Up the creek: Here's what happened when I learnt to row

Kinderling News & Features

Being taken for a row doesn't have to be all bad. 

My 50s are looming faster than a rabid mob on their way to a Bec and Bridge half-yearly clearance. I am therefore taking note of the bucket list, making sure I am on track thanks to my friend Excel. Have I mentioned I am type A?

Sadly, learning the electric guitar still eludes me and I fear that it may be the one thing I will fail to deliver on. My biggest issues with learning the electric guitar are; a) finding the time for the practice it takes to become anywhere near proficient enough; b) a complete lack of musical (or any) talent and; c) I don't own a guitar. I still live in hope that I will be called up by Eddie Vedder. Who says there's no such thing as a 70 year old intern guitarist?

The artsy fartsy stuff will always be an ongoing challenge, but the sporty outdoorsy larks tend to yield slightly more success, so when I was pulled off the bench by a lovely friend to see if I would be interested in rowing, I jumped at the chance.

I have longed to row in a boat all profesh like, with oars, a crew, on a river in all the garb. How very Oxford Blues. So before really thinking it through I said, ‘Sign me up’.

Then I remembered why I exercise on my own and away from other people

I am an uncoordinated, clumsy, hot mess. I run because it only requires looking ahead and winding legs and arms in one direction with minimal chance of injuring others. I also run in the morning before sunrise to use the darkness as a 'Cloak of Invisibility'. You know how in your head you think you're running like one of those strong Amazonian women in a Nike commercial, but then you cop a reflection of yourself  in a shop window, and all you see is Basil Fawlty sprinting from a fire? That’s moi.

So rather than sook out (which I will never do),  I upped my personal injury and third party insurance and found myself at the boat sheds early one sunny Friday morning, (which is 9.30am Glen Iris time) and met the rest of the quad crew (so already up with the lingo), and our coach Ion (pronounced Yon), a former Olympic rower for... Romania.

Help, Mummy!

The daydreamy version of me rowing depicts a finely tuned athlete with bulging back muscles, beading sweat and a steely resolve. I didn't consider that in order to achieve this, I would have to engage my brain with my body.

I am sorry you want me to think , pull, push, slide and rotate what now?

There were far too many body parts involved, some of which I had never used and certainly not all at the same time, while listening to my coach, trying to remember which side was bow and which was stroke and engaging in chatter with the girls about the latest round of year 12 formal hook ups and drunken indignities. This was about as much fun as a heart attack.

I thought rowing was a matter of get in the boat, strap yourself in and start reaming those oars back and forth as hard as you possibly can (see below for instructional video).

I had to get in the sodding thing first. Those boats are skinny temperamental suckers and the bit where your bum goes, slides back and forth very fast. Trying to step in, line your ass up with the seat without uprooting it, crew, cox, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all into the drink was  challenging to someone who was told as a girl, that as a dancer, I made a great debater.

I finally managed to plonk myself in, in a most un-Audrey-like manner and came closer to the Yarra than I had ever been. That river is nasty! Ion told us what it was like before mobile phones, if they would happen upon a 'floater', (former gangland associate, fallen AFL player, shamed politician). They would have to hang on to said corpse with one arm and row with the other to the closest river bank, search for a telephone box, call and wait for the cops, with a bloated body tethered to the side of the boat. Oh great. At least we will be able to call 000 from the water and expedite the whole palaver.

More complicated than it looks

My first lesson as you would expect, involved all the technical hijinks about where your hands should go, where you need to look, how to position your legs and the safe word to use if your pelvic floor exploded and your vagina needed its own flotation device. I felt very nautical and thought it just a matter of time before Ralph Lauren would announce its rowing line for the elderly with me spear-heading the campaign.

I have improved somewhat over nine months (you would hope) and haven't impaled anyone with an oar for some time which is a comfort to my fellow crew members and the ever-patient Ion. My favourite position to row, is naturally bow (up the back). This possie very much comes into its own on a sunny day when we pause for drink breaks because we are just soooooo bloody fast and amazing. It's then that I lay back on the boat, look up at Southbank and the early starters at The Arbory at Flinders Street Station, give a wave to the Japanese tourists, who for some reason think this is all very exciting and take in the finery of the Australian men's rowing team as they go blistering past.

Yes, there are some days when it's not so bad being up s#!t creek... I mean the Yarra.

I have made some lovely new friends which I will always welcome and have found a sense of calm and meditation which has helped me navigate those stressy weeks. I have always gone into learning or trying something new with the low expectation of , 'just give it a crack', and more often than not I come out with, 'you actually didn't suck'. It seems to be working for me so I guess I will keep going with it. I apologise in advance to the neighbours when I apply this to learning the electric guitar. 

Republished with permission from Jaq Muller.com.