Posts Tagged ‘Girl on the River’

The first symptoms appreared as I lay in bed last night, wide awake and twitching. My mind was racing, my heart was thumping and every few minutes my stomach lurched. Thump-lurch, thump-lurch, thump-lurch. I could feel the adrenalin coursing around my body. Exactly a week before my first regatta of the season, I had my first bout of regatta nerves, and it’s not going to get any better until the siren sounds and the first race is over (at approximately 3.21 p.m. next Sunday).

I’m a little shame-faced about the depth and intensity of my fear. I am, for goodness’ sake, a grown woman who’s had her fair share of life experiences and prides herself on being fearless and feisty. Heck, I’ve even given birth twice so it’s not like I can’t handle pain.

But there it is. Thump-lurch, thump-lurch. Thump-lurch.

The fears crowd in.

What if I mess up the start? Thump-lurch.

What if I come off my seat? Thump-lurch.

What if I … oh, dear God… catch a crab? THUMP-LURCH!!

If it were just me on my own, I could probably cope with the potential for disaster and humiliation, but the thought of messing it up for eight other people… thump-lurch-thump-lurch-thump-lurch.

So be gentle with me this week. And someone please tell me I’m not alone in my suffering. Think you’re immune to the fear? Here’s a handy little test to see how you’re doing…


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It all started, as these things do, with some idle Twitter chat with Matthew Pinsent about masters rowing categories.

“Went rowing with duffers this morning”, announced Pinsent.

“Define duffers,” demanded Girl on the River (extra coxing duties this week having brought out my bossy side).

“Ah”, said the Great Man. “C is seasoned, D duffer, E endangered”.

“I daren’t ask what you’d think of F”, spluttered David Biddulph.

The answer, as I might have expected, came from the Monmouth RC ladies’ rowing squad – from one of our Fabulous, Fierce and Feisty Masters F women.

“Matthew Pinsent hasn’t met the Monmouth Women’s Squad – yet!” she said.

“C is for ‘Cool, Collected & Competitive; D is for ‘Determined & Deadly; E is for ‘Energetic, Elegant & Explosive’ & F is just ‘F…ing Fantastic’. ”

So if you ever find yourself tempted to dismiss masters rowers as, well, duffers, know this. The, ahem, senior rowers may have the odd wrinkle, but we’re not ready to hang up our rigger jiggers yet. After all, we’re not called Masters for nothing.

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It’s been a while since I’ve recommended any rowing blogs, but there’s a new kid on the block that I simply can’t ignore. Rowing Journal, the brain child of photographer Iain Weir, aka Shutteritch, is a truly democratic rowing blog, set up “to give you a platform to voice your opinions, experiences, observations or simply to pose a question to the rest of the rowing community.” Anyone, it seems, can join and post on it, and my goodness, they have done.

Now this was a pretty risky strategy. It could, let’s face it, have been dreadful. Let the world at large say what they want, unfettered by the rules of the river or even the rules of grammar, and the results could be grim. But here’s the thing. Rowing Journal has turned out to be a really classy read. Funny, controversial, at times infuriating – everything, in short, that a blog should be. I don’t know how it’s moderated – perhaps it’s self-selecting, the rowing community being made up of mostly excellent people. Either way, it works.

Posts range from totally recognisable rowing stereotypes to thinly disguised rants, with even the occasional motivational love-in. My personal favourite to date: “I just need to move my footplate, hang on” – a lament that had me laughing, as they say, out loud.

All of which is pretty annoying for a fellow rowing blogger. I would have loved to tell you that as rowing blogs go, it wasn’t nearly as good as Girl on the River, but sadly I can’t. It really is worth a read. Just promise me one thing. Now that I’ve introduced you to the younger model, you won’t go and leave me for her, will you?

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It’s M.E. Awareness Week and I don’t want to let it go by without at least a nod in its direction. As Girl on the River fans will know, I fell prey to this tricky and pernicious condition around the turn of the millennium and it wiped out a good deal of my thirties; it also brought a fairly promising legal career to a feeble end.

My road back to health was travelled in baby steps – a bit of gentle walking was all I could do for a long time – and if you’d told me, when I was at my lowest ebb, that I would end up rowing competitively I simply would not have believed you.

Rowing, if you think about it, is a preposterous sport for a diminutive, featherweight 40-something with a tendency to feebleness. I’m fairly certain my doctor – had I asked him – wouldn’t have recommended it. And there are times after a hard outing or a killer of a race when I question the wisdom of a sport that demands so much.

But what can I do? The river has me in its thrall. And there is something about the extreme nature of rowing that keeps me coming back for more. If I can row I know that I’m better.

And here’s the thing. If I hadn’t had M.E. I would never have made the changes in my life that enabled me to start rowing. I’d have been Girl on the Underground rather than Girl on the River. That has to be a trade worth making.

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So Dwain Chambers and David Millar could be competing for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, despite being banned for doping offences. The Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) has decided that a lifetime ban by the British Olympic Association does not comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency code and is therefore unenforceable. This has caused a big kerfuffle in the sporting world, with clean sportsmen and women understandably feeling outraged that the good name of their sport could be tainted. Yet I can’t help thinking that it’s the right decision.

Of course, nobody wants to give the nod to doping offences, either directly or indirectly, and I can quite see why sports people who have always scrupulously competed without chemical assistance should be upset. But I can’t get away from the notion that everyone – including sports people – should be allowed to serve their time and then get on with their lives and careers. They made a mistake, they’ve paid the price, so now let’s see what they can do without the drugs. Test them and retest them and then let them compete properly, like they should have done in the first place.

This isn’t a popular point of view, so let’s hear what you’ve got to say about it. Should Dwain Chambers and David Millar be allowed back in the fold? Are the Olympics tainted if they compete? Should doping always lead to a lifetime ban or is everyone entitled to a second chance even if they’ve fallen prey to the temptation of taking drugs? Girl on the River has had her say: now it’s over to you.

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So, at last – after two long years of disappointment and frustration – I finally had my first win. Anyone who’s been following Girl on the River will know what a big deal this is for me, for it’s been a long time in coming. It was, in fact, the first race of any sort I’d ever won. Ever since that first sports day when, aged 5, I came last in the 20 metre sprint, I’ve been the one thundering along at the back with the Tail End Charlies. But not this time. This time – at last – I was in the winning crew.

Or was I? Because here’s the thing. I’m not actually sure if we did win.

We were racing in the morning division and had to leave before the results were posted. We had families to feed, work to catch up on and even lambs to deliver (we be country folk). It had felt like a good, strong race; we’d kept time, maintained a good rating and felt OK about how it went, so most of us were happy to leave the results ’till later. We weren’t going to be in line for a medal either way as the event only handed them out where there were three crews in the category.

By the time we’d got back home, we’d convinced ourselves we’d lost. We’d been up against a club that often beat us, and even allowing for a hefty handicap (we were Masters D to their Masters B), we weren’t at all sure we’d caught them.

But then, just as we arrived back at the club, the text came through. “You won!”

I was walking on air. All the doubts and anxieties about my rowing miraculously melted away and for a glorious 24 hours I finally believed that I could cut it as a rower. I was up there with the Big Girls in the squad. I wasn’t – as some have ungenerously suggested – a jinx. I was a bona fide, proper rower with a win under my belt.

I floated through to the next afternoon, when I thought I’d check the results to see how the other crews did. And that’s when the bubble burst. There, in black and white, was the name of our opponents on the leaderboard. It seemed we hadn’t won after all.

I’m still waiting to find out what happened. Did someone misread the preliminary results? Were we the victims of a clerical error or a slip of the keyboard? Or was the race given to our opponents by default because we’d skipped off home? I just don’t know.

Of course it shouldn’t matter. In an ideal world, my confidence and happiness would not rest on the results of one obscure race towards the end of head season. And maybe one day, when I grow up, that’ll be how it works. Until then, though, be gentle with me. I’m still dreaming about the one that got away.

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After several long and frustrating months away from rowing, I finally got back on my beloved river this weekend.

During my time away I’ve learned to love running (something I never thought would happen), have gained in fitness (I’ve also learned to rest) and have admired the river from the banks. But nothing – really, nothing – is quite like the thrill of gliding along next to the swans on the smooth, glassy water.

I was a bit nervous about my first time back. Would I be able to remember what to do? Would it feel exhausting, painful, uncomfortable, ridiculous?

Actually, it just felt right. More than right, it was exhilarating.

Admittedly, it was cold – one of those ice-on-the-blades mornings – but what’s a bit of ice between friends? If a lump of the cold stuff is good enough for my gin and tonic (and it is), then it’s good enough for my blades.

The next few weeks will, I hope, see a gradual return to rowing strength, thanks to my amazing physio, Richard Coates. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s back to business. Want to raise a glass to that?

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