Throughout elementary and middle school, I was never the most athletic person in my class. I enjoyed being outside and playing on the playground, but when it came to playing any sport that involved a ball, I knew immediately that it was not going to be something I’d be good at. Sports just weren’t really my thing. I was most comfortable indoors either playing with my dolls or fighting with my sister over whose turn it was to use the computer to play Club Penguin.
Although I wasn’t the most active child, I was still interested in outdoor activities. I liked biking, swimming, rollerblading; things that didn’t require me to kick, hit, catch, or throw a ball. When I got to eighth grade though, it seemed like everyone I knew was either on the track, volleyball, soccer, or basketball team and I was still walking the mile every year in PE.
I went to a gifted school for kids in grades 2-12 and although we had middle school sports, we had no official high school sports teams. Because of this, the local club rowing teams that were close to the school were widely popular among my friends and peers. Even though I had always known what rowing was and that a lot of people in my grade did it, I had never given much thought to actually signing up for the team.
Everything changed when one of my best friends told me that she had recently joined. I immediately decided to join the middle school team with her when I realized that rowing might actually be a sport that I could be good at since it didn’t require me to come in contact with any kind of ball or bat.
Although rowing isn’t a sport that requires much coordination, I was surprised and shocked to find out how difficult it was to simply learn how to row a boat. In addition to being technically difficult, it was also hard to get used to the intense workouts that we did, being that I was not accustomed to exerting much energy at all.
The following year in ninth grade, I was officially on the team as a Novice rower along with three of my closest friends. That was the year that things started to get really tough. Instead of going to practice two days a week, I was now committing six days out of my week to rowing, along with races, known as regattas, on many weekends. Since there weren’t a lot of Novice rowers on the team that year, we frequently worked out with the girls Varsity team. Those workouts were some of the toughest things that I had ever done; needless to say I was whipped into shape pretty fast.
I think that besides rowing, running was one of the things we did that I really noticed myself becoming better at each time we did it. During the winter training months, we would frequently run four or five miles in a practice, in addition to working out on the erg, AKA the rowing machine. Unlike erging, I never complained about having to run (except maybe on those 98 degree days) and I found that I loved to put my headphones in and run alongside my friends. We would do loops around a neighborhood close to the clubhouse and I was always relaxed during those endless runs, chatting with friends or just enjoying my music.
The friendships that I made on the team are the reason why all of the intense workouts seemed so doable, and enjoyable. In the middle of an erg piece where sweat was dripping from every part of your body and it felt like your legs were going to fall off if you took one more stroke, it was comforting to know that the person next to you was going through the exact same thing for the exact same goal, to win.
Because I have a small build, I was never the strongest rower or had the best times on the erg. Throughout my years spent on the team, I mostly rowed in the lightweight category at races along with my two best friends. In my junior year, we rowed a lightweight four with another girl on the team and had some of the best races I’ve ever rowed in. We made t-shirts and tried to wear matching hats as often as possible in order to bond as a boat, and also because we thought it made us look legit to show up to the start of a race with all matching hats.
Regattas were always the best days to look forward to despite the fact that many required us to take long bus rides and wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to get to the race site on time. But once we were there, it was so worth it to be able to spend the day cheering and racing for your team. Being in a boat in the middle of a race where you’re fighting as hard as you can to be the first one to cross the finish line is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can ever have. It’s even more rewarding when you get the medal you’ve worked so hard for put around your neck at the end of race day.
As time passed and as I could feel myself getting more fit, I also noticed that I was gaining a lot more weight, but in a good way. Since I’m naturally quite a skinny person (I didn’t hit 100 pounds until freshman year), rowing helped me pack on some much needed muscle that helped me look a lot healthier, and I was definitely proud of it.
I could tell I was able to eat a lot more than I had been able to in the past, and I loved it. To be honest though, I was not the most healthy eater in high school. I loved oreos, ice cream, bagels, and Panera mac and cheese especially. I figured that it didn’t really matter what I ate since I was burning so many calories at practice anyway. This is not the most healthy way to fuel a body that is working under extreme pressure, and I do not recommend it, but I didn’t really see a need to change my diet at the time.
One thing that I did change about my diet when I joined was the amount of water I was drinking on a daily basis. In ninth grade I started to bring a water bottle everyday to school to sip on all day and fill up when I needed to. I realized how much I was sweating at practice and how necessary it was to hydrate my body to stay healthy. To this day, I still carry a water bottle around with me everywhere I go in order to stay hydrated and I never drink soda when I’m out to eat or when I’m at home. Making sure you’re drinking enough water in the day was one of the most valuable health lessons I learned during my rowing years.
Junior year was the year that I peaked in terms of my fitness level, I feel, and it was also the year that my friends and I made it a goal of ours to run a half marathon. Because we spent so much time running and doing cardio at practice, we didn’t train at all for the race. The only goal that we had was to finish in less than two and a half hours, just to be safe.
I was surprised that I was able to run the entire race without stopping at all and that we had beaten our goal and run the 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 9 minutes. Coming from not ever being able to, or even wanting to, run the mile in PE, to now willingly sign up for a half marathon and complete it was a major accomplishment for me.
Now that I’ve been off the team for two years now, my level of physical ability has gone down a bit since I’m no longer doing extremely strenuous workouts six days a week. However, I try to get to the gym as often as possible, and usually that’s three to four days a week, which is good enough for me at this point. I’m definitely not the most knowledgeable person about all things fitness related, but I know what works for me and what I like to do.
Unlike my extremely unhealthy eating habits in high school, I now eat a lot more fruits and vegetables and eat my protein in healthier ways before and after workouts. I wouldn’t say I’m a role model for making healthy choices because you gotta treat yo’self every now and then, but I’m a lot more conscious of what foods I put in my body now and how they’re going to effect me.
I think to a lot of people, exercising can seem like such a chore, but for me that’s not the case at all. The time that I’m able to have to myself either working out at the gym or running is time I am spending extremely valuably. Not just because it’s making me more toned or fit, but also because having that time allows me to remove myself from all the stress in life and focus on whatever I’m doing in that exact moment. Or, it just allows me to watch a show on Netflix while I’m on the Stairmaster or listen to a funny podcast while I’m out for a run.
Whatever the reason may be, I have found that because I decided to start rowing when I was in eighth grade and continue it until I was a senior in high school, I now love to exercise, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have as great of a passion in life than that.