sport of rowing is a great workout and an excellent way to develop community while working together as a team. That teamwork at the high school or collegiate level also includes working together to compete in races. ROW isn’t only about breast cancer survivors learning how to row, getting a great workout and finding support through the shared experience of rowing. There is also the option to race together and there were enough of us ROW 1 novice rowers interested in racing together that we were able to put together a Novice Team of 8 for 3 races this season. Seriously???? Most of us are at the age where we are watching our kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews compete, not families and friends turning out to watch us race. When I raced in sailboats in my 20s and 30s, we had camaraderie, challenges, teamwork, etc., but people didn’t come out to see us race. This is different. And weird. And…
The first race we participated in was the Chicago Sprints, a 1000 meter race along the Lincoln Park Lagoon in early July. Those of you familiar with Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive have probably noticed the lagoon while driving between North Avenue and Fullerton.
To prepare, we learned to ‘feather’ our strokes and had extra practices added to our schedule where we practiced in the seats we had been assigned by Coach Sheena. We didn’t race until Sunday, so I went up to watch ROW 2 & 3 racing on Saturday to not only show support for our more experienced rowers, but also to check out the course.
It was ROW 1’s turn on Sunday.
Our race on Sunday turned out to be an epic fail. And an epic win. Early in the race, my oar came out of its oarlock and in trying to get it back into its proper place, I caught a crab, where the oar handle comes back at my chest and I had to duck. We had rowed a 1000 meters up to the start without incident, so I was in shock when everything fell apart. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry because I was so embarrassed that something like this had happened to me. But this is where the epic win came in. Our coxswain wouldn’t let me quit. She calmly had me and Margaret in the stroke seat hold up so that I could get myself together while the other 6 members of our team continued to stroke towards the finish. It worked and by the time we passed our support group, we were back to stroking in unison.
We finished as a team. Nowhere near a record time, but we finished. While waiting to dock, I started to melt and feel like a horrible failure. I never wanted to row again and wondered what insanity made me think that I could row in the first place. But then a funny thing happened. We got to the dock and all of the coaches congratulated me on finishing and catching my first crab and not quitting. They told stories of their own major rowing mess-ups and somehow managed to put my catastrophe in context. They made me realize that it’s not all about the race or winning, but persevering through the mishaps and challenges that inevitably happen. The accomplishment is in finishing and seeing the race through. I ended the day on a positive note, a win. And appreciated what being a member of a team can actually represent.
Set 3: Milwaukee & Rowtoberfest
Thanks to the support of our coaches and my teammates, I didn’t quit racing after the drama at the Chicago sprints. I went on to race a 4K at the Milwaukee River Challenge in September and another 4K at ROWtoberfest in Chicago in October. Both are considered ‘Head Races’ where boats in their respective divisions race separately. They are usually “conducted on a river with an assortment of bridges and turns that can make passing quite interesting.”
The Milwaukee River Challenge was my favorite race of the season. The weather was great; the rivers we raced on were a hub of activity and people cheering on the boats; I was able to meet up with my good friend Yvonne (who lives in Milwaukee); and Terry took some awesome photos of the race and racers. And it finally sunk in for Terry that I was doing something kinda cool with this racing thing. Who would have thunk it?
While not quite having the ‘last weekend of the summer’ feel to it that the Milwaukee River Challenge did, Rowtoberfest was a fun, challenging and invigorating experience as well. It was chilly, however! Twenty-five years younger, my second cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend was also competing in this race for the first time with his college and it was fun to have family at the event.
Set 4: Wrapping up Season 1
ROWtoberfest was my last race of the season–and the last time I was out on water during 2015. As if the season isn’t crazy enough on its own, the plans to build a row house in Bridgeport have finally materialized and we ended up having to relocate in early October so construction could begin. ROW’s Executive Director Jenn and Operations/Program Coordinator, Devlin went above and beyond to make the transition as smooth as possible–and succeeded brilliantly! Can’t wait until next fall when we get to move into our new boat house!!!!
As we have entered the winter season, there has already been the annual ROW gala where we were all able to glam up and ditch our rowing gear. We also had the opportunity to do one-on-one coaching meetings with our coaches to review our progress and set goals for the new year that were very helpful. Now the hard work begins: the winter indoor season.
- 5 minute row at a relaxed pace
Commuting to my new job each day, I drive over the Chicago River, at a point we have rowed to a couple of times. The river is looking cold, especially with the snow this weekend, but still inviting.
I’d love to be out on the water, rowing with my Krewe. But that will have to wait. It’s hibernation season for ROW.