When the wheels fell off…

Roll back ten years and I would be the person who understood the difference that sport could make and just how important it is to have in our lives. However I had never really taken part, never really felt like part of a team, never practised until I was really good at something. I didn’t feel like anything was missing from my life – I went to the gym sporadically, took tennis lessons, took up tap dancing but that’s about it!

I had encouraged my children to have a go at everything and supported them with their chosen sports, at which they have both excelled, playing for the county and competing nationally and becoming a British Champion (had to get those bits in #proudmum)!!!

After standing on the river bank for the umpteenth time, waiting for my daughter to row down the river, in the rain I wondered if I should have a go at rowing and so I did!!

Fast forward ten years and I was asked to support a charity sports day – primary school style. Well being an ex primary school teacher that was right up my street so I agreed. We did the sack race, egg and spoon race,  skipping race, hoola hooping and three legged race amongst others. It was so much fun but I suddenly realised I had developed a competitive streak – generally when we were being penalised or disqualified for something when other teams weren’t ( it still bugs me today!) but also in that I was screaming encouragement so we could be first over the line – points meant prizes. I wasn’t even interested in the prizes – it was the kudos of winning that meant so much more for me, certainly not just the taking part!!!!

What had made me develop this competitive spirit? Yep you’ve guessed – it was rowing.

I started in a boat of like minded mums and we were basically pushed out in a quad boat and left to work it out for ourselves and we did. We had great fun pootling up and down the river. We even began entering some local races and even won!!!! Shortly after this the rowing club began offering Learn to Row courses and our senior ladies squad began to grow. We soon had a regular turnout of about twelve ladies out of a squad of eighteen.

I began to help with the Learn to Row courses and encouraged a regular session for the recreational squad, many of these people chose to join the senior squads because they decided they wanted to compete. We got regular crews together, training became part of our lives. We didn’t want to let our crew members down so we did our very best to be at all the training sessions both on and off the water. We entered local races and won a huge amount of medals. We were never disappointed if we hadn’t won but we’d put up a good race – we always were the best we could be!

I WAS IN A TEAM!!!!

Then the wheels fell off …for a number of reasons. For eighteen months we lost our way and because we didn’t have regular crews we didn’t feel the pull to turn up to all the training sessions and shockingly people started having a life outside of rowing! Then they couldn’t make events and so we competed less and so the team spirit diminished!

I was the one of the ‘saddy pants’ who did keep on training (most of the time) as I still wanted to compete and I had built up a level of fitness which I had never had before and I needed the buzz of training. I began to get frustrated when we couldn’t get a crew together for a race or crews were thrown together at the last minute. Don’t get me wrong I knew we were never going to make the Olympic squad but I wanted to do the races justice and show people what our club could achieve, not just bowl up and be a walkover. Remember I had developed a competitive streak – it wasn’t going anywhere!!

And I loved being part of a team – that felt like a thing of the past.

It was a frustrating time. Thanks to my family and friends for listening to me whinging and moaning, twelve months on from the charity sports day and two fantastic things have happened.

Number one – so it seems that quite a few squad members felt the same as me and when it came to organising regatta season 2018 some one ‘took the bull by the horns’ and we had a frank discussion which ended in us joining together, combining forces and showing some commitment and hopefully our regatta season will prove to be a good one.

Number two – another of our ladies suggested a challenge – we would row a marathon supporting Cancer Research UK. That was about two weeks ago and in that short space of time some of the ladies have completed their challenge on the ergs or on the water and the rest of us will be rowing the 26 miles on the river on Saturday 24th March. (We planned to do it last Saturday but the mini beast from the east got the better of us and we had to postpone it). We have also raised over £2500 and that amount is still growing.

And guess what?

 

There’s a renewed buzz around the ladies squad.

All the people who have taken part in the challenge and gone the extra mile (literally!!) and made sure they have been around to support people in their efforts, whether that is sitting beside someone on an erg and helping them through the last 5k or 500m, feeding people jelly babies so they don’t have to stop rowing, shouting encouragement  when they “hit the wall”, cheering them on the water every time they passed the club and turned around for the next leg, lifted boats off the water for fatigued rowers in the snow and generally just been present while others are completing their challenge.

Huge thanks to those responsible for instigating the changes and thanks to the Ladies Squad as a whole for muddling through and then pulling together when it really mattered.

What’s that saying? You don’t realise what you’ve got until it’s gone – been there, seen it, done it and now we’ve got it back!

Watch this space for the next challenge!

I’ll leave you with a quote from the least normal member of our squad!

“I love that you are all weird and I’m normal but you’ve accepted me anyway!”

#AlwaysOarsome

#AlwaysWeird

The Youth of Today

A couple of hours a week I spend some time coaching children from local secondary schools as part of the Warrington Youth Rowing programme. They are predominantly Year 9 so around fourteen years old and have attitude by the bucket load! Backed by British Rowing these children are being encouraged to take up a sport they probably wouldn’t normally have access to.

I guess a visit to the rowing club can be quite daunting for some of them and everyone reacts to new situations in different ways. They generally come across as being overly confident while trying to be nonchalant, cool and unamused. I’ve coached a couple of the schools and generally they all dampen their enthusiasm in front of us adults.

The programme has been running for over a year now and it’s not easy juggling timetables, staff and travel arrangements for eight different schools in the borough but this is what is happening.

In July a mini regatta was organised so the children could showcase their newfound skills to parents and staff alike. It was enormous fun and gave these children the opportunity to shine.

Last week an indoor rowing challenge took place at Priestly College organised by the Warrington Youth Rowing coaches and a variety of other people, including students from the college, head teachers and teaching staff and various volunteers.

Twenty four rowing machines had been collected and arranged so that there was a warm up area and a competition area. The machines in the competition area were wired up to the big screen so everyone could follow the race and shout encouragement where needed. The PA system was fully tested and they even had a professional sports photographer snapping away!

The children arrived looking nervous and not quite sure what to expect, huddled in their groups shivering with excitement ( or was it nerves?). Eventually the first competitors names were announced on the screen and after a warm up period they were asked to take their seats for their race. The start procedure was explained and then WHAM! off they went rowing as hard and as fast as they could – how many meters could they row in a specified time?

Going off too hard meant they ran out of steam – would slow and steady win the race? It’s not just about strength but about technique and also holding your nerve and not giving up.

They were fantastic – each and every one of them. Not only showing great skill and stamina but also empathy and encouragement for the fastest and the slowest! Many kids cracked their PBs!

After the individual round came the relay race. Now if you thought handing over a baton while running was tricky try the equivalent on a rowing machine!

So you row full pelt for about a minute, stop, drop the handle, take your feet out of the straps, move off the seat making sure the next person can sit down, strap feet in, pick up the handle and get that machine going again from scratch.

This really was the ultimate in team work with competitiveness, stamina, energy and enthusiasm by the bucket load. They all deserved medals – they were oarsome!!

Looking around the gym as they raced the last few meters it was heart warming to see the dedication from the children, staff and coaches as they screamed each other on when legs were sore, arms aching and lungs gasping- it would be easy to stop but they didn’t they powered on.

Teenagers get bad press today but this lot showed their true colours because someone believed in them. Warrington Youth Rowing is giving these children such a fantastic opportunity and they are certainly making the most of it.

I hope this programme continues to grow and you never know we could have some Olympians in the making, but even if they don’t take it to that level they will have skills for life – not merely the rowing technique but team spirit which will serve them well all through life.