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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rowing my own boat

Some eight months since an operation on my wrist, broken after a fall (poetically, and in slow motion of course) off a horse, today I finally returned to an important activity in my life - rowing.

Rising at 4.30 am (a late start compared to some rowers), I headed off to 'the shed' at Brisbane GPS Rowing Club with some trepidation.   Rowing is a technically difficult sport.  You need strength, co-ordination and concentration.  How would I fare?

After a warm welcome back by my many rowing buddies, soon I found myself in a 'single', being pushed off from the pontoon while I braved a slightly choppy Brisbane River.  (I was crapping myself as I didn't want to fall in thanks to recent news of increased bull-shark activity).

As I wobbled my way through the initial crossing, my healthy right hand clearly favouring my wounded left, I pondered the correlations between my favourite sport and life.

Being in a 'single' is certainly a metaphor for my current situation.

It's a craft that is difficult to navigate without practice and experience.  It is arguably one of most challenging of the configurations.  In a single, every element of the rower's stroke must be well executed as otherwise, it can be very uncomfortable... and wet!

There is certainly a deep self awareness you achieve as your brain processes the many tiny movements that are required to achieve a 'perfect' stroke.

When embarking on a journey in a single after some time away from it, the waters can seem particularly challenging.  You wonder if you an remember how to 'do' this.   But after a while, with practice, when you realise it's all coming back to you, you wonder what you were worrying about.

The best bit is the smooth water you encounter when you travel down river.  You seem to move effortlessly.  You almost feel like a pro.  It's sweet and you remember why you love it:  this single life.

It's very different from the double life.  When two people are in a boat, co-ordination and communication are everything.  Two must work in harmony in order to tango.  Roles are assigned and must be respected:  the lead is the stroke; the bow must navigate, shouting orders to align your vessel correctly.  In the thresh of a 'piece',  eyes are ahead and you are quiet in the boat, focusing on holding your form and maintaining the momentum you need to go the distance.

But sometimes, in a double, if your partner is tired or weak, things can be tough going with one having to pull a little harder.   It is awful when you are out of rhythm.  What might usually be an 'easy' row, becomes quite arduous.

In these moments, tolerance and commitment is needed.  Because if you have been training together for a while, you understand that not every day can be a good day for everyone.  Sometimes, it's a bit of hard going but you compensate, you rally on, you motivate each other, you aim for the finish line, because you are a team!

Of course, the 'single' is very much different from a double, much as in life.  In one, every component of the exercise is controlled by the individual.  Should disaster strike, well it's your own fault.  It is you who are master of your own vessel.  Therefore, generally, in a single one is more observant and aware, as there is no one to compensate for a wonky stroke.  In the double though,  to be honest, sometimes you can 'switch off', especially if you are tired and it can be the case that one is working harder.

The best thing about a double is that there is someone else with you to look out for you. And, should there be misadventures, you will always have a story to share of how you struck that rock and all Bronwyn could offer was 'Shit, Shit, Shit!'

Of course, perfect co-ordination is what rowers seek.  For the smoothest row, doubles partners must work in sync, sometimes anticipating their partner's intention.  The best doubles partners have practiced regularly together.  They work together for a mutual end.   They are beautiful to watch.

You stick with your partner and certainly never 'eye off' the passing singles with a view to a different liaison.  Strong doubles teams in rowing are created out of loyal partnerships with, often lifelong friendships resulting from the hours spent together, navigating sometimes difficult conditions with a view to best performance.

In real life, I am hoping that soon I will be in a double again with my partner, Mandy.  (I am pleased to report she has been rowing in a quad in my absence and has not 'partnered' up with anyone else.  I mean, that would be devastating!)

But alas, where life is concerned, my next double may be years away... if ever.

Because I have only just returned to my single having spent over nearly half my life in a double.  I need to get comfortable in this configuration again so I can one again 'groove' my skills.  I need to build up my stamina and know how capable I am in rougher conditions which, quite frankly, occur much more frequently than smoother ones, as is typical of my life.  Only then might I make a decent double's partner, who is actually able to work with someone else in my boat who can, preferably, 'go the distance'.  (Not easy to find; the world is overrun by selfish weaklings, alas).

The good thing is that, if I choose to row a single,  I can row whenever I want.  No one is relying on me and, if my alarm fails to ring tomorrow, hey, I can have a good sleep in and no one will care.  Ain't no one gonna be wondering where I am.

There's a real freedom in that, don't you think?

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