As we get back to rowing on the water, Patricia Carswell talks to four rowers about the last few months and the enjoyment of being part of a rowing community
The last year has been a bizarre mix of mastering new technology, exercising over Zoom and experimenting with new forms of fitness. We catch up with four rowers from different areas of the sport and find out how they’ve coped with lockdown, what they’ve missed and what they’re looking forward to most about rowing on the water.
Julia Garritt, skiff rower
Julia started rowing at university about 30 years ago and has rowed on and off ever since. She now lives in Dundee and rows St Ayles skiffs on the River Tay – both social rowing at Wormit and competitive rowing at Broughty Ferry.
“They are very beautiful areas,” she says. “It’s gorgeous – you get lovely sunsets and lots of wildlife. We have beavers, herons, otters and lots of sea birds.”
“A big shout-out to Clare Holman, British Rowing’s GRI instructor – or Dame Clare as I think she should be!”
After a phenomenally successful 2019, when her crew won gold at the World Championships (known as the Skiffie Worlds) in Stranraer, and Julia took another gold in the Scottish Rowing Indoor Championships, she was glad to have the pressures of competition lifted for a while.
“It’s been really good to have a year without competing to do the other stuff and to remember that regattas are about having fun.”
She’s been no slouch, though, participating in indoor circuits with her crew (which she describes as “hysterical”), and doing regular yoga, cycling and running. Having acquired a Concept2 rower in November, she started following the British Rowing indoor programmes—first Row31 and then the Fitter plan—and joined the programme’s Facebook group, where she has made new friends. Julia has loved the sense of community she has found through these programmes.
“There’s a real sense of belonging to a wider community and of teamwork,” she says. “A big shout-out to Clare Holman [British Rowing’s Go Row Indoor instructor] – or Dame Clare as I think she should be!”
Kirsten Whiting, gig rower
Kirsten, who lives near Truro, has been rowing for about 12 years and is a member of Mevagissey Pilot Gig Club on the southern coast of Cornwall. She was last on the water in November 2020.
She found each successive lockdown rather different when it came to exercising. In the first one, and to an extent in the second, like many others she threw herself into online lessons with a personal trainer. “I went completely nuts about three or four times a week, doing all these workouts.”
By lockdown three, however, her enthusiasm was wearing thin. “I found it harder to get motivated,” she said. What kept her going was walking. “Walking with friends has absolutely save my life. I don’t know how many miles I’ve done.”
“I’m really desperate to get back on the water”
Kirsten has what she describes as a “Tuesday evening walking club” with her friend, Wendy. “Even if I don’t do anything else in the week, I know I’ve got my Tuesday evening walk. Whether it’s raining or it’s pitch black I don’t mind – we just go.”
The one thing she hasn’t done to any great extent is indoor rowing – her WaterRower has been gathering dust.
Kirsten is eagerly awaiting the return to rowing and is hoping for some racing over the summer. “I’m really desperate to get back on the water,” she says. “I did think over the winter of getting a paddleboard just so that I could get on the water, but then I realised that it’s not just that – it’s about being with my rowing family. It’s such a great community.”
Carol Brooks, lake rower
Carol is a single sculler at Hollingworth Lake near Rochdale at the foot of the Pennines. Having started as a crew rower in about 2012 she switched to single sculling a few years later (“the hardest thing I’ve ever done!”) so that she could be more in control of her own time.
Unusually, Carol has spent more time on the water than in normal times during much of the last year. “It was great”, she says. “You were allowed to book a slot, there weren’t too many people about, it was very focused and I got more hours in. I did more rowing last year from the early summer to Christmas than I’ve ever done in that period of time.”
Lockdown initially presented more of a challenge as Carol found her motivation low. She particularly missed coffee on the steps after training, “watching everybody else and catching up with whoever is there”.
“Joining Zoom Ergos was the icing on the cake”
She tried doing circuits in the garden but derived little pleasure from it. “You don’t push yourself as hard if you’re totally on your own, and I hate circuits – particularly burpees. Who invented burpees?”
Around Christmas time Carol discovered Zoom Ergos. Having borrowed an erg from her club, she was curious, though initially felt nervous as she thought perhaps she wasn’t good enough – an impression soon dispelled as she joined in some sessions.
“Joining Zoom Ergos was the icing on the cake,” she says. “I’ve pushed myself so much compared with anything else I’ve ever done. I’ve just been amazed at how I’ve felt. I’m so much stronger. I’m almost addicted—I’ve not quite crossed that line—but I love it. I just love it.”
Ryan Hosking, coastal rower
Having grown up in a family of rowers, Ryan has been rowing since he was young and rows coastal boats in Herne Bay in Kent. He’s also a rowing coach and boatman at King’s School, Canterbury.
In common with many rowers, what he has missed most about rowing in the last year is seeing friends.
“Really that’s the one thing above everything else,” he says. “You can talk about the competitiveness and the races you go to, but it’s about the camaraderie between your pals. My lifelong friends are made from the rowing club – some pals that I met when I was 15 or 16 and raced through junior ranks with – and I’m still friends with them today. So that’s the first thing that people are thinking about as soon as it opens up – we can get back out and see our friends.”
“He’s already been talking to friends about getting back on the water and is hoping for some racing before long”
During lockdown Ryan has done a “fair bit of erging”—an understatement given that this has included some ambitious indoor rowing challenges with his club, such as a trans-Pacific and Indian Ocean challenge – although he says he struggles to muster much enthusiasm. “I’d sooner be out on the boat in the real world.”
He’s also turned to cycling to stay fit, using both Zwift and a free app called RGT Cycling, and follows a rough training programme on the turbo trainer.
Meanwhile he is keenly anticipating the return to rowing. He’s already been talking to friends about arrangements for getting back on the water and is hoping for some racing before long.
“Fingers crossed,” he says. “It’ll be a good summer, I’m sure.”