Feed on
Posts
Comments

Sometimes you only know if you’re going to be able to do something by trying it. So it was this weekend, when I rowed in my first ever marathon.

With my dodgy medical history, I was fully aware that the Great Ouse Marathon – 21.5 km upstream – was going to push me to my limits. When I did the 15km Head of the Dart earlier in the year I felt I was right on the edge of what my body was prepared to take. But hey. The Ouse was there asking to be raced, and I have a habit of accepting challenges against my better judgment. And in case this challenge wasn’t quite enough, I swapped sides a few weeks ago, just, you know, to make it more fun.

Out of my comfort zone at two...

Out of my comfort zone at two…

As the day approached I honestly didn’t know how it was going to play out. I didn’t say much to anyone about my fears, but in my quieter moments I had serious, lingering doubts about my stamina – not for want of training, but because it was by far the furthest I’d ever raced. I genuinely didn’t know if I was simply asking too much of my unpredictable body. It’s not that I feared I wouldn’t keep rowing to the end – once you’ve started, that’s it, you’re in until the finish. But I didn’t know what would happen when I asked my body to keep going properly, powerfully, meaningfully, right to the end, enough to justify my place in the boat. Enough to do justice to the other seven strong, sassy women in my crew. I had to find it in me, somewhere, to believe that I could.

Help came, bizarrely, in the form of a set of temporary tattoos which my partner at the pointy end had brought for the crew. With a tattoo proclaiming “STRENGTH” on one arm and “I CAN AND I WILL” on the other, I instantly felt that little bit more powerful. Another saying “WILD AND FREE” dealt with my tendency to stress and hunch.

I can and I will!

I can and I will!

And then, brilliantly, I found a tattoo with a shiny golden tiara on it. As an official Queen B, it seemed made just for me. And it reminded me of the Queen B Athletics slogan, “No Place for a Princess” – the perfect mantram for a tough race.

Queen P

Queen P

Weirdly, it worked. As we raced I could see the golden crown glinting in the sunshine, out of the corner of my eye, and it somehow gave me that little bit of va-va-voom. Our brilliant cox remembered everyone’s slogans and quoted them back to us mid-race. I’m a simple creature, it seems, and it was just the motivation I needed. Yes, it was tough. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it took courage to do the final push when we took it up and went all out for the record. But I did it. I pushed with every ounce of my might, right to the last stroke, without hesitation and, most importantly, without any doubts that I could.

And we didn’t just finish. Our WD8+ crew beat the record for our category by a satisfying three minutes (not bad in windy conditions), only missed the C record by seven seconds, and was the fastest women’s eight of the day, beating a WB8+ and three WIM38+s.

Mid-race

Mid-race

There’s no denying it took it out of me. Three days later I’m still aching, my hands are in shreds and I’m still yawning for Britain. But for someone who, eight years ago, couldn’t walk more than two miles without having to lie down, a milestone like this is worth a few aches and pains.

So what now? Well, I’m already thinking about the next endurance event. And trying to persuade Queen B Athletics to bring out some official Queen B tattoos. After all, this is no place for a princess.

Tags: , , , ,

With the temperatures hotter than we’ve seen them for a while, it seems like a good time to be talking about hydration. Unsurprisingly, Team GB don’t let a bit of hot weather get between them and their training, but they have to be careful to stay hydrated and avoid fatigue, cramp and all the other nasty things that could slow them down. As a national squad, they take their nutrition very seriously (not just from a performance point of view, but to make sure what they’re taking on board doesn’t carry any risk of breaking doping rules).

Here’s a nice little SiS video featuring Katherine Grainger and Alex Gregory about what motivates them and how they achieve those marginal gains – the GB rowers use SiS products for their sports drinks and supplements. Here it is:

And what about the rest of us? Well, marginal gains can make the difference between winning and losing even at a local regatta, so here’s some advice on hydration from SiS. By the way, I’ll be trying out a few of their products over the summer and will report back in the autumn.

Water – Aim to drink 500ml-1000ml of fluid per hour during exercise. The amount of fluid you need to drink will vary according to the temperatures, humidity and your own sweat rate so it’s a good idea to try out your plan in training before competitions to strike a balance that suits you. As a basic rule, your urine should be straw-coloured before you commence exercise and throughout.

Electrolyte Intake – Your hydration strategy should go further than water. During exercise you can lose up to 1-2 litres of sweat per-hour and this can accelerate in warm temperatures, so it’s essential to replace lost salts, particularly sodium (electrolytes) which affect the body’s thermoregulatory system. SiS Go Hydro tablets replace the electrolytes lost through sweating to reduce the risk of dehydration, which can improve concentration and cognitive performance.

Energy Fuel – Taking on carbohydrates will provide you with the energy and help you absorb fluid and electrolytes more effectively during exercise that lasts over 90 minutes. SiS GO Electrolyte helps you hit both your energy and hydration goals to fuel you for endurance exercise.

Before you all tweet me to say you don’t need fancy products to get electrolytes and carbs, I ought to say that of course you can add sugar and salt to a bottle of water and it’ll do the job pretty well (though you have to be pretty hard not to want any flavouring!) so I’ll be interested to see how I get on with the SiS products. Watch this space.

Tags: , , , ,

It's just too....

Just…

I suppose it was inevitable after all the excitement of last week. I’ve heard the Monday after Henley referred to as Black Monday. But nothing quite prepared me for the crash that came after the high.

I was fine, in fact, until I got back on the river. But having seen at close hand how rowing really should be done, and then being confronted with the reality of my own attempts… well, let’s just say I haven’t felt that bad about my stroke since that outing, right back at the beginning, when I caught eight crabs and cried all the way home.

I could blame it on the fact that I’d swapped sides this week – I can in theory row on strokeside, though it always feels awkward. I could blame it on the fact that I was tired and out of sorts. Or that my knees were aching. Or that I was fighting off a cold. But the truth is I just didn’t row very well. I lost my rhythm. I went deep. I rushed the slide. And it ruined two otherwise perfect summer’s evenings both for me and my crewmates.

I’d love to say I reacted with calm serenity, accepting that sometimes rowing just doesn’t love me back. As if. I stressed and grumbled and got more and more tense – which, needless to say, made it all much worse. Sure, it was an overreaction. But I’m guessing most of you will relate.

And yet… if one thing has characterised my rowing career so far, it’s a bloody-minded refusal to let this most maddening of sports break me. The same determination that kept me going when I lost race after race after race until I finally won that first pot. That told me to ignore the fact that I was too small and too light and too weak and too old to make it as a rower. The same foolhardy doggedness, in fact, that made me believe that rowing, of all sports, might be a sensible activity for someone in recovery from M.E..

So I may have crashed but I won’t burn. And I certainly won’t give up, whatever I may have said in the heat of the moment during last night’s outing (!) I’ll nurse my wounded pride and my strokeside blisters for a day or two and I’ll come back fighting. Though I can’t promise it’ll be pretty.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Rowing gets a bad rap. It has a reputation for being elitist, posh and swanky. And I’ll be the first to admit that with the dominance of public schools in junior rowing and the blue chip businesses that swarm around its events, it’s not hard to see why. Yet if I learned one thing this week, from Henley of all places, it’s that at its core, for all the privilege and the cut glass accents and the blazers and the boaters, rowing can be an astonishingly egalitarian sport.

Henley - all blazers and boaters?

Henley – all blazers and boaters?

Until last week, I’d never been to Henley. Actually, that’s not strictly true. According to one of my friends I did go there as a student, but I have absolutely no recollection of this. Must have been a heck of a day. Anyway, to all intents and purposes, last week I was still very much a Henley virgin. I knew Henley involved elite racing in fancy surroundings, and assumed it wasn’t really for the likes of me, but that’s about as far as my knowledge went. What I didn’t realise was how much fun it could be, even for an Ordinary Club Rower like me.

Leander badges

Leander badges

I wanted my first Henley experience to be a good one, so I asked on Twitter if anyone had any tips. And this is where it all got a bit out of hand. Before I knew it, I’d scored some Leander badges (little tags that allow you access to Leander club, just below the finish line, complete with nice loos and a fancy place to have drinks) – a gift from the ever-fabulous Di at Rock the Boat. And then, to my astonishment, a message popped up from Matthew Pinsent (yep, Actual SirMP CBE) saying he’d try to get me a ride on the umpire’s launch. Which is when I briefly lost the power of speech (a rare event in my life).

Let me put this into context. I am a very lowly member of a small provincial club. It took me four long years to lose my novice status, during which time I lost 32 races. In rowing terms I am, not to put too fine a point on it, a nobody. Matthew Pinsent, on the other hand, is a giant in the world of rowing. He has four Olympic gold medals and 10 World Championship golds to his name. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, rowing royalty. Small wonder I was struck dumb.

The kind of bling that Girl on the River has never one, and SMP has.

The kind of bling that Girl on the River has never won, and SMP has.

Unsurprisingly, I wondered if on the day I’d feel a bit out of place. After all, I didn’t know my way around. I didn’t have a club blazer to show off in. And I didn’t understand a lot of the things I was hearing on the tannoy. What was Fawley? What and where was Remenham? Why were they talking about miles and not metres? It was all very confusing. But people were unfailingly helpful and lovely. I got chatting to people everywhere I went, from a fabulous lady from Canada who took up rowing in her sixties, to a chatty security guard who, I’m pretty sure, directed me to a part of Leander that was out of bounds to non-members.

I also bumped into a bunch of people I knew, often putting faces to names for the first time, and even ran into my favourite kit-ladies, the Queen Bs themselves.

Queen B reunion on the towpath

Queen B reunion on the towpath

Admittedly there was the dreaded contingent of braying hoorays in loud blazers and louder voices who every now and then brought out my inner Corbyn. But there were also rowing fans in shorts and T-shirts, drinking cheap cider and eating sandwiches on the riverbank, where you didn’t need a ticket or a badge or anything other than an interest in rowing to have a good time.

Girl on the River at Temple Island (which I now know is where the races start).

Girl on the River at Temple Island (which I now know is where the races start).

And the rowing really was fantastic. You can get right up close to most bits of the course without access to the stewards’ enclosure (which is at the finish). From the towpath you can stand at the start, close enough to make your heart race if you’ve ever sat in a boat waiting for “Attention, Go!” You get to see some of the world’s best rowers, right there in front of you, giving a masterclass in how to race well (and, occasionally, how to race less well – there were a few terrifying collisions with the booms at the side of the course and even a disqualification for unsportsmanlike behaviour).

The start.

The start.

And if you can’t get there in person, there is brilliant (and free) footage live streamed on YouTube (which pretty much wiped out the rest of my week) filmed on a combination of static cameras and a drone.

The finish.

The finish.

As for me, after a day playing telephone tag with a magnificently patient Matthew Pinsent, I finally got to meet the great man himself and got a ride in the launch, following a race between a Swiss club called Grasshopper (hence the supporters’ excellent green trousers) and Henley Rowing Club. Seeing it all so close up, with spray flying everywhere and the wind in our hair, was a total privilege and I am still a little bit slack-jawed about it all. So hopefully you’ll forgive me if, just this once, I let the pictures do the talking. Here they are.

In the launch with Actual Matthew Pinsent and a cloud of grasshoppers.

In the launch with Actual Matthew Pinsent and a cloud of grasshoppers.

Trying to pretend I don't know the people on the bank yelling "Trash!"

Trying to pretend I don’t know the people on the bank yelling “Trash!”

At the start. Heart racing.

At the start. Heart racing.

Matthew Pinsent taking up position for umpiring.

Matthew Pinsent taking up position for umpiring.

The crews, with drone above.

The crews, with drone above.

Grasshopper Club, Zurich (who won the race and, subsequently, the Wyfold Challenge Cup)

Grasshopper Club, Zurich (who won the race and, subsequently, the Wyfold Challenge Cup)

Henley Rowing Club.

Henley Rowing Club.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Just because.

Just because.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s nothing like racing to make you feel positively adolescent in your emotions. Elation. Deflation. Anticipation. Fear. Hope. Disappointment. Joy. Despair. Envy. Frustration. It’s a giant melting pot of swirling feelings, actions and reactions – the worst and the best that it’s possible to experience. Goodness only knows how actual adolescents cope with it.

The emotional rollercoaster of rowing

The emotional rollercoaster of racing – (right hand pic by Zara Cottrill for Ben Rodford Photography)

Anyway, this year’s British Masters Champs, where the old timers get to strut their stuff, promised to be no exception to the rule. I was deeply honoured to find myself in a couple of crews – a mixed 8+ and a women’s 4+ – and emotions (my emotions, anyway) were, as always, running high. Representing your club at an event like this is a big deal at any time, but this time I was in the only women’s crew from our club. I felt as unworthy as if I’d been asked to row at Rio.

Before I go any further, I’m going to let you into a secret. We nearly didn’t enter. With four hyper-perfectionists in the boat, we had spent several weeks in the run-up to the event tying ourselves in knots, analysing every bit of our stroke until we’d convinced ourselves we were not so much a crew as a masterclass in How Not to Row.

Rowing, as we all know, is as much a mental battle as a physical one, and we were in severe danger of losing the mind game. Thankfully luck was on our side. An injured squadmate was kind enough to spend her recovery time not only coxing us in the run-up to the race, but being our Number One Cheerleader. Endlessly patient and encouraging, she got inside our heads and re-ordered our thinking. Gently and good-humouredly, she got us sitting up instead of slouching, smiling instead of grimacing, pulling instead of yanking, and slowly, slowly coming together as a crew. We didn’t have nearly as much time on the water as we’d have liked – a combination of life, work, Monmouth Regatta and an ill-timed thunderstorm stole a frustrating number of training sessions away from us – but we did what we could.

Unnervingly, when we arrived at Holmepierrepont on Sunday morning the Monmouth encampment was already Bling Central. Every five minutes, it seemed, another crew from our illustrious men’s squad appeared dripping not just with water (it was very wet) but with silver and gold. Mostly gold. The pressure was on.

Even more unnervingly, although we rowed strongly – or so it felt – in the mixed 8+, we didn’t place. We tried not to let it get to us, but setting off to race in our 4+, it was hard not to feel fatalistic. Yet luck, once again, was on our side. A timely last-minute pep talk from our most blinged-up rower, positively jangling with medals, flicked a switch in my brain. I was going to row like a boss, right from the first stroke.

Represent...  (pic by Ben Rodford)

Like a boss…
(pic by Ben Rodford)

The final bit of luck came from the rather fabulous cox we were allocated on the day who, miraculously, got us on to the starting line in as good a state of mind as it was possible to be in. After a blistering start she made us believe, right to the last moment, that a medal was ours. And so it was. Not the gold – though we fought to the last stroke to catch the excellent crew from York who secured the win (chapeau, ladies) – but a silver, which did not feel in any way like a consolation prize.

When the cox stands head and shoulders over the crew...

When the cox stands head and shoulders over the crew…

So elation it proved to be. And profound gratitude to all the people who had kept my head together. Rowing is team sport, and this weekend never more so. Thank you, squad.

The elation bit... (pic by Ben Rodford)

The elation bit…
(pic by Zara Cottrill for Ben Rodford Photography)

All smiles now... (pic by Ben Rodford)

All smiles now…
(pic by Ben Rodford)

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

So, with just days to go until British Masters Champs (affectionately known as Nat Vets) and with the draw now out, my palpitations are in full swing. This is pretty much how I look right now:

The draw is out!!!

The draw is out!!!

Fear aside, it’s always about this point that I start feeling that unwelcome scratching in the back of my throat that heralds the beginning of a cold. I don’t know whether it’s just my mind playing tricks on me or the effects of too much training, but I invariably find a cold threatening precisely five days before a big day like a major regatta. Coming down with a streaming cold just before a big event would be Not Cool, so it must not happen.

Happily I have a few products that I come back to time after time. Historically I’ve zapped any incoming colds with First Defence spray, but if I’m honest I find it a bit of a blunt instrument, and don’t much like the burning feeling in the back of your throat as it works its magic.

Anyway, a couple of months ago I was writing a piece for Top Santé mag on how to stay healthy on an aeroplane (which is out shortly, as it happens) and was sent a cold-prevention product that was new to me. I started using it immediately as at the time I had a cold threatening, and was impressed enough that I have added it to my cold defence arsenal. I thought I’d share it with you in case you get the same pre-regatta cold thing (even if you’re my oppo – see, I’m nice like that).

ImmunPro lozenge

ImmunPro lozenge

The product in question is a lozenge called ImmunPro (by Hübner). The active ingredients are Cistus Villosus – a medicinal plant – and herbal polyphenols which, according to the blurb, form a protective film across the mucous membrane, and you suck one at the first sign of a cold. It has a pleasant, sweet taste – slightly minty and slightly herbal – and is way nicer than taking First Defence. I haven’t spent any time researching the science of it, but I have found it works for me, and apart from anything else it’s a nice distraction from gazing at the draw in a state of agitation.

The other weapons I use in the fight against the common cold are, by the way, very simple: Vitamin C and zinc (one of the few things actually proven to help) and herbal tea to help me sleep (and calm those palpitations).

The cold has no chance against this trio

The cold has no chance against this trio

So that’s it, really. Just thought I’d let you know in case you fancied trying them. They are available from Boots for £7.95 for 15 tablets (with a special focus on the airport stores).

If I have time later in the week, I’ll do a post on keeping injury at bay before regatta day. If not, see you Sunday, if you’re going to Nat Vets – and don’t forget to give me a shout if you spot me!

Tags: , , , , ,

John Hartland with his daughter, Kate

John Hartland with his daughter, Kate

When an elderly man standing on the riverbank was watching my quad, not long after I’d started rowing, I didn’t think much of it. All I noticed was that he was watching us intently. It was only later that I learned it was a figure who has made a massive impact on Monmouth rowing – John Hartland. I knew his name, of course – there’s a boat named after him – but it was a while after that that I discovered quite how much he’d given to rowing in our town.

As well as running the rowing at Monmouth School and founding the club at Haberdashers Monmouth School for Girls, John played a big part in Monmouth Rowing Club as chairman and regatta secretary, and was a central figure in the building of the clubhouse in the late 1960s and its extension back in the 1990s. He was also chairman of Welsh Rowing and led the Wales team to the Commonwealth Games in 1986. As rowing careers go it’s a pretty impressive one.

As a coach he seems to have made a huge impact on his students. Everywhere you go, people ask after him. Even at the start of a race last year, with seconds to go before the race began, a member of our opposite number called across and asked how he was.

Now, sadly, John (or possibly Mr Hartland to you), who turned 80 recently, has Alzheimers. Having spent a harrowing six months in a psychiatric hospital last year, he is now settled in a nursing home and is much more contented, but the engaged, knowledgeable, hard-working rower he once was has been stolen by the illness.

John’s daughter, Kate Callaghan, who is head of rowing at the Habs school in Monmouth, is running Swansea Half Marathon later this month to raise money for the Alzheimers Society. If you knew John Hartland, or have been affected by Alzheimers, it occurred to me that you might like to support her. She can be sponsored at https://www.justgiving.com/teams/Runningforourheroes

Alzheimers can happen to anyone. Please give generously.

Tags: , , , , ,

Queen B close up 2

Girl on the River in regal mood #noplaceforaprincess

In the five years I’ve been writing Girl on the River, I’ve shied away from collaborations. Sure, I’ve done product reviews, but I’ve never felt it was quite right to go into any kind of long-term relationship with any company. Nobody felt quite right, or quite up to scratch.

Until, that is, I discovered Queen B Athletics. The kit-lovers amongst you might remember my post last year when I got my hands on the Bridget, which I still maintain is the nicest all-in-one in the entire world. I’ve tried a few, believe me, and I’ve still to find one I like as much.

And when, later, I got a chance to see – and feel – the whole range, I was smitten. It was everything I looked for in rowing kit. The fabric is soft, forgiving and unbelievably flattering. Even straight after Christmas. Even with the few extra lbs that are currently sitting on my hips. The colours are fab. And the attention to detail is unmatched. The Bridget has a little frill and gorgeous coloured lining for when you pull it down before and after racing, the all in ones are designed not to ruck up when you are rowing hard (we all know that look, right?) and the leggings have undergone extensive testing (don’t ask) to make sure they don’t show your knickers.

So … drum roll… I have been initiated into the Royal Family. I am going to have the Queen B link and logo on my site – see the side bar on the right – so everyone can share the love, and you’ll see me wearing Queen B stash pretty often. Which for someone who clearly feels so very much at home in a crown, is just as it should be. For anyone worried that I may have sold my soul to the commercial Big Boys, fear not. There’s no money changing hands, and I’m collaborating with a small, hand-picked company purely because I genuinely love their stuff.

Queen B Sammy Sports Bra with Cyrus

With King Cyrus, modelling the exceptionally fabulous Sammy Sports Bra.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings. And crown, obviously.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings. And crown, obviously.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings, with added magnolia.

Sammy Sports Bra and Daisy Dee leggings, with magnolia detail.

 

Laura all-in-one, conveniently in Monmouth navy-and-claret.

Laura all-in-one, conveniently in Monmouth navy-and-claret.

You may call me Ma'am.

You may call me Ma’am.

If you love the look of all of this, check out the Queen B website. They’ll be at Nat Schools at the end of the month, by the way, and if you can get a few people at your club interested, have a chat with them as they will always discuss a club deal. And, for that matter, club kit. What are you waiting for?

Tags: , , , , ,

Coxmate

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge gadget-lover. I’ve never been the one to go for the latest bit of tech, and have shown little interest in those digital computer thingies – whatever they are – hanging from the necks of coaches and coxes.

So when along came Rowperfect said I could borrow their new GPS offering – the Coxmate – I was curious but not overly excited to have a go with it. For those fellow Luddites among you who have no idea what this is, it is a mini sports computer, customised for rowing, that uses GPS to give you information such as boat speed, stroke rate, time, distance and distance per stroke. It’s the size of a small-but-chunky mobile phone.

If used in conjunction with certain chest straps it displays your heart rate, too, though my elderly analogue Polar was not supported by it. You can buy a compatible chest strap for an additional £42. Importantly, it connects with software that gives you read-outs of all the information you’ve collected during the outing. It fits a standard stroke coach mount and you can put it on a suction mount and attach it anywhere in the boat.

So, how was it? Well, I  was surprised to find how easy the touchscreen was to use. It was clear, with nicely designed icons, and was super-easy to navigate. Once on the water, I found it easy to read as the screen is, helpfully, extremely bright, so even a quick glance is enough. I did encounter some difficulties resetting it during the outings, which involved tapping the screen several times – this didn’t always seem to work for me, but as I am a technical dullard this was, I’m quite sure, entirely my fault. I also had a few teething problems connecting it to my computer afterwards, but Rowperfect were very helpful.

The more I used it, the more I found I was hungry for the information. We are, of course, just heading into regatta season and rowing in different line-ups, so I found it really interesting to know how fast we were going and what our coverage actually was. Puddles, let’s face it, whilst less prosaic, are not wholly reliable as an indicator of speed. I can see that if you were in a more organised training regime than I am, it could provide invaluable feedback on what (and who) worked in the boat, plus the tools to analyse it afterwards.

It’s worth saying that – in my experience at least – the information isn’t 100% perfect. There seemed to be occasional fluctuations in some of the distance-per-stroke readings that didn’t entirely make sense. Again, that could be me misreading the information, and unless you’re all about the 1/100 seconds, I suspect it doesn’t make that much difference.

And what about the cost? Well, it’s £229.99, going down to just over £200/unit if you club together with other people and buy five. Although considerably cheaper than the Speedcoach GPS model, for a distinctly average club rower like me it’s still a bit steep. For anyone serious about their rowing who is eager for facts – or if you happen to have a handy £200 going free – it’s definitely worth saving up for.

The Coxmate is available from Rowperfect.

Coxmate GPS three-1

Tags: , , , , ,

Every now and then something happens that shakes a club to its foundations. So it was last year, when Colin, one of our most stalwart members, was diagnosed with cancer. He will hate me making this all about him (sorry, Colin), which in itself tells you all you need to know about him. He – and his whole family, for that matter – are the ones who are always there, putting in the hours on the erg and on the water, sweeping the steps to get the silt off, wielding the brushes when the gym and toilets have flooded (again), organising all kinds of stuff behind the scenes. It was unthinkable that anything bad could happen to any of them.

Colin at Llandaff, not letting the diagnosis stop him from racing - or lugging blades around.

A very wet Colin at Llandaff, not letting the diagnosis – or the rain – stop him from racing

It was equally unthinkable that he would let the illness get the better of him. So as soon as he had got a very welcome all-clear, following various rounds of treatments, he was back at the club and doing ergs that put the rest of us to shame.

And now he, and a frankly unhinged group of other rowers (including his daughter), are about to embark on a challenge to raise money for the Velindre Cancer Centre, where he received treatment. They are off this weekend to race 90 km through some of the loveliest bits of Holland in the Heart of Holland race.

Tulips

Even the sight of these won’t make it easy.

If you read that quickly, I urge you to go back and read it again. 90km. That’s 55 miles. Or 18 x 5k sessions. Or 9 x tortuous 10 k sessions. In one go. Think of the blisters. And the rest.

For one of the rowers, it’s a mere hop. The whole crazy endeavour was prompted by an old friend of our club, the pint-sized and frankly astonishing Helena Smalman-Smith, who rowed the Atlantic five years ago (I wrote about her here). Every year or so she rounds up some old pals and – with persuasive powers they struggle to resist – talks them into doing a rowing challenge.

What Helena failed to disclose in her original invitation to the gang (mentioning it only once everyone was on board) was that not only is it a heck of a long way, it involves some fearsomely difficult navigation. Wrong turnings are a distinct possibility. And as the crew are taking it in turns to cox, they’re all under the same navigational pressure. Not to mention the fact that some of them (including Colin) have had to learn to scull in order to compete.

Waterway

Don’t be fooled – it’s not all this straight…

So why did they all get talked into it? I asked a few of them. Here’s what Eric, who is rowing alongside his wife, Lisa, had to say:

“It was easy to agree when Helena asked us to join her for the Hart van Holland because she is a master of organisation and logistics. I have done other long distance rows at her suggestion – round Lake Geneva and in Finland last year in Church boats. Helena also coxed the MRC ladies 8+ at Boston a few years ago so Lisa felt she should repay the favour and has not actually rowed with Helena before which was also an appeal.

 “The fact that Colin wanted to scull and raise money for Velindre (the clubs charity this year) following his recent treatment there made it more compelling.”

Then there’s John, who only stepped up two weeks ago when another member of the team had to back out because of an injury.

“Our Chairman James has such a lovely persuasive manner. He assured me that I would spend a fair proportion of the time coxing, which would give ample time to feast from the picnic hamper, tend one’s blisters and admire the tulips and windmills in the spring sunshine, while occasionally urging on the crew of sweating 50 year olds to greater efforts.

“Then I saw the course map: waterways like roads branching all over the place, signposts, if any, in double Dutch, right angle bends, bridges so low the crew has to lie flat, big locks, a dyke so narrow that paddles are needed, crossing the Rhine twice. Too late, I’ve agreed to do it. What a privilege anyway for a lightweight ancient mariner to be able to row with such superb MRC oarsmen.

“I don’t enjoy fundraising, but most of us know friends or relatives who have been affected by cancer, and as an ex medic I know how wonderful it is for a hospital to receive charitable donations. This row will be a huge challenge for all of us, and to raise some money for Velindre cancer hospital will make it even more worthwhile.”

Most importantly of all, here’s what Colin himself said:

“In the summer of 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer. I raced at Llandaff knowing the diagnosis but not the prognosis, effectively I thought that was it for my rowing. The prognosis was as good as it could have been, the prescription – chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I was spared the need for surgery.

“I attended Velindre as an inpatient for a couple of weeks for the chemotherapy, then for six weeks as a day patient undergoing radiotherapy. Treatment was completed on 6th November 2015.

“My time at Velindre was no picnic, but all of the staff – cleaners, food servers, doctors and nurses – treated me with dignity, empathy, and humour. I have the greatest admiration for the staff and their dedication.

“Since the treatment finished I have been challenged by the side effects, but with the help and support of my family and friends (particularly those at MRC) I have made great progress.

“The message I received loud and clear was that I should not let cancer dictate my life, so back to rowing. It is clear Velindre needs money, I needed a new challenge to put my two fingers up to cancer, and the two come together with Utrecht. Big challenge, learn to scull, get some fitness, put some weight back on, and raise money for Velindre. Work in progress on all fronts!”

I dare say all of this has given you pause for thought. Perhaps, like me, you’ve discovered something in your eye. So instead of wiping it away and moving on, I urge you to make a donation, however modest, to help the guys put two fingers up to cancer. It’s a brilliant cause, and the money is being raised by some brilliant people. Go on, just do it – just click here.

Just do it.

Just do it.

 

 

Tags: , , , ,

Older Posts »