The Saga, Uncategorized

Part 4: I Erg, Ergo I Am

With the advent of February, I’d promised myself I was actually allowed to start erging again (using the rowing machine), assuming it didn’t exacerbate my pain too much. I’ll take it slowly at first, I planned, and hold off to every other day so my shoulder can rest up in between. In retrospect, writing about all of this. Wow, some patience is too patient. That’s all I can say. How was it not more clear to me that my shoulder was simply NOT going to heal? But the medical professionals told me to keep waiting, and I must certainly didn’t want it to be anything serious, and most certainly wanted to believe it WOULD heal. So that’s what I did.

Anyway, erging in February proved to be a little preemptive, although I hopped on it a few times at the gym after a run and put a few easy pieces in throughout the month nonetheless. Now I should explain that in the case of most every rower in existence, rowing is the best thing in the world. Erging is the worst thing in the world. So the fact that I was this eager to even erg was in fact pretty pathetic. But I’d take what I could get.

Come March though, things were looking hopeful for the first time since October. I moved my erg I got for Christmas in twelfth grade from my parents’ house in the ‘burbs to my city apartment. Yes, as much as I mostly hate rowing machines, I do in fact very much own one. It’s personalized with rowing bumper stickers and everything (“Sweat dries, blood clots, blisters heal; Shut up and row!” and “I’d rather be rowing,” to be exact). By Christmas of 2007, I’d been rowing for all of two seasons. But I knew without question that I was going to be a rower forever; our personalities aligned all too well, and beyond that, I absolutely freaking loved it. Normally, I’m the kind of person who will get really into something for a number of months, and then completely drop it. But at 17 years old, other than writing, this was the first thing that had stuck. Ever. And in fact I can still mostly say that it’s one if the few things that has. The way it challenges me, so technical that there is always something to learn. The way it pushes me, urging me everyday to be stronger, stronger. Work harder, harder. The family it gives me, the first I’d ever felt I had. The freedom it opens, another sunrise or sunset over a river’s horizon. And the release. A perfect outlet for everything that hurt. We were meant to be. Having an erg at my disposal would both symbolize my commitment to the sport and, more importantly, only make me stronger as a rower. Hence, yes, the worst thing in the world, an erg, is nonetheless one of my most prized possessions.

No rower's bedroom is complete without his or her favorite home companion!

No rower’s bedroom is complete without his or her favorite home companion!

Loading my erg into my 2002 Honda Civic coupe and lugging it up two flights of stairs with an impossible slew of ever closing-on-you-doors and a gimp arm (someone helped me, I’m sure. Johnny Leg Drive, perhaps?) was truly a great day in my life. It was the last piece of my being that I had yet to move into my apartment, a place where I had finally settled (at least for the time being) after what felt like years of traveling to any and every end of the earth, coupled with a deathly fear of commitment. I had waited to bring it to my place because I knew I’d be too tempted to use it, despite my distaste for it, were I forced to stare it down all winter rather than dragging my butt to the gym in the mornings (a good maybe ten feet long, an erg is no subtle presence). But there it is, ladies and gentlemen, right in that Facebook post above. February 23, 2o14. My first official home post-college was finally complete.

I started putting in the standard thousands of meters a few times a week, always careful to rest my shoulder thoroughly before my next erging session. Ice was always a good thing, too, assuming I wasn’t rushing off, about to be late to work, as is my standard MO. For the most part, the pain was totally fine. Not even worsened by my sessions, save for maybe a few minutes afterwards. Hope, hope, hope. A teammate graciously put me back on the winter workout email list without my even having to ask. My legs were starting to look like rower’s legs again (you can mostly tell by the beautifully sculpted, beyond bulging thighs), my core, back, and shoulders relishing in their restrengthening as well. And low and behold, here was April. Water time. Life was going to be okay again. Bring it.

The Saga

Part 3b: Anger, Love, and Life.

To cut you in, this is a continuation of Part 3a: Months 2 through Forever. I’m discussing how as it became more and more apparent that my shoulder was not going to be heal in winter 2013, I refocused my energy into taking the good out of what I had to work with.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; you just get stronger.” –Steve Maraboli

The barn in which I lived in Lake Leelanau, MI, illuminated at night. Photo courtesy of A. VanDeusen

The barn in which I lived in Lake Leelanau, MI, illuminated at night. Photo courtesy of A. VanDeusen

Few people’s mental health is ever top notch amidst any Snowpocalypse, mine being no exception.  My previous winter had been spent half in the idyllic northern Michigan, and then in freaking Hawaii, so believe me when I say I was dealing with that comparison, as well as a transition into the city (where I hate living, but it just makes sense to live at this point in my life) and my first ever 9-5 job. I’ll take my previous winter back any day. I’d spent a year and a half arguably goofing off after college, but really just taking advantage of my complete freedom while I had the chance. Truthfully, however, that time was invaluable in its opportunities to really straighten myself out a bit after the mess that was college and get myself back on my feet. Having accomplished this mission, this past winter, the world then started asking me to grow up.

The first thing it really asked of me was to work on was some self control. This is something that some may argue I more or less have in the bag. Let’s take my senior year of college, for example. I was a rower, a Residence Hall Coordinator (in charge of a dorm, excuse me, “residence hall”), a straight-A student, a bloody Catholic (I throw this in there because the demands of Catholicism can seem quite daunting at times, especially in the face of a college setting, not this this is to say I was any type of saint), and I somehow even managed to squeeze a social life into that, or pieces of one at the very least. Sounds like I pretty much do alright for myself. False. The thing you have to realize here, is that rowing took care of it all for me. At least a large part of it. The reward of getting to go to practice in the mornings and getting to race on the weekends was, without fail, beyond enough for me to get my act together again, day after day after day. The rest was just details.

So what types of self control, you might be asking? Well, let’s start with food. As I always say, “My first favorite thing about rowing is rowing. My second favorite thing about rowing is eating.” But this statement extends beyond simply my foodie tendencies and propensity for cooking and especially baking. It extends beyond the fact that I was the girl who would read recipes as a means of procrastination and who would sit in the Great Room (my college dining hall) worrying about how she was ever going to make it in the real world because she’d catch herself eating with her hands, face in a pile of food, and all but licking her plate (although I can promise you I do this after more meals than not in the privacy of my own company) and enjoying the experience that is a meal far too much for it ever to be socially acceptable. It extends beyond the fact that I love food so much I literally plan my days around my meals and secretly engage in competitive eating with everyone around me (which given that I hang out primarily with males and specifically with male rowers… that equals a lot of food). And playing off of that, it extends beyond the fact that I have had to learn to moderate my food intake in the absence of the ravenous hunger that is any and every rowing practice’s inevitable hangover.

I guess this is where my blog starts getting kind of personal. My relationship with food, although today is very positive, has not always been so. As early as middle school, I had anorexic tendencies. I will tell you that this was mostly something stemming from other issues, driven by a need for control and a desire for perfection. It never got to the point that it was especially unhealthy, but man, I look at the few photos of myself from that age that I was willing to let be taken sometimes, and I was a rail. Long story short, the anorexia aspect of things pretty much fizzled out when I started track in ninth grade, but I still constantly thought I was fat (which it’s pretty much impossible to be if you run track) and was ridiculously insecure with my body all through high school. I started rowing in spring of eleventh grade, and I’d say by the end of senior year, thanks in large part to this glorious sport, I was starting to feel a lot better about myself, body image wise and otherwise. By senior year of college, I will admit that I was freaking ripped and pretty much in love with myself, to the point that it was unhealthy as far as borderline narcissism goes. Yet all the while, my weight and the appearance of my body are something I think about, at least to some extent, literally every time the topic of food so much as crosses my mind. Thank goodness I no longer obsess — I’ve put a lot of time and energy into accepting my build and what I have to work with in terms of it. It’s an issue I rarely talk about, even to this day, because truth be told I’m pretty ashamed of the fact that I give so much weight (no pun intended) to something that shouldn’t even matter. But I guess that the fact that even someone like me, the Anthropology major who, given the choice, would shower almost never and who is resistant to most any culture norm in the book, still from time to time struggles with the societal ideals of body image just goes to show how disgustingly overboard their strength really is.

So rowing, combined with climbing and an active lifestyle in general, helped me, for the first time in my life, become more or less comfortable in my own skin. And yeah, you can burn calories doing a lot of things. But rowing and climbing sculpt your body in beautifully comprehensive ways that few other sports do, and more importantly, they are extensively FUN and challenging. And let me tell you. There is straight up NO hunger in this world quite like rowing hunger. My stomach becomes a nearly bottomless vat, large enough to consume an entire refrigerator, and then some. Not to mention I eat when I am stressed, I eat when I am bored, I eat when I’m down, I eat when it is mealtime even if I am not especially hungry. I have a wicked sweet tooth. And I have no self control when it comes to food. It can really be a struggle sometimes. But since I’ve started rowing, rowing has allowed me to get away with this, completely. I could put away an what felt at times like an entire bakery case with next to zero repercussions. Which means that bye bye shoulder meant bye bye mindless overeating. I’ve been a solid 10 pounds over what I’d like to be since winter hit, which on a relatively small person such as myself, is a decent enough amount. Thankfully I have very much been able to level it out at that. But I am still pained any time I let myself think about it by the fact that my body quite simply is not going to be what I want it to be right now, and for the next year, it is probably only going to continue to get worse.

But you know, it’s like, oh well. As much as this hurts my ego, yes, I absolutely know it could be worse. The fact that the seriousness of this injury has come in stages, while it means that it has nearly doubled the healing process, allowed me the time to ease myself into a place where I am able to take this loss. It has given me months to work on moderating my intake as well as just straight up accepting my body for where it is, and not beating myself up so much about every decision I make in regards to food. While these were things I’d already managed to accomplish within the scope of rowing, coming to terms with them without the given promise of that perfect rower’s body was a whole new ballgame. The eventual thought that I might need surgery hit me hard enough as it was; had these things been completely hitting me along with that, I don’t even like to think about the damage they could have done. And although I am still upset about this almost every day, my discontent with my body image and combined lack of self control when it comes to food is something that I am quite sick of, and have been looking for ways to get over for years. In my mind, which I will admit I am quite extreme, me not rowing essentially equals me not needing calories period. But obviously I know that is not true. So as I will continue to face this all year, with any luck, this will finally, FINALLY have been a challenge that has really helped me get a grip on my eating habits, as well as accept my body in all its imperfections and realize that it really and truly IS okay if I don’t look like a Greek god. Or even that girl in the magazine. Or even that girl standing next to me. My body is gonna do its thing, but I am the one, quite literally, who feeds it. Knock on wood I will be able to harness this growing mentality that I have as a result of not being able to row, wherein I have control over my body, rather than it having control over me. So this, having been a lifelong struggle, is the start of a very good thing.

Another form of self control that not being able to row has forced me to work on is my anger. Without going into too many specifics, you want to talk about getting personal, I will tell you that I am, at times, an all but uncontrollable, irrationally angry beast. Please rest assured that these are things I would never, ever do, but I simply do not know any other way to paint a picture for you.  Angry to the extent that I find catharsis in legitimately picturing smashing things with baseball bats. Angry to the extent that that it has almost killed me. Angry to the extent that I understand, on an emotional level so deep that it becomes physical, anger I feel I should not even know. These are scary things to admit — it is impossibly difficult to look at yourself some days, knowing the capacity you hold to absolutely Destroy, and to, in that, still know that you need to find a way to love yourself, a monster. It is impossible, some days, to bear that in your heart. You have no idea.– They are scarier to hold inside.

Thank GOD, quite literally, that it has always been RIDICULOUSLY important to me that I didn’t take my anger out on other people. I don’t know where I got that from, but I’ve always had it. And thank GOD I have it. The only unfortunate aspect of my love for the people in my life and the world around me, however, is that this anger had to go somewhere. And so for years, I took it out on myself. In every single form of abuse and self destruction you could imagine, and then some. All things considered, it truly is a miracle some days that I am still alive. I will tell you that the first thing that helped me learn to live with myself was God, but that is a story of its own. But the second thing, the tangible, worldly, every day tool which I was generously given to learn to deal with life, was rowing.

“The athlete’s anaerobic threshold [is] the point at which the body’s muscles have exhausted their oxygen store and start burning other fuel,” explains ESPN Magazine, May 2000. “For regular folks, reaching that threshold is quitting time; anaerobic work is 19 times harder than aerobic work. But rowing is all about harder. Elite rowers fire off the start at sprint speed — 53 strokes per minute. With 95 pounds of force on the blade end, each stroke is a weightlifter’s power clean. Rowers cross their anaerobic threshold with that first stroke. Then there are 225 more to the finish line.” Rowing is a safe place to unleash. Every single stroke, I am beating up on the water, beating up on myself in a mentally healthy, physically productive manner. The formula is simple: rowing lets me destroy things, and what’s more, rowing destroys me. Resultantly, I no longer have to destroy myself.

“And so in time, the rowboat and I became one and the same — like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself.” Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat.



Photo source unknown. Possibly Harper's Magazine?

Photo source unknown. Possibly Harper’s Magazine?

Thankfully, part of my post-undergrad escapades involved, between the long Michigan winter and resourceless Hawaiian shores (as far as competitive rowing is concerned, at any rate), me intentionally living life without crew for a while, because it was direly important to me to prove to myself that I could. That being said, while normally I would have a team to train with in the winter, we wouldn’t be on the water Nov — Feb anyway, so this was a minimal exercise. And besides, I knew that if and when I did decide to stop running, rowing would be there for me, just as it always has been, when I finally got back. Welcoming me like the father to his prodigal son. Not quite the same story. But very much with that level of love. So I had to make it through a winter without rowing, but this I had already done. Granted, I would not have nature and freedom and boundless adventures to distract me. But I was confident I could do it again. And anyway, I just had to make it until my shoulder was healed: Spring.

The anger would come and go in bouts, much of it now a product of the fact that I was unable to row. (Oh, as an aside. In case you are wondering why I have so much anger, once again without going into too many specifics, the answer is one for the emo jar, so brace yourselves: the simple fact of the matter is that it is easier to be angry than it is to feel pain/hurt. So there you have it.) In a house where I lived for a few months upon first moving to Baltimore, “my summer home,” as I fondly like to call it, the basement was empty and the house was going to be renovated, so my roommate and I had free reign to destroy it in any manner we please. That was an easy one for me. Basement = bottle smashing room. When I get angry, I want to smash things. I lived in the house through the end of December 2013. So here was one good outlet.

Running is an okay outlet. Nothing like rowing, but on a good day when I’m able to hit my stride, a way of tiring me out. Writing. Driving too fast. City-acceptable road rage. Prayer. Naps. Visualization. Giving myself a hard look in the eye and calming myself down. Sometimes just accepting my anger and letting it run its course. Focusing my thoughts instead on WHY I was angry, rather than just being angry, and seeing if that was something I could actively deal with instead. Sometimes just letting this hurt me for a while. These were things I’ve done in bits and pieces in my life, but for the past seven years, I’ve had rowing to back me up. Climbing, too. Leaving it all at the wall. To help me and, in the scheme of things, let me be lazy about dealing with my problems and my anger, because I could just take it out there. To say that rowing is my anti-drug is an understatement; rowing is my drug. But suddenly it wasn’t an available option for me, and I had to really start to handling myself by myself, no more crutch. No more self-medicating.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Everything I’ve learned about life, I’ve learned from rowing. And so, in the same way I’ve applied principles of hard work to my schooling and principles of determination to refusing to let life beat me down, I applied the insane amount of self-discipline rowing demands to my everyday, harnessing the spirit of my sport even when I couldn’t actively participate in it. Don’t get me wrong, it was a gradual process, as is any change in the name of self improvement, with unrelenting setbacks and trials along the way, but I just had to make it until April; I just had to make it until April. Not to mention, I had plenty of other adjustments to focus on. A new job, a new budget, a new apartment the holidays, the snowiest winter in Baltimore that I can remember. Beyond that, having returned to Baltimore (I’m from the area originally and went to a state school so know a lot of other people who are as well) after my gap year only to have everyone I was looking forward to seeing start to move away for their next steps, I was starting to make friends.

More than anything to me, community is ultimately what is important. As far as I’m concerned, at the end of the day and the end of a life, we are all we’ve really got. It’s amazing what happens when you’re not always running off to the rock wall or the boathouse; it’s like the people come out of nowhere, I’m telling you! For those of you who know me, I’m quite social, yes. And very compassionate whether I express it well or not. But I’m also a hardcore, German introvert who (jokingly) hates everyone and laments the exhaustion that is making, and what’s more, having friends. That being said, I’m a hardcore, German introvert, which means that in fact my corest of cores is indeed quite soft, and I know for a fact that in spite of all my eye rolling and sarcasm about how ooey-gooey thankful I am to have formed some solid bonds where I live… it’s true. I can’t say these friendships would be anywhere near as tight as they are if I’d been hiding in a rock cave all winter. Some of these people I definitely wouldn’t have even met. Granted, I know my best friends through crew. But spent much more time with them this winter than I would have otherwise. And I may have met other people had I been busy doing other things. But I will selfishly admit that i am quite partial to the ones I’ve got =).

So winter put a lot on my plate. Or rather, it really made me pay attention to what was already on my plate, that I’d previously been able to shovel into my face without even paying a terrible amount of mind to, courtesy of and with my sights always set instead on rowing. As much as I hated it, I knew that this was all going to be good for me. And April would be here soon.

The Saga

Part 3a: Months 2 through Forever

Dat port arm, dough...

We’re all winners when we wear our unis! Photo courtesy of H. Coe

So I can’t exactly say that on a day as perfect as today (mid 60’s, sunshine heaven, light breeze, scattered clouds, bees buzzing around my head as I type), it is going to be especially easy to think back to those dreary winter months. I’m sitting outside in my parents’ backyard as I write, and will admit that I can hardly see the screen, so a preemptive apology if this entry ends up rife with typos, but I know I probably care about that more than anyone else does. Probably getting sunburn as we speak — I hate putting on sunscreen more than I hate having to ice my shoulder 24-7, which as you will come to hear, is saying something.

Usually I count on the gradually lighter morning practices to break my skin in to the sun, although I can also tell you that said dependence has very much led to awful inverted-uni shaped sunburns probably more than once in my life when the time comes to finally don a bathing suit and I think I’m good to go (a uni being the one piece spandex unisuit we rowers shamelessly wear to race and, depending on who you are and how much you love the shape of your body, practice in), but I digress.

Okay. So the water season for rowing ended on the first weekend of November, with Head of the Occoquan in Lorton, VA, as our last regatta. I seem to remember racing a Mixed 2x with my partner in crime Johnny Leg Drive, probably a Women’s Club 4+, I think much to my dismay my Mixed 8+ had to scratch (always the funnest races for me), and then I ended up coxing a novice but determined Men’s Open 4+. Or something like that. Quite new to shoulder injuries, I originally thought it’d definitely be feeling better by the end of the month of October, but as it became more and more apparent that this would not be the case, I had promised myself that as soon as the season was over, I would take a solid month to rest my shoulder, focusing on other forms of exercise during the interim period between fall and winter seasons. Then I’d be right back on the erg with the rest of the team come the official start of winter training in December.

Still, a whole month off? This was going to set me tragically far behind in my training, not to mention, this would be my first winter with the competitive program at BRC (I also rowed there in high school as a junior), and my times would be miserable and humiliating if I hadn’t rowed or erged for four whole weeks.

I should also take a moment here to mention that In October 2012, after much searching and fighting for the right boat, I proudly spent my life savings (okay, and a very generous amount of graduation money from my awesome parents) on a used Hudson Women’s Lightweight 1x (AKA my baby!!!). Maybe not the best investment for a 22 year old who didn’t even know where she would be living come the following year, but it occurred to me that the next time I’d have a disposable income big enough to purchase the 1x I’d been dreaming of for years may very well be never, so I could either buy a boat now and have it to enjoy for the rest of my life, or diligently save until I’m goodness knows how old and hopefully still be in good enough shape (which if I have anything to do with it, I will be, but as this shoulder goes to show, who knows what life will bring) to get some years out of it. Obvious choice. The boat was right, the price was right, it worked out and I do believe my exact words on a Facebook post about my purchase were, verbatim, “Proof that dreams really do come true,” followed by a slew of exclamation points.

Petrichor. Photo courtesy of my un-smart phone and the gorgeous St. Mary's River

Petrichor, my beautiful boat. Photo courtesy of my un-smart phone and the gorgeous St. Mary’s River

But I was in living in Michigan at the time that I purchased it, and then it was off to Hawaii, so I knew it would be a while before I actually had the fortune to row my most prized possession ever. My college crew coaches (shout out to K Mart and P Con if you’re reading!!) were lovely enough to assess the quality of the boat and pick it up for me at — what do you know — Head of the Occoquan 2012. The team lovingly stored my precious little baby (whom I’ve named Petrichor — the smell of the earth after a first rain and very much symbolic of a lot of what rowing means in my life, not to mention a bangin’ etymology of “petros,” meaning rock and “ichor,” as in the blood of the Greek gods) for me until I was able to score a spot for it in the Baltimore boathouse, which wasn’t probably until sometime during August 2013 despite my return being mid-March of 2013. So I had to wait nearly a year to even be WITH my boat in order to really be able to row it, but it was fine because I’d had the team to row with in the meantime, and anyway, one of the biggest perks of having your own 1x is continuing to row through the beginning stages of often unseasonably warm Maryland winters. So I had this to look forward to for the next few months. And it was kind of one of the greatest thoughts ever. And then my shoulder was like, haha, just kidding. You’re gonna have to wait until the Spring before you get to revel in the glory that is your beloved little boat. Torture.

But I needed my shoulder to heal. So I painstakingly forced myself to lay off. My gym membership was at Earth Treks, but I’d already frozen my climbing membership for the month which means that I had also effectively frozen any workout options other than running, as putting too much pressure on my shoulder while biking also was no good, and shit if I was about to pay that $70 just to use the gym. Now don’t get me wrong. Running is a good thing, and compared to most of the other athletic pursuits towards which I gravitate, it’s terribly cheap and ridiculously accessible. But a year of track in ninth grade was enough to prove to me that in fact I hate running, and I only (although thankfully) redeveloped a positive relationship with it towards the end of high school as a means to cross train for rowing (there will, at some point, be a post about the sacrifices we rowers make for our sport. Obviously I can speak for myself in particular, and let me tell you, you don’t even know. Our love is real).

Thankfully I was living down in Locust Point at the time, meaning both the Harbor Promenade and Fort McHenry — each along the water, as beautiful as it gets in a city, arguably quiet, and winningly car free — were right outside my door, making running bearable. So that was a blessing for sure. But I nevertheless woke up each and every morning, my first thought in regards to the status of my shoulder, my second yearning for nothing more than to be heading to the boathouse right now, darkness and chilly temperatures and all, to open the bay doors, parade my oars and my pretty little boat and my brand new SpeedCoach ceremoniously down to the dock, and embark on a thoroughly solitary and contemplative but equally fierce and exhausting row. Hull gliding through a silent basin, a trail of swirling but contained puddles (from my oars, for those of you who don’t row) and frozen exhales in my perfectly formulated V of a wake. Muscles burning. Fingers numb against the frigid dawn. This was supposed to be six of every seven mornings of my November. But no, today I get to go on another run. Woo. Frickin. Hoo. “Be patient,” I told myself. “All you need is a little patience. You’ll be back on the erg in no time, and just have a little catching up to do. It’ll be a great motivation to train that much harder, and kick that much more ass. So really everybody wins.” (Well. everybody who is me, at any rate, seeing as how everybody else is going to LOSE when i CRUSH THEM. I am a just a little bit competitive. Can you tell?)

So I did this. I ran. I disciplined myself for the sake of my shoulder, and moreso for the sake of my sport. But as November progressed into December, and December into January, month after month it seemed to become, once again, “Just one month more, Allie. I promise. Just one more month.” I was going to physical therapy three to four times a week by this point, and every day my shoulder felt a little better. Just one month more. “In February, you can start erging again. I promise,” I told myself. “But you have to wait until February, because time is the only thing that’s going to heal your shoulder. But you have to wait until February.” One month later. “Okay, you have to wait until March. And then it will be April. And you know what April means!! April means ROWING. April means life will be okay again and everything will be right in the world and your days will be worth living. You’ve been keeping in good enough shape this winter, even if you’re not where you want to be. All this means is that being back on the water will hurt that much better. By the summer, you’ll be crushing it at regattas. Come fall? No problema, chica. Head of the Charles will be tucked away in the back of your pocket, and you are going to absolutely beast it. You have nothing to worry about.” Although I will admit that I was not entirely a fool, and by this point, despite my PT’s continual reassurance that my shoulder was on its way back to perfection, I had stopped promising.

And so, instead, I gradually began to focus my energy into turning my winter into the most positive experience I possibly could. But in the name of the fact that I’m attempting to cover a span of a good four or five months in one entry, I’ll give you a breather. Stay tuned for Part 3b, coming soon, maybe even later today. But let’s be real, my biggest hesitation in starting a blog is that I knew it’d be time consuming. But nevertheless a wonderful and arguably productive way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

The Saga

Part 2: HOCR 2013

Well, I suppose I should break you in early. There’s no sense in holding it off. I am a rower. And by this you should understand that rowing is my life. Mi vida. Mi corazon. The very core of my being, and if I could have it my way, it would be the sole and, just to emphasize that, singular purpose of my existence. I like to joke that everything I know about life I’ve learned from rowing. But I should have you know that this is all but one hundred percent true. Passion, sacrifice, love, hard work, discipline, drive, determination, balance. Rowing epitomizes each of these, among many other things, for me, and furthermore has helped me understand them to the extent that I am able to apply them to and find them in countless other aspects of my life (fear not; plenty of examples will manifest themselves throughout the course of this blog, I’m sure). Not to mention that I’d say for a very solid five of the past seven years that I’ve known it, rowing has literally been the thing that’s gotten me up in the morning, as well as what has put me to bed at night (via a perpetually unwelcomed wake up call at the charming hour of 4:30am, or somewhere thereabouts). Were I six inches taller, I’d be training for a shot at the Olympic team right now (well, maybe not seeing as how I don’t have a shoulder! Ha!). When the topic surfaces of the time of my birth, 4:50am, “Just in time for practice!” is all i can proudly assert. I eat, sleep, drink, and breathe the sport. I am literally listed as “in a relationship” with Rowing Itsa Rowmance on the book of Face. I shit you not.

Rest assured this is hardly even an introduction to how much I love rowing or what it means to me in my life. I could go on for pages — days! — about how much I love it, and I’m sure in the power of future posts combined, I will. But the topic of today’s entry is more specifically rowing as it pertained to my life post fresh shoulder injury. It went something like this.

Head of the Charles was in a good T-minus four weeks. I had just officially been boated as 2 seat (shout out to my fellow lightweights!) in the Women’s Club 4+ that would represent Baltimore Rowing Club (which I will henceforth refer to as BRC) in Boston 2013. Okay, you might add. Cool. No. Let me tell you more about Head of the Charles. Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) is a Big. Stinking. Deal. The most well known rowing race in America, and most of the world for that matter, probably second only to the infamous Henley Royal Regatta, which has been held annually on the River Thames since 1839 (yes, yes, pinkies up indeed) with the exception of during the two world wars.

Okay so you can see my point. So with England a bit out of the realistic sights, literally THE race to row. Boats that do not qualify automatically by placing in the top fifty percent the previous year are drawn by lottery because there are so many entries, and my high school team did not succeed in obtaining any bids while I was there. My college team was a small program on a small budget and did not even try. So after six years of rowing, finally, FINALLY, here was my first chance to attend, and what’s more RACE at HOCR. To say it was every serious rower’s dream come true would be an understatement in my book.

Maybe this boating is the point where someone with any type of foresight to injury stops climbing in the name of his or her true focus, rowing, but clearly I had none. My only ever other semi-serious injuries include a broken finger or two in sixth grade basketball and muscular atrophy in my right pec due to a tragic dizzy bat accident during senior week of college, but that healed in a matter of weeks, and while it prevented me from climbing, as a port, I was able to get away with rowing on it. And besides, I have always been a ridiculously cautious climber specifically for the reason that I had absolutely zero interest in being out of commission due to an injury. I used climbing as great cross training for rowing, much more thorough and comprehensive than weight lifting, plus a lot more fun. Not to mention I was working as a baker and a waitress at the time and the last thing I was about to do was let $70 worth of a monthly membership fee go to waste. But in all honesty, it mostly just didn’t occur to me that there was any reason to play it safe, because as far as I was concerned, I already was.

So what did I do when I got injured? I didn’t have practice the following day, but two days after. In the span of those two days, it was already getting significantly better, so I popped some more Advil and went to practice — duh. We’ll test it out, and as long as rowing doesn’t make it any worse — and probably even if it did — nothing was going to stop me from going to HOCR, nothing. I told my coxswain what was going on as a precaution, as well as the other rowers in my boat only because I knew it’d be painful to lift a 100+ lb. shell over my head and I didn’t want them to think I was slacking in the event that I couldn’t carry it properly, but that was the only reason I told them. I doubt I even mentioned it to the coach right away, let alone the rest of the team, as there was some fierce competition among the team’s thirty or so rowers about who would be representing the club in Boston, and shit if I was about to take any chances on losing my seat. I assured the few who knew, including myself, that it seemed to be quickly healing, was no big deal, and I was definitely fine to row on it. For all I knew, these things were perfectly true. Even if I did end up hurting it a little more, I decided, the water season was almost over and as much of a setback as it would be to miss out on a month or two of winter training, this was Head of the Charles we were talking about; anything was worth this race. And so I proceeded to drug myself day in and day out for the next month, icing and heating daily, and using my shoulder as little as possible in the hours between practice.

BRC Women's Club 4+ HOCR 2013

BRC Women’s Club 4+ HOCR 2013. Photo courtesy of Row2k.

Our boat was a bit of a hodgepodge ages and size wise (ideally you’d like everyone to be more or less each others’ clones for synchronization and weight distribution purposes, etc) and we had no idea how we’d fare, especially, for example, against D1 college crews who had been training together twice a day, six days a week and then some, but we were four strong, unyielding athletes and one dynamite coxswain who worked well together and wanted nothing more than to absolutely crush it, so hopes were high for top half (equaling an automatic entry for 2014) at the very least. We had a solid race and ended up placing 19th out of 45 boats plus one DQ and one scratch, a result with which we were very pleased. The regatta was absolutely everything I’d hoped; I was positively floating on cloud nine for weeks afterwards, sights already set on my shoulder being close to healed, a relentless training regime for the winter, spring, and summer seasons to come, and one goal: Head of the Charles 2014: Kill. it.

The Saga

Part 1B: Let Me Explain

I feel I should explain that this blog is being started very much after the fact of my injury, which was in Oct 2013, and it has now been a week since I had surgery. I’ve been laying around drugged for a good seven days (sike, I actually only found two or three days’ worth of a need for Percocet), debating whether or not I was actually going to publish anything here. Then in my downtime, I was rereading a journal from my Bermuda trip, and upon sharing some entries with a friend, I realized that my writing is one thing I have to share right now that has NOT been taken away from me sans arm (baking, rowing, driving, unrelated to my arm but I’m poor as dirt making generosity a challenge, to name a select few). So regardless of whether anyone bothers reading it… I need something to occupy myself in my time away from rowing, no?

My story will backtrack and come in stages. Hopefully I will catch up sooner than later. Anyway, a friend pointed out that the first thing anyone does when they have surgery is Google everything they possibly can to find out about it. I know I that’s exactly what I did. So here you are; ideally this will be available courtesy of the world’s widest of webs (net neutrality pending, of course) to SLAP and other shoulder surgery patients for years to come. Or something like that, right?

Posts to come:
Part 2: HOCR 2013
Part 3: Months 2 through Forever
Part 4: I Erg, Ergo I Am
Part 5: Lucky Number Seven
Part 6: MRI MRCry
Part 7: The Bad News. No, the Really Bad News
Part 8: Pre-Surgery Party Time
Part 9: The Morning Of
Part 10: The Evening Of
Part 11: Recovery Stage 1
And then some.