Fired up by the electric experience of rowing I had experienced in the Christchurch regatta, I set to work during the Christmas vacation to increase my fitness and come back sporty enough to be able to compete in Torpids. Torpids – also known as ‘Bumps’ – are the Hilary races, open to rowers of all experience, not just novices. But despite my enthusiasm and numerous runs it appeared that I had forgotten how to actually row – so much so that in my first water session back, our coach Howard asked me if I had rowed before. (Does she even go here?) I powered on for a session that lasted over two hours and as a result was unable to lift my arms above my head for the best part of the following week. At this point, I certainly did not share the enthusiasm of Alex from M2, who seemed rather taken with my comment that rowing was his one true love.
“When I die, bury me with an oar,” he said blissfully.
“When I die, put down ‘oar’ as cause of death,” I muttered in response.
Determined not to let this discourage me, I signed up for a morning session the next week. All muffled up to brave the Oxford winter, I turned up at the Porter’s Lodge to find no-one else there. I double-checked the spreadsheet: yep, definitely Wednesday morning at 6:30am. I had missed them. Slightly terrified, I began the walk down to the boathouse all on my tod, in the freezing cold and the pitch black. Christchurch meadow was eerily deserted. I tried the door of our boathouse (locked) and sat down outside to wait. And wait. And wait. I texted and called the other rowers who had signed up: no response. After half an hour, my face felt like an icicle and my backside was frozen solid so I decided to call it a day and head back to college. An hour later people started responding to my texts. Turns out, there was a rowing Facebook group to which I had not been added (probably due to my Not-Very-Sporty-Person status). And on said group, they had posted a notice that the outing had been cancelled.
With the universe apparently conspiring against me, I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to be able to row competitively this term. But suddenly, another miracle: most of the lawyers and psychologists had dropped out due to the fact that they had exams at the end of the term. Amazingly, I was asked to row for Brasenose W2 in Torpids. (With a gentle reminder to do more training.)
And more training I did: I even went to the boathouse on my own to do extra ergs. (It was then that I realised why rowing machines are called ‘ergs’ – because that’s the sound you make when you’ve just finished using one.) Apparently, the aura of commitment to rowing which I had developed wasn’t perceptible to anyone else and when one of the M2 boys bumped into me on my way out and asked what I was doing there, I responded “Erging, obviously”, trying my very best to look like a Sporty Person. I had little patience for the third person to ask me the same question. “WELL I’M NOT HERE FOR THE SCENERY, AM I?”
It would take a lot more training for me to seem remotely like a real rower.