Rowing: Double Sculls

Since last week, an unfamiliar yet not altogether unpleasant feeling has taken hold of me – I think I might have found The One. I’ve spent hours thinking about it, planning our next date and what I’ll wear, and generally picturing our future together. I might be jumping the gun a bit here, but to quote Chaka Kahn, track cycling, I feel for you – I think I love you. There, I said it.

I’m completely gripped by my enthusiasm, so much so that I’m in the process of researching my first ever bicycle purchase. And it literally will be the first bike I’ve ever bought myself and in fact properly owned, given that all my bikes as a child were hand me downs from my brothers. I’m excited about this development, so much so that I flirted with danger AGAIN this week, taking to the streets of London for an induction, of sorts, courtesy of my mate Joe.

Apart from that one time I cycled to Waterloo from Kennington (which is a 5 minute journey) on a Boris bike with medal table giant, Gemma, and medal table absentee, Sophie (she lives in Brussels, to be fair) after we’d had probably too many pints (which was very silly, sorry Mum, if it’s any consolation, I spent the whole 5 minute journey repeatedly saying you’d be really angry with me if you knew), I’ve never cycled in London before.

You hear a lot of bad stuff about the tense relationship betwixt cyclist and motorist on London’s mean streets plus I’m scared of buses in this particular context (not generally – that would be odd) and, as is now well documented, EVERYTHING, so I was quite nervous about this. But Joe works for Sustrans, who are all about the cycling, which really does make sense for a number of reasons if you think about it, so I figured he’d be a reliable source of cycling knowledge.

I’m pleased to report that no drivers or cyclists were injured over the course of what turned out to be a three hour jaunt around South West London and actually, all the motorists I encountered were far more forgiving of my terrible cycling than they really had any call to be. So, thanks London motorists, I still think you probably don’t need to drive within Zone 1, but then I’ve never even had a provisional driving license, so probably not the best judge of such things.

The day before my cycling adventure, I’d been on a river-based adventure in the Berkshire wilds of Marlow, for a spot of rowing. In discussion via email with bezzie, Katherine, about my planned weekend activities, she advised that I should avoid “catching a crab”. Had it not been Friday afternoon,  I might have asked her what she was banging on about. Alas, it was late in the day and I’d been suddenly consumed by irrational, hormone-driven preoccupations around my friends secretly not loving me anymore, so I just thought she was being a bit weird, to be honest.

There are rowing clubs in London, but I’d approached Marlow Rowing Club because it’s associated with some quite good rowers – Britain’s most decorated female Olympic Athlete, Katherine Grainger,  2012 Olympic sobber, Zac Purchase (we all felt bad for you, Zac) and OLYMPIC ROYALTY, Sir Steve Redgrave. Also, my mate Simon, who you’ll remember from events such as Archery and Beach Volleyball, is from the area and pointed out all of the above information.

Simon had also alerted me to a statue of Sir Steve in Higginson Park, which I track down for a photo. They’re obviously proud of Sir Steve in Marlow, and his 5 gold medals which are etched onto Sir Steve’s neck, and apparently his, er, physique. I winced a bit on reading, from the accompanying plaque, that the frigging Queen had unveiled this statue.

Oh Steve, put it away will you?

Alright Steve, put it away will you?

I’d been to a rowing taster session at Barnes Bridge Rowing Club last August, where you may recall I had an awkward encounter with Daley Thompson *cringes*. I quite liked it, but hadn’t gotten out on the water, so I was keen to have a go, though a little apprehensive about the stability of the vessels that proper rowing types get out and about in.

Ray, one of the coaches at Marlow, has very kindly offered to give up part of his bank holiday Sunday to convince me that rowing could be my sport. It’s a beautiful day and it’s a pretty picturesque place to row, the scene tarnished only by the fire-ravaged club house, which is still undergoing repairs after being completely gutted in 2011. I’m proudly informed that the team were racing – and winning – within three days of this incident.

Marlow Rowing Club - it's nice!

Marlow Rowing Club – it’s nice!

We’re joined by Aliki, today, who’s enrolled in Marlow’s Learn to Row course, but has missed a session and is keen to make up the lost time. Ray promptly sets us up in a boat, which, to my untrained eye, really is ludicrously proportioned. It is apparently a lot wider than a proper racing boat, but it doesn’t feel it when you’re in the water, and it’s also a lot longer than you would think it needed to be.

I clamber into the boat with very little grace, it must be said, but I don’t fall in so I’m already doing better than I could have hoped. We’re instructed to move the oars around a bit, without actually rowing, to get used to the motion of the boat. Lifting one wrist higher than the other has an alarming impact on this, and I feel incredibly precarious. As Ray goes about sorting out the “launch” (a motorised boat which he will travel in, alongside us), we chat to some of the newbies hanging around, who do their best to compound my fear with tales of someone capsizing just the other week. Aliki asks how this happened, to which he responds “I think they just caught a crab”. Is this an actual thing? I kind of thought Katherine had meant quite literally catching a crab on my oar, or something. I’m grateful when Aliki asks him what an earth he’s on about and it transpires, it’s something to do with oars not being where they’re supposed to be. I’d have paid more attention if I hadn’t been a. terrified and b. wondering how Katherine knows of this rowing terminology.

To start off with, Aliki is doing the bulk of the work and I’m acting as the stabiliser, which is ironic given the slightest movement causes me to panic and move around more. I’m pretty impressed by Aliki’s efforts given this is only her third session. When it’s my turn and the boat doesn’t appear to really move, apart from to lurch wildly and unpredictably as my oar consistently hits the water at the wrong angle, I apologise to Aliki for what I can only describe as abject terror.

Stabilising - I'm fine with it

Yep, pretty serious about stabilising

Aliki has to get going, so Ray joins me in the boat and now I’m going to be the one putting in the graft. I’m pretty much used to the motion of the boat now, so I feel a bit more relaxed, apart from the occasional tense run in with some motorised river dwellers.

I’d secretly hoped that rowing might be my sport, because you can be getting on a bit and still be an elite rower, so this had seemed like one of the more “feasible” Olympic prospects. Apparently, good rowers tend to be tall, because their height advantage means they can reach further and get greater leverage in the water. At 5’8”, I may be above average height, but I’m still dinky in elite rowing terms where your average woman would ideally be 6’ tall. My Olympic hopes dashed, I set about proving Ray wrong by really going for it. I’m considerably stronger than I was when I started this project, and we seem to be moving reasonably well with this additional effort, but I’m still really quite slow and I keep bashing my hands on the oar handles (“There will be blood” Ray had warned, ominously, and he’s quite right, there is a bit from my knuckles).

Still stable, really very stable.

Still stable, really very stable.

I quiz Ray about the reputation rowing has as a bit of a “posh” sport. The kit is very expensive – £6k for a brand new, top of the range rowing boat, he tells me. Perhaps this is why I’ve only thought of this as a sport that’s taught at “posh” schools, though this is apparently no longer the case. One fairly crucial requirement is access to a river, which I suppose might add to property value and therefore the general affluence of an area, but hey, I’m very fortunately not Kirsty Alsopp, so who knows. Marlow, however, strikes me as a pretty inclusive club – it only costs £300 for a year’s membership, which allows you full use of the equipment as many times a week as you want. By my rudimentary calculations, this is considerably less than many people would spend on a year’s gym membership, and it’s a far more pleasant way to exercise on a sunny afternoon.

I was exceptionally lucky with the weather and my coach, it’s fair to say, but rowing makes it into my top five sports so far, possibly even top three. Track cycling was always going to be a tough act to follow, but I could definitely see myself having another go at rowing, too. Not only did I enjoy my afternoon, but given the lack of competitors I’m taking home a joint gold medal with Aliki, this week, and I do love me a hypothetical gold medal.

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

Jen

10

13

2

25

Gemma

3

3

Jade

2

1

3

Nick

2

2

Uncle Becky

1

2

3

Pete

1

1

2

Harriet

1

1

2

John D

1

1

2

Aliki

1

1

Chloe Rogers

1

1

Colin

1

1

Dalston Dunkers

1

1

Daniel

1

1

GB Handball

1

1

Grant

1

1

John T

1

1

Naomi

1

1

Otter Water Polo

1

1

Romford HC

1

1

Ruislip Eagles

1

1

Simon L

1

1

Steve

1

1

Su

1

1

Vera

1

1

Simon M

2

2

Nic

 1

 1

 2

Ali

1

1

James

1

1

My Mum

1

1

Nancy

1

1

Joss

1

1

Olly

1

1

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