Rowing incorporates a great deal of sacrifice. It takes a certain kind of athlete to feel their lungs burning, their body flooding with lactic acid, and know that there is still more to give, and that until they cannot move, they have not given enough. Rowing is a sporting environment in which you must conform to the expected levels of pain. Every day someone is training with some form of pain, but you get on with it because others expect it of you, and you expect it of yourself. If you let pain defeat you, you let yourself down, your teammates down, and your coaches down. The expression “pain is temporary…If I quit, however, it lasts forever” seems very apt.
Rowing is one of the most physically demanding sports in the Olympic programme. It requires strength, strength endurance, and power. Whilst rowing 84% of the body’s musculature is employed, and the aerobic capacity required is enormous. Rowers have recorded some of the biggest lung capacities, highest VO2 maxes, and highest lactate tolerances of any athletes.
Whilst the general public see rowing in its grandest form at regattas, what they don’t see is the year-round punishing work. A rower will choose to withstand levels of pain others would crumble in the face of, it’s just part of the sport, it is just what they know. Despite its steady growth in popularity, in rowing there is no stadium, no bright lights, no packed crowds, a lack of funding. There is very little of the glory that comes with other sports. When all is said and done, there are no guarantees, you can give everything you have, be in the best condition possible, make all the sacrifices, and still lose. Ask many rowers why they put themselves through what they do, and they will struggle to give you an answer. Struggle to tell you why they make the sacrifices they do. Yet, the ecstasy of crossing the line first is enough. It is one of the only sports in the world in which you can see your opposition when you’re beating them. There is no vindication like it.
I have been involved in team sports from a young age, but rowing is nothing like any other I have been a part of. To know what it feels like to be perfectly in sync with the other members of your crew, to feel the boat perfectly balanced on the water, to feel the water run beneath you, and know that this couldn’t be achieved without that synchronicity. There is a certain level of respect for your teammates, and even your opponents, that comes with knowing the pain they are choosing to put themselves through for their sport and often for you.
A typical day in my final year of University was waking up at 5:45am, completing the first training session, heading to lectures and the library for the day, going back for a second session around 6:00pm, then heading home, all whilst trying to maintain some form of social life. My decision to stop rowing having graduated from University was a relatively easy one. 8 years of ceaseless training, 6 years of managing a back injury and yet, rowing remains one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Rowing taught me what it really means to be uncomfortable, to be pushed truly out of your comfort zone, emotionally and physically. I have heard rowing being called ‘a sport for masochists’, and racing, ‘a race to destruction’. It is knowing the hole you must put yourself in and choosing to do so day in day out regardless. It is working hard when nobody is watching and learning to demand more of yourself than others will. Rowing often gets a bad rep and it is not a sport that many can understand. It gave me an edge that I will be forever grateful for.