Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness · interview · Rowing

Blog Interview with Tori Murden McClure (author, athlete, adventurer, and administrator!)

Tori Murden McClure is an amazing woman.

She was the first woman and the first American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, which she did in 1999. She was also the first woman and first American to ski to the South Pole and the first woman to climb the Lewis Nunatak in the Antarctic. (See Wikipedia for more.)

McClure is a university president (Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky) and the author of A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean.

Here at the blog, we’re in awe. We read the book. We asked for your questions.

And then I got to interview McClure, courtesy of a blog connection. (Thanks Lauren!)

There’s way too much of me audibly agreeing with McClure in this interview. But it’s the blog’s first video interview. We’ll get better. I promise I’ll never say “right” again.

Enjoy!

Book Club · Book Reviews · Rowing

We’re interviewing Tori Murden McClure: Send us your questions!

Awhile back I posted about an amazing book I was reading A Pearl in the Storm. It’s a memoir (the subtitle is “How I found my heart in the middle of an ocean”) and an adventure story about rowing solo across the Atlantic. Lots of themes in the book about growing up as young athletic woman in a country and at a time when that wasn’t allowed or encouraged will resonate with readers.

Two updates:

The musical version of the book just opened this summer: “Tori Murden McClure was the first woman – and the first American – to successfully row across the Atlantic Ocean. She succeeded in 1999 after an attempt in 1998 was foiled by a hurricane. Her vessel? A 23 foot rowboat she had built and named the “American Pearl.” The story of her accomplishment has inspired the new musical “Row” – with a book by Daniel Goldstein and music and lyrics by singer-songwriter, Dawn Landes.”

And, drumroll please, Tori Murden McClure has agreed to a blog interview! I’ll be interviewing her at the end of September.

SEND ME YOUR QUESTIONS! I have lots of my own, but I’m also collecting questions for the author (now President of Spalding University). We connected through blog guest and fellow feminist philosopher Lauren Freeman who it turns out is a neighbour of the author. Thanks Lauren!

A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean
A Pearl in the Storm cover
Book Reviews · fitness · Rowing

A Pearl in the Storm, #CurrentlyReading

In a Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean Tori Murden McClure tells the story of rowing across the Atlantic ocean, solo, with no motor and no sail.

I loved her story and I recently found out that she’s the neighbour of a feminist philosopher who reads the blog. I’m going to interview her email and post here so if you have any questions for this remarkable woman, pls send them my way.

There’s a lot to love about the book. I’ve been reading it pretty much non-stop. I love the way she weaves in her life story with her harrowing journey in a very small boat amid some intense weather and big waves. Early chapters also tell the story of McClure’s earlier adventures. She was also the first woman to ski to the South Pole.

Also of note, especially for the academics out there. You might relate to McClure’s discussion of her decision to swap her life boat for books to take on the journey. I also loved the food recommendations she received. If you’re starting in good health, it’s okay to eat like a teenager for 3 months. The peanut M and Ms came on the trip.

I found Tori Murden McClure’s story of growing up defending her disabled brother from abuse at school more harrowing than the tale of rowing across the Atlantic. Parts of that story needed a content warning in a way the rowing adventure did not. The assualt story in Chapter 6 was especially difficult to read.

In a different way it was also hard to read the author’s account of the conflict between her early athleticism and being a girl. I suspect many blog readers will relate.

The book is also soon to be a musical!

See ‘ROW’: A Musical Odyssey Of One Woman’s Solo Boat Trip Across The Atlantic.

Tori Murden McClure, A Pearl in the Storm

You might also enjoy watching the TED talk A song for my hero, the woman who rowed into a hurricane: “Singer-songwriter Dawn Landes tells the story of Tori Murden McClure, who dreamed of rowing across the Atlantic in a small boat — but whose dream was almost capsized by waves the size of a seven-story building. Through video, story and song, Landes imagines the mindset of a woman alone in the midst of the vast ocean. “

Aikido · cycling · fitness · Rowing

The joy of synchronous movement

I’ve been thinking lately about what I miss most about working out with other people. I mean there’s the obvious social interaction and pleasure in seeing friendly familiar faces. Working out has also been for me one of the places where my life crosses work and educational lines. Aikido was the best for that. But cycling too. And the Y, of course. I got to chat with city bus drivers, emergency service workers, car mechanics, teachers, cooks, and working at home parents. There are more people in the world than university professors! It got me off campus, placed me in a context where I’m not an expert, and I get to chat with people about non-academic stuff. See, I can learn things too. I like connecting with the student side of myself.

Okay, so there’s all that and it’s important.

But there is another thing that I miss and that’s the pure physical pleasure of moving in time with other people.

Aikido is all about moving in harmony with other people. We do basic movements together as warm up, each person doing the same movement at the same time. We also match our movement to our training partners in a way that can feel at its best more like dance than martial arts.

It’s also one of the things I love about rowing. When I rowed outside, on the lake, I rowed in a four person boat, in the third spot. I followed the women ahead of me, matched my stroke to theirs. It’s a lot harder and more technical than that but it also just comes down to working together. When we were perfectly synced, we moved quickly and smoothly through the water. Indoors, on the erg, it was a similar thing. We worked on drills together and it was always easier for me if I focused on keeping pace with the other rowers.

It’s true too in cycling. If you’re riding behind someone the easiest thing to do is find a gear that allows you to match their cadence. It’s the best way to ride in group, close behind other people, and avoid running into them without using your brakes.

I’ve been missing that in my Zwift team time trials because you don’t know the other riders’ cadence.

But yesterday I did a YouTube rowing workout and while keeping pace with the workout leader I noticed I was smiling. It makes it easier somehow and more pleasurable.

The pleasure of synchronized activities with other people isn’t just found in sports.

It’s true too in music. That’s part of why singing with other people makes us happy.

Synchronous movements is known to form social bonds across divides. See Moving in sync creates surprisingly social bonds among people. It also just plain and simple makes us feel good. “Many group activities boost our sense of belonging, but research shows that doing things synchronously can build even stronger social ties and create a greater sense of well-being. Crew rowing, line dancing, choir singing or simply tapping fingers in sync increases generosity, trust and tolerance toward others, often beyond effects seen in more disorderly doings. It can even increase people’s threshold for pain.”

When people ask what I miss being physically distant from others, this is one of the things. It took a rowing workout to get me to realize that. Who knows what’s next? Maybe I’ll see if there are any good Aikido basic movement follow along tutorials on YouTube.

People in martial arts wear kneeling outside. Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash. I can’t kneel any more but I still appreciate the harmony.
equipment · fitness · flexibility · fun · gear · martial arts · Rowing

Rowing, Multitasking, and Positive Side Effects.

After years of planning to buy a rowing machine, I finally got one a couple of months back and I am thoroughly enjoying using it. 

I love that I don’t have to put much thought into the how and the what of exercising with the rowing machine.  I can use it at any time without having to put on specific clothes and I can choose to have a harder workout or an easier one without having to make a specific plan. 

It’s a kind of automatic exercise for me which is really good for my ADHD brain – there are few, if any, choices to make in advance and that means there are very few potential obstacles between me and my workout.

Plus, I like the very nature of the movement back and forth, the repetition has a soothing element to it.

A person in an inflatable T-Rex costume is using a rowing machine in a small living room.
This does NOT look soothing. I hope I look a little smoother than this when I row. Image description: a GIF of a person in an inflatable T-Rex costume is using a rowing machine in a small living room with potted plants all around. Because the head of the costume is so far above the person’s head, their movements look very jerky.

And, I like that I can do a very specific type of multi-tasking – watching YouTube videos – while I row.

I enjoy learning by video but I don’t often make time to do so. Combining my exercise with videos is a win-win situation – I am doing two enjoyable things at once and my brain and body are both busy so I don’t get any of my usual feeling that I should probably be doing something else. 

I even pick out my videos the night before so there is little between my pyjama-clad self and my exercise session in the mornings. I can get up, let the dog out (and back in!), grab some water, take my meds,  and then head to the basement to row. It’s all part of my waking up routine and it really feels great. 

Speaking of feeling great, my rowing has brought me an unexpected positive side-effect – my hips have loosened up considerably.

A GIF of a cartoon duck spinning his hips in a circle while standing in the spotlight.
Maybe they aren’t quite *this* loose but they do feel good. Image description: GIF of cartoon character Daffy Duck standing in a spotlight with his wings up behind his head, his hips are moving in a very loose circle.

Because of long-ago sessions at the gym, I knew that my arms, back, and legs were going to benefit from using the machine but I hadn’t really thought about how the set  of movements required to row would help my hips, too.  

I sort of have a ‘trick’ hip. It’s mostly fine but every now and then I’ll do something that will wonk it out and it will take me a few days to get it to calm down again.

Practicing kicks at taekwon-do has often triggered my hip in that way but I only realize it *after* I have done it. I’ve done a variety of things to work on it (with various degrees of consistency – I’m still me after all) but nothing has been especially helpful. Until now.

About three weeks after starting regular rowing sessions, our Thursday night TKD class was all about practicing sidekicks and angle kicks. Normally, with a night full of those kicks, my hip would wonk out at some point during the evening and I’d either have to reduce my movements or do something else entirely.

This time, however, I was tired but my hip was completely fine. I was puzzled at first but as I was pulling my leg up and back into position for one of the kicks, I realized that the motion was familiar. It’s not exactly like the position of my leg as I pull all the way forward on the machine but it’s similar. 

I didn’t have any trouble with my hips that night. And, more importantly, I didn’t wake up stiff or in pain the next morning. In fact, I rowed for a bit longer than I had the day before. 

It turns out that my rowing was setting me up for new success with taekwon-do. 

A person rotates on one foot while holding the other leg in the air before doing a high kick.
Okay, this is just straight-up wishful thinking on my part. Image description: GIF of a person standing on one foot, spinning in a circle and then executing a very high kick. Their hair is in a ponytail, and they are wearing a pink shirt and black leggings.

That’s a pretty good side-effect for an activity I was enjoying already. 

Have you ever had one type of exercise ‘accidentally’ help you in another like that?

Tell me about it in the comments! (Pretty please.)

fitness · Rowing

Zoom ergo time!

The saga behind the arrival of our pandemic erg is here. It has since arrived, been set up, and even used.

The new erg, Soul on the TV, and Sam with increasingly long, curly, grey hair

It continues with me refreshing myself on rowing basics, the parts of the stroke and all that.

And then a member of the 221 workouts in 2021 group asked if I know about Zoom ergo! I did not. But I Googled and see that it’s free and that it involves zooming with world champions and working out together.

“Erg together! Getting on the ergo can be a lot more fun if you row alongside someone else. Zoom Ergos has live workouts every day which you can join for as long or as little as you want alongside dozens of others, hosted by Olympic champions, World Champions, professional instructors and clubs.”

I’ll try it out and report back. I might also start doing a monthly 2k erg test again. We’ll see.

Do you have an erg? Do you workout alone at home during that pandemic? What’s your plan? What are you up to? We’d like to know.

Crossfit · cycling · fitness · fitness classes · Rowing

Sam Tries Orange Theory Fitness

It’s January. It’s cold and grey and I’ve been feeling in a bit of a fitness rut. Besides the campus gym I haven’t really stepped out into the fitness world in Guelph. But my options are limited here. There’s less going on than in Toronto where I spent sabbatical and even less going on than in London.

Sarah and I tried out Zwift at the Bike Shed on Saturday and on my own I went and tried out Orange Theory.

I’ve always been a bit of an attention deficit disorder exerciser. I like to have lots of options. And lately it’s been feeling like it’s just a matter of giving things up: running, soccer, Aikido and CrossFit.

Snipe racing is new but it’s winter.

Enter Orange Theory. I first noticed them in London and there’s one in Guelph. I knew the format. Like CrossFit it’s a group workout, a mix of cardio and strength training. I have friends who go and think it’s fun.

I stopped in on Friday for a demo class. I was equipped with a heart rate monitor and my name and heart rate appeared on a screen in the gym. The instructor asked about my fitness background and got points for not even once mentioning weight loss.

As for the class itself, there was a nice gender mix, mostly women but some men. I used the rowing machine and the spin bike instead of running on the treadmill for the cardio bit. I alternated 400 m segments of rowing with 1 mile efforts on the bike as prescribed by the workout of the day. The classes are 1 hour long and that felt just right.

The strength training was mostly chest and triceps using the bench, dumbbells, and the TRX. Each person got their own station. Unlike CrossFit there was no competition and no team efforts. There was no measuring or comparing. I have mixed feelings about that but right now, that works for me.

The instructor also got points for showing me where the heavier dumbbells live!

What did I like? As with personal training it feels good just to show up and have some one else plan the workout. I liked that about CrossFit too. I like the cardio and strength training mix, again like CrossFit. The group vibe works for me. I like that it’s month by month so I could sign up for the worst of winter, say January through March, and then say goodbye and head outside again. It also works with my limitations right now.

I could do without the calorie counts. Yawn.

Have you ever tried Orange Theory Fitness? Love it? Hate it? Tell us your story!

Here’s the results of my workout emailed to me after the class. Lots of time in the green cardio zone but also I was just learning my way around.

competition · Fear · fitness · racing · Rowing

Maybe I’m not actually in it to win it

Have you ever believed a thing about yourself, just fervently believed and adamantly defended it, and then one day you’ve woken up and realized that perhaps what you’ve believed and defended has… changed? Or perhaps was never quite true – not in the way you had imagined, anyway – in the first place?

The-Race-Poem-Children-Race-To-Win

An image of six boys running on a school track; it looks like nearly the end of the race. The boy in the foreground is racing to win; the image is in sepia tone. What does this have to do with my post? Read on.

This story begins back in spring, when I hopped back into the scull at Leander, my new boat club in Hamilton, Ontario, full of keen interest. My bum was not even on the slide yet when I realized that the women I was now training with were experienced, serious, committed, and out to win.

Not that they are not completely amazing humans, balanced and sane and gorgeous, and not that they are not fun, or out to have fun. They are all these things too. And, OF COURSE, not that there is anything whatsoever wrong with wanting to race to win. On the contrary: I love winning. I LOVE WINNING!

Or so I thought.

Rowing with these women started to freak me out pretty much immediately. I was painfully aware that, while I’m strong as hell, my technique in a scull is not honed enough yet to be easy or natural; this is another way of saying that I kept yanking our boats off course because I’m strong enough physically, but still weak enough technically, to be something of a liability. I was hugely embarrassed about this from the get-go, because I knew these women needed an able and consistent teammate. I wanted to be that teammate. I did.

Or I thought I did.

I told myself: I’ll improve over the summer. It will come in time. There’s time! Training consistently will help! I will do the training required.

Then summer rose high, and I had (as usual) lots of work travel. (This is why I rowed much more casually back in London, Ontario, with my delightful and equally casual and fun teammate Jen. For us, the water was pure joy. PURE JOY. More on this later.)

So: despite my best self-talk, I got out to Leander’s regular masters practices much less over the summer months than I’d hoped. Or that I had told myself I had hoped, anyway.

I wasn’t in the boat enough to be improving, and I realized that; I chose not to sign up for regattas in the expectation that I would not be ready.

It all seemed sensible and logical enough in my head: just not quite ready, not yet.

After a while, and a chat with Cate, it dawned on me that something else might be going on – other than me being super busy.

My-Big-Duh

A large “Duh!”. Because, Kim, come on. DUH.

I realized I might be finding lots of excuses not to go to rowing practice, because actually I was scared of going to practice.

I was scared of letting my teammates down. The pressure to improve was destroying the pleasure, the pure joy, rowing held for me.

When I thought about it more, as the summer passed, I realized that I actually hadn’t been all that busy, not really. Actually, I had chosen not to go to many practices, or sign up for regattas, because the thought of racing was making me crazy nervous. The idea of getting to the race was making me nervous. The idea of spending a day at the race was making me nervous. The idea of driving back from the race was making me nervous.

Not because I didn’t want to win a race; don’t be silly. I LOVE TO WIN. But because … well, I didn’t actually want to race.

I realized: I. Did. Not. Want. To. Race. Not like this, anyway. Not now, anyway. Maybe not… ever.

Surprise, self. Surprise.

Autumn arrived, and then my teaching schedule and family commitments meant I could only reasonably commit to one practice a week. And then family health problems arose and made me so tired, so exhausted from the thought of even trying to row, that I just emailed my head coach and stopped. I should have done this long before, of course, but finally I had an excuse that was legit. Or that I thought was legit. “Family crisis!” sounds so much better than “Really just not enjoying it!”

But the truth is, crisis or none, after I emailed Greg I felt immeasurably better, lighter.

I want to be clear here that I’m not suggesting that racing is bad – hells no! If it is your cuppa, please head straight for the starting line! I also want to be clear that I’ve thought a lot about the mixed and complex feelings I was having around rowing practice over the last few months, and I’ve concluded that the cloud of expectation I felt around me about racing was really, powerfully, hampering both my love of the sport (which is real) and my desire to be better at it (which is real, too). I started out telling myself that of course I was going to race, and of course I was going to commit to all the things in order to make that happen. No excuses! But it turns out that hyper-motivator of a phrase was the opposite of motivating for me.

Early in the autumn, the head of the women’s crew and I found ourselves in calm water in the double one Sunday morning. She knew I was struggling but I doubt she knew the depth – almost certainly not, since I had only just begun to admit it to myself. We started talking about the club, its culture, and then I asked her about the Rec program: was it super loosey-goosey and frustratingly disorganized like Rec rowing often can be?

No! She told me. She sang the praises of the coaches and the structure and the fun of it. She told me it was how she had gotten interested in racing, inspired to leap up to masters. I suddenly realized that maybe I could grasp again the joy and fun of the learning that goes into rowing by dropping down to a low-pressure, no-stakes, but still structured and technically focused environment next season. Maybe I could actually develop a true, heart-felt, joy-filled desire to race one day.

Soon, we spotted a heron on the shore and stopped hard for a look. We commiserated about the heat building and the sweat beginning to ripple on our arms. Greg came by in the coach boat to chat about his new super-wicking shorts; we had a laugh and took away a pro sartorial tip. And I remembered the pleasures I take from the boat, when the pressure to perform eases off.

2207933758

A young woman half-sit in her single scull along a lakeshore, looking into a cloud-filled, orange sunrise. She is wearing a white sport top, blue sport shorts, and looks to have her hair in a braid across her right shoulder. This is not me! But maybe, next season, it might be.

See you next season,

Kim*

*This will be my last regularly post for a while. That family health crisis I speak about above is actually, really, a crisis, and I’ll be turning my attention there for now. I hope to write again before too long, though. Thanks for reading.

accessibility · competition · disability · Guest Post · Rowing · SamanthaWalsh

Row Row Row Your Boat Out of Your Semi Existential Funk (Guest post)

by Samantha Walsh

I would like to thank Fit is a Feminist Issue and specifically Samantha (who shares my name) for the opportunity to write a guest blog post.  Over the past two years I have been looking for, and thus experimenting with, new sports and new challenges. The impetus for finding new fitness activities was a neck injury that changed the way I have to participate in sport and activity.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKgFxmdAUbj/

 

A little bit about me

To begin a little info about myself: I am 33, I am doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. I have held positions in both non-for-profit as well as post secondary institutions. I identify as a feminist and have an interest in social justice work.  I also have a condition called cerebral palsy which effects my coordination and ability to walk. I use a wheelchair to get around.   Much of my research and written work focuses on the social position of disability as it relates to class position and intersections of identity.  This blog post will venture in a new direct as a personal reflection on shifting your paradigm and identity.  I hurt my neck two years ago, and had to give up many of the activities I really liked, for a time.  I have been cleared to go back to most of them but, still really struggle to get back to the level of fitness I once had. It was the pursuit of new activities that brought me to rowing; and rowing which shifted the way I think about my own situation.

Row Row Row your Boat But, Wait There’s More

I took a “Learn to Row” from the Argonauts Rowing club in Toronto last year (2015). A “learn to row “is a beginner program where you literally learn to row; I was introduced to some of the rowing lexicon. I was taught how to row with the most efficient form.   During this time I had the opportunity to row a single.  I was also taught about the different adaptations that can be made to a boat to support a disabled rower. For example: A fixed seat so the rower is using their torso and arms, if they do not have coordination of their legs.  In competitive adapted rowing it is my understanding that rowers are classified based on their ability and then their times are compared.

It was also at this time, I learned the beloved childhood song “Row row row your boat”, is delightfully inaccurate, as it should likely include the phrase “Legs, back, arms” or “Oh my hamstrings”. Rowing was a full body workout and unexpectedly profoundly challenging.  I had befriended some varsity rowers during my undergraduate studies and had always thought the sport was neat.  I had wanted to try but, really struggled to find a rowing club that would accommodate the fact I have cerebral palsy and cannot walk. I had shelved the interest until a neck injury, mentioned above, made it difficult for me to participate in my usual fitness activities.  I was looking for something: that was a full body workout; that was social; not a team sport; could be done recreationally and able to be adapted.

Finding a New Sport Not So Easy When You Have a Disability

I started googling…An ongoing challenge I find as a disabled person whom is interested in their own fitness and recreation but, not interested in competition or team sports, is that I really struggle to find opportunities that provide: a challenging and comprehensive workout with a social component.  I find it is difficult for me to simply enroll in a sport ’n social league or other recreational things because, they often assume the participant will be able-bodied. The able body is almost compulsory for joining any sort of recreational sport.  For example: I have able bodied friends who are learning how to curl.  This seems like a great winter sport. It’s a fun game with the tradition of a beer after.  I know there is Wheelchair Curling. I have seen it on TV. However, I cannot find a league near me which supports wheelchair curling, so I do not curl.

I find often when I do find mainstream activities that welcome me and are reflexive to adaptation it is through a friend, a fitness instructor or coach who is excited to have different bodies in their class. I still find that the most common refrain for finding adapted sport is to rely on a team based program such as wheelchair basketball or a rehabilitation initiative. Moreover, adaptive sports equipment is often double or triple what an “able bodied” athlete would pay. For example: Running shoes versus the cost of a Racing Wheelchair. I long to be able to join beer leagues, workplace softball teams and drop in yoga classes. I am at a point in my life where my leisure time is limited. I am not interested in the lonely pursuits of excellene or segregated sports (these of course have their place). This is why, I was impressed to see the Argonauts advertised an adapted learn to row on their website. I was able to join for a fee and with very little self disclosure of my disability.  While rowing is a sport which typically favors those of higher socio-economic status it was a pleasant surprise to find out that the club had an open-door policy in regards to ability. However, I do recognize that it is my own privilege of being employed and having a disposable income that made my adventure in rowing possible.

You Are Only New Once…Or In The case of Rowing You Are New For Almost Two Years….

As mentioned above, I took a “learn to row” in 2015 and then returned for a second year of rowing in an adaptive program in 2016. I was really focused on rowing as a way to get a full body work out. I chose to row a single with a sliding seat that was comparable to an able bodied rower.  The single had pontoons on it as almost a training wheel system while, I learned to balance.  At the end of the 2015 season, I met another rower, Bill  (who was an single leg amputee) at an end of season party.  He offered to row a double with me.  In 2016, I practiced rowing both a double and a single.  While I had really enjoyed rowing a single; I liked the coaching I was receiving and really appreciated the solitude that rowing a single occasionally brought (other times it was a lot of trying not to row into things).  Rowing a double was a bit of a game changer for me.

 The Little Voice in the Back of your head, Or  If You Row the Person Speaking To the Back of Your Head

I had been very happy rowing a single.  The coaching style of the rowing club was one of positive feedback and constant things to build on. I felt like there was an assumed mutual respect. I was not in a subordinate position but, rather someone happy to learn from another person whom was happy to teach. This coaching style was in part why I looked forward to rowing, it was a happy add on to the beautiful scenery and comprehensive workout. Rowing a single though had not yielded me very many social opportunities. I did not know very many of the other rowers and often only spoke with my only my coach on the dock.  Additionally, early on I had told the club I was not interested in racing or competitive rowing. That I would be rowing just to get back into shape. Pleasantly, everyone seemed to respect this. To be fair though a novice rower does not usually compete.

The first night I rowed a double with Bill he made a point to introduce me to everyone he knew on the dock. Each person we encountered he would have a little story for. He would always introduce me with a little quip about losing a bet and having to row with him; or some interesting fact about me. I met a lot of different people very quickly.  In the boat Bill sat behind me doing a lot of the balancing and steering. He gave me feedback on my rowing.  He told me I was fast. He said I was always improving. Bill would go out in any kind of weather. Every time, I said the weather was bad, he would say something about the perfect day never comes. Often, I went with him on whatever adventure course he was set for.  He introduced me to more people. He talked to the coordinator and coaches about my progress.  He told me I should race. An interesting nuance or at least how I understood it.  The idea of racing was not to seize elite status but, to race for myself. Race as a challenge; a way to get more involved in the club; a way to meet more people. Everyone around me was receptive to this idea. I started to work on race starts, and being able to row racing distances.

Race Day

The regatta Bill and I enter was a recreational one hosted by our club. The water was awful that day.  It was windy and choppy.  At one point a coach remarked we would likely not be in the water but, it was a regatta.  But, remember, if you wait for the perfect day you will never go rowing. We rowed. It was too choppy to do a race start. The only goal was to make it to the end and not flip the boat. Just keep rowing!  We made it to the finish line. There was apparently an issue, our time was lost. I am pretty sure we lost. I was not really focusing on other boats just my boat and moving to the finish line.  When we got off the water there was a reception with social to follow.  I rowed a race, I met some new people and I left feeling better than I had in a long time.

Changing the Tide: Rowing as a metaphor for life

As someone who studies the workings of societies and social dynamics it is hard for me to believe that an individual’s success is not the collective sum of their social position and the resources they have access too.  I understand concepts of “positive thinking” or that individuals have total control over their destiny to be deeply flawed mired with classism and an erasure of systemic oppression. While I maintain these assertions to be true; acknowledging that even the opportunity to both try, and then continue rowing is made possible through a complex network of my own privilege and resources. I am forever, grateful that the opportunity to row and to race with Bill has reminded me: not to limit myself through my own expectations. Not to wait for the perfect day to try something and despite the choppy water and the ups and downs to keep rowing best you can; even if you are scared, even if you have to stop for a time. Rowing reminded me of my own resilience and ability to change courses even when the water is rough.  I am forever grateful to the great coaching staff and my doubles partner.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJYf-k3BGKY/

 

 

body image · fitness · Guest Post · Rowing

Strong and beautiful women are “heavy” women – for real! (Guest post)

I’ve been inspired to write this post by two amazing feminist-forward events in the last seven days – one of them local, and one of them global.

LOCALLY – as in, right here on this blog – the smart and beautiful Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany, who is seven years old and also wise beyond her seven years, wrote a moving post about wanting to be “strong” rather than a pretty princess, because princesses NEVER get the chance to save themselves, and because strong is pretty freaking beautiful in a woman. I cannot tell you how much I loved this post, and how much I admired Sage for writing it. Please check it out if you missed it!

GLOBALLY, the (EXTREMELY STRONG AND THEREFORE VERY BEAUTIFUL) female rowers from Oxford and Cambridge Universities made history last Saturday when they competed in the first ever women’s Boat Race on the Thames Tideway, alongside their male counterparts (who have been rowing that storied race for decades, without any commentary on how improper or unladylike such a competition would be). I’ve written a post on my blog, The Activist Classroom, about the awesomeness of the eight Oxford women who won the race – please check it out. Meanwhile, however, and in light of Sage’s wise post, I would like to blow your mind for a moment with an important statistic.

Here is a photograph of the eight Oxford women who crewed the winning boat last week:

boat1

Don’t they look strong and trim and fantastic? Which, for women raised in the world in which I was raised (North America circa the late 20th century), means: They look thin! Which, again, means: they look so small/light/I bet they weigh nothing!!

Look at the image again.

The LIGHTEST woman in this photograph (for the record: Maxie Scheske, who rows in the bow because she is the lightest) weighs 66.6kg – or 147 pounds.

Read that again: the SMALLEST woman in this photograph weighs one hundred and forty seven pounds.

The HEAVIEST woman in this photograph (for the record: Caryn Davies, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, who rows stroke because she is the most powerful and experienced woman in the boat) weighs 78.4kg – or 173 pounds.

That is right. Read it again. ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY THREE POUNDS.

It’s true, folks: strong women weigh, like, more than you think. Because muscle is heavy. And every single woman in the above photograph is full of glorious, beautiful, heavy muscle – that is why they row so fast! Here they are again, in case you could not believe your eyes the first time around:

boat2

Growing up, I was tyrannised by the idea of being too heavy. My mom, who struggled with her weight for most of my childhood, was ashamed when she was overweight, and she was in no way alone – every woman I knew was trying to eat as little as possible so she could take up as little space as possible. (As if taking up space is a bad thing!! ONLY if you drink the patriarchy juice, ladies.) I grew up believing girls should weigh less than 100lb, and grown women less than 140lb (at the most!!), and trust me – I failed this particular test multiple times. So I grew up feeling ashamed, too – even though I was probably a relatively normal weight most of my young life. Today, I am lean, fit, and strong – but my BMI is just shy of 25 (the “cutoff” that signals “overweight”). Why? Because I am an athlete with a lot of gorgeous heavy muscle – not a wasting princess who waits around for a stronger boy to save her.

Ladies, hear me when I say that the eight women who rowed victorious into history last Saturday – along with their eight very formidable adversaries from Cambridge – are the most beautiful women I have seen in a long time. I keep returning to the photos I’ve posted here, because they look so great and I so want to emulate them, in their strength and power and resilience. I ALSO want to emulate them in weighing enough to be strong, powerful, and resilient like them – which means I need to weigh a lot more than you would think I need to weigh in order to be “pretty”. Weight is strength. Strong is beautiful.

Kim