Sometimes we get opportunities in life that present themselves, that give us back way more than we expect. I recently took part in the annual “Parent’s rowing regatta”, organized by my teenage daughter’s school. As a mother to rowers, including both the men-children a few years back, and now my daughter (AKA Sister of a Man-Child), I jumped at the chance to learn how to row and get out on the water.
There were a few reasons I was keen to partake:
- Firstly to actually give it a go – I know if it had been offered at my all girls school many years ago, I would have jumped at the chance. As it turned out, it was introduced just a few years after I finished school – who knew what a massive sport it would turn out to be for girls (and yes like too many things, the boys were already well established in the sport).
- Secondly, having heard my daughter talk about some of her experiences on the water, the stunning sun rises, the sense of gliding on the water on a crystal clear morning in Melbourne, the view of our city from the river, I wanted to experience that unique point of view for myself.
- And thirdly, having dropped our kids to so many early morning training sessions over the years (yes 5.30am on the river is very early), I guess part of me was keen to understand just what all the fuss was about.
So off I took myself, with another three willing rowing mums, for our first Parent’s Regatta. We arrived with a sense of excitement, trepidation, anxiety and most of all fun. After a short briefing, and ensuring our colorful wigs were in place (yes the Parent’s Regatta wasn’t limited to making yourself look stupid rowing, you also looked stupid by dressing up), our journey commenced.
We met our coach, a lovely ex school girl and rower, who had volunteered to take on our motley crew for the morning, and our cox, a current student and rower, who admitted, when casually asked, that she had never coxed before, therein introducing a moment of slightly nervous panic by the crew, especially since they are responsible for STEERING the boat people!!!
One of our key questions of the coach/cox and other parents who had participated before, was whether or not it was possible we would end up tipping the boat or falling in the Yarra River. None of us wanted this to happen, firstly out of sheer embarrassment, but also because the Yarra River isn’t exactly the healthiest of water ways to be submerged in. Of course they assured us it wasn’t actually possible to tip the boat (kind of a white lie) and that only those who stood up in the boat were the ones who had fallen in previously. Note to self – DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES STAND UP IN THE BOAT.
So off we went to commence our journey. First things first, grab some oars, and get the boat on the water. Yes, this was the real thing, there wasn’t a boat pre-prepared and waiting for us to daintily step into, ready, for our first foray at rowing, no, we had to do it all ourselves!
And so the learning began. I can tell you, our kids make it look so easy, carrying a rowing scull above their heads, and gently placing it in the water, attaching the oars, all set for rowing. But what I now know is that those bloody boats are HEAVY (especially if it’s an old wooden boat like the one we were using, not a new sleek, light weight fibreglass model) and AWKWARD to carry and hold, and damn near impossible to place delicately into the water. And for we people with short arms, that stretch to attach the oar isn’t an easy task people!
So after much patient instruction by our coach and cox (God, they must have thought we were useless), we finally found ourselves sitting in a real rowing scull, on the river, holding two oars each and praying we wouldn’t tip over and end up very wet (and embarrassed).
Over the next hour, they taught us the basics of rowing. And trust me when I say, the rowing machine at gym does very very little, in fact nothing, to help you know how to row once you are doing the real thing. The rowing machine doesn’t wobble un-nervingly when four women feel slightly off balance, the rowing machine doesn’t have two oars that need to move together, but somehow also overlap, and hit the water at exactly the right angle, and then also lift above the water oh so gracefully (we weren’t even TRYING to feather our oars – that’s a whole other skill). The rowing machine doesn’t need turning, which requires a unique combination of one still oar and one moving oar, akin to tapping your head and patting your stomach. And the rowing machine doesn’t have another three people on it, all rowing at different rates, and accidentally hitting your oars and “catching crabs”.
Yet, with all of the above, do you know what happened? We actually, finally, by some amazing stroke of luck, managed to get our boat moving down the water, with four of us rowing mostly in sync, and actually “rowing” (okay, I will use the term loosely here, but hey, at least we were moving downstream). We had our wonderful coach running beside us on the river bank yelling instructions and encouragement, and our fabulous cox doing the same, whilst also steering the boat and accounting for our very uneven stroke rate and technique.
We had two “races”, if you call a couple of sculls racing each other down the river, over a measly 400 metres, with a very rough start line a “race”, and one win and one loss. But for us, no-one was a loser on the day.
And after a couple of exhausting hours on the water, we finished our session, pulled the boat out of the water, washed it, and put it away, before enjoying a champagne brunch with the other crews (yes it was a PARENTS regatta). 🙂
So after all that, what exactly did I learn?
- Rowing is hard work. It’s not just the physical rowing part, add to that the boat management before and after, when your muscles are already tired, and you’re lifting a large vessel and it’s a solid few hours of very physical work.
- Rowing is NOT easy. With a new insight into the technique required to row, all the things you need to think about, and co-ordinate, not just yourself but in sync with the rest of your crew, I am in awe of my three children. They made it look so EASY to keep your back straight, push with your legs, pull with your arms, twist the oars just so every stroke, perfectly dip the blade in the water for maximum impact, then delicately feather the blade above the water on its return. All without catching a crab, smashing the oar handles together, catching them in your ribs, or hitting your team-mates oars.
- Rowing is a team sport. If you want a lesson in team work, look no further than rowing. To excel in the sport, it takes absolute precision in team work, that I think no other sport can claim. When you have a crew who are rowing at the same stroke rate, with the right technique, with consistency, you have a great rowing crew. And if you don’t have the FULL team, whether that’s a crew of 4 or 8 plus the cox, you can’t row. Simple, end of story. No other sport is so reliant on the contribution of EVERY member of the team in every race, and at every training session to achieve their end goal.
- Rowing looks good on your CV. Both my boys have had several prospective employers comment about their rowing and the many perceived benefits. Discipline, reliability, sense of team, physical demands, drive, competitiveness. All attributes an employer would look for in a future employee.
- Rowing is addictive. The feeling of achievement from contributing to the propulsion of a boat down a river is amazing. The view from the seat of a scull, looking up at the banks of the Yarra and beyond on the wonderful city of Melbourne, is fantastic. I can only imaging how serene a still, calm, fresh Melbourne morning must be when you are rowing. Add to that the sense of physical achievement of a job well done, muscles aching from strain, but knowing you have worked your body hard to achieve results, with the subsequent release of endorphins, of course it will make you feel good.
- Rowing is a community. My daughter has commented about the amazing sense of community that she shares with others, not just her crew and coach but the entire rowing cohort. It’s a very tight-knit community and crosses many year levels, all hugely beneficial in my mind.
- And lastly rowing is FUN. I had an absolute ball having a go at rowing. Our team had so many laughs on and off the water. We were all very competitive, and determined, but it wasn’t about winning, it was about participating, and achieving something personally and as a team. If time permitted, I would love to do more of it – but fitting it into an already hectic schedule and making the commitment to a team just isn’t possible right now – and that’s hard for me to admit, but hey, sometimes you just have to say no.
So in the interim, I will enjoy being a rowing mum for another few years, continuing to embrace all that rowing means (early morning training drop offs, rowing breakfasts, regattas, extra training sessions), watching with awe and a deeper appreciation as my daughter rows her way downstream, and probably (much to her embarrassment) cheering even louder and harder for her, knowing she is putting it all on the line and that the team are doing an amazing job rowing. 🙂
Any other rowers out there who share my pain and/or joy?
I’ve written about rowing before back when the men-children were rowing.