Patricia Carswell |

Life on the river: lessons from lockdown

Award-winning blogger and journalist, Patricia Carswell, will be sharing her latest rowing adventures in her new exclusive British Rowing blog – Life on the river.

Welcome to Life on the River! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a pint-sized, late-onset rowing fanatic who in the space of 10 years went from exercise refusenik to river-obsessive.

To be clear, I’m still no athlete. I may even hold some sort of record for the most unsuccessful novice ever – it took me 35 races to win my first pot. But rowing has me in its thrall. It’s given me a fitness I never thought possible, a bunch of brilliant friends and membership of a super-supportive global community. Small wonder, then, that the extended break from rowing, first with the apocalyptic flooding and now the pandemic, has been immensely frustrating. I am, however, a great believer in benefiting from difficult experiences (those 35 races were an excellent apprenticeship). So, here’s what I’ve learned during lockdown.

1. Rowing really is all about the people

Sorry to go all David Brent on you, but it’s true. What I’ve missed most is spending time with my hilarious, kind, gutsy rowing buddies. Because let’s face it, Zoom is just not the same. I cannot wait to hang out with them again and laugh until my sides ache.

2. Location matters

I’ve never paid much attention to where the border lies, but in lockdown it’s assumed an unexpected importance. At the time of writing, there’s still a stark divide between English, Scottish and Northern Irish clubs, where single scullers and same-household crews are back on the water, and Welsh ones which are still in lockdown. Falling just inside Wales, my club, Monmouth, is still resolutely closed. Weep. But hopefully not for long now. Which brings me to…

3. Single scullers were right all along

I hate to be smug, but I can’t help a teeny-tiny bit of self-congratulation. All those badass sweepers who sniffed at us in our flimsy, skinny little singles are ruing the day they spurned the single life. Of course, crew rowing will return, but in the meantime the sculling-averse are stuck with the erg

4. The erg CAN be fun, though

Who knew? Those of us lucky enough to have access to a rowing machine have been making peace with our ancient enemy and the big news is it hasn’t been terrible. I’ve been doing weekly rowing studio classes via Zoom and have actually loved them. Of course, it’s not the same as being on the river. I miss the light on the water, the wildlife, the scenery, the ritual. But the erg has become, if not exactly a bosom buddy, at least not a foe.

5. The rowing community is real

Lockdown has brought out the community spirit in us. With regattas cancelled, rowers everywhere have devoted their considerable energy to extreme physical challenges to raise money for charity. My own club raised more than £5,000 for Mind and I’m exceptionally proud to have been involved.

6. Out of office – there’s always one

Online committee meetings are a revelation – surprisingly efficient, with much less faff. Some clubs are even contemplating continuing the practice after lockdown ends. But even when we were under strict quarantine, with literally nowhere to go, there was always one who couldn’t make it. Washing their hair, presumably…

What have you learned from the pandemic? Get in touch with the best and the worst of your lockdown experiences. Until then, stay safe (and alert, of course) and hope to see you on the river before long.

Photo: Emma Drabble