Rowing motivation- Why do we row?

Why row?

As another season looms ominously over the horizon, it is time once again to set apart huge amounts of our time and energy to do a sport that most of us will, at some point, complain loudly about. Yet we still sign up year after year to destroy ourselves on ergs, play with hypothermia on the water, and watch our lives deteriorate into a cycle of row, work and sleep. The attraction of this is unfathomable to our non-rowing friends and they ask with exasperation and pity: ‘why do you do it?’

Ask any rower that question and you will be greeted by a wry smile, a shrug of the shoulders and often the answer, ‘I don’t know.’ This answer is probably because for many the reason why they row cannot be expressed through words. Many rowers will exclaim that they hate rowing and that they will quit immediately, and forever. Sir Steve Redgrave, after winning gold in Atlanta said, ‘If anyone sees me go anywhere near a boat, you have my permission to shoot me’. Jump four years on and he is standing on the podium at Sydney with a fifth gold on his neck. So why, why do we do such a painful and hate inducing sport?

There is a camaraderie that perpetuates boat clubs and many once drawn in and find it harder and harder to escape. For many it’s simply because their friends do rowing, and they enjoy spending time with them and rowing is just a necessary evil.

On a summer’s evening when the water is flat and still, not a breath of wind in the air, and there are no other concerns, then rowing takes on an exquisite attraction that is hard to find elsewhere. But to get to those summer days, there is the hard graft, the blood, sweat and tears (accompanied by swear words) that characterise the winter. Desire for good weather alone cannot fuel a mind through this self-made hell.

Unless you have been living in a cave then you would have watched the Olympics this summer. If you had then you may have seen the Irish lightweight double take a historic silver, the epic men’s single sculls final with a heroic last gasp effort by Damir Martin or cheered on the men’s four and women’s pair as they defended their titles. And if you’re anything like me you will have watched them on the podium, pleased for them, out of patriotic duty, but thinking, ‘I want some of that’.

That is what fuels myself and many of my crewmates through the hard winter sessions. You endure you self-made hell, the torment you put your body through, for that winning feeling.  As Hugh Laurie said, ‘you’re facing backwards, so you’re looking at the people you’re beating, and there’s something very intense about that’. He’s right, winning a rowing race brings a perverse satisfaction and a thrill that you can’t quite describe to anyone. You may have a dream which can be anything from beating a local crew, to winning Henley or being a multiple Olympic champion. Desire can do strange things to the mind.

But enough of that, I cannot tell what it is that may keep you rowing but I can hazard a guess that if you are remotely competitive then it is the feeling that winning a race brings that makes you continue on the with the sport.