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Why I Row

PhD student and member of the PCBC W1, Courtney Landers reflects on how she started rowing and her love of the sport.

It’s a small source of pride when I’m talking about rowing with someone and they ask me ‘so you rowed at school?’ Because the answer is no, nope, absolutely not. For starters it wasn’t an option, but more importantly I hated sport at school. I spent my adolescence in a state of constant exhaustion, I had no body mass and I burned in the Australian sun in five minutes. I also hated sport during my undergrad. By my third year I’d discovered Les Mills classes and resistance training, and I was perfectly happy being a gym bunny. I’d tried football, I’d tried running. My knees would hurt and I couldn’t breathe properly.

So I had no intention of pursuing sport at Cambridge. I intended to keep fit, because I’d discovered that it kept me sane, so I’d scoped out the gym and I’d looked up yoga classes, and I’d joked with my mum that maybe I’d row ‘like the posh people’. But during freshers week I met the perfectly named and immensely talented Clare Hall, who at the time was trialling with the women’s lightweights, who looked me up and down and said ‘you’re gonna row’. And so I found myself in a boat coxed by the smoothly sarcastic Gregory Drott, who responded to my blade getting stuck in the water and whipping over my head with a cool ‘congratulations three, you just caught your first crab’.

View of the boat bay, as a general rule women’s boats on the right, men’s on the left.

View of the boat bay, as a general rule women’s boats on the right, men’s on the left.

Three years later I’m rowing with W1 for May Bumps in six seat. My hands are perpetually calloused or blistered, I don’t fit any of the formal dresses -or other clothes, for that matter- I brought with me from Australia, and some days the only way I can get out of bed is by rolling onto the floor first. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

I love rowing for many reasons, not just being able to sit down while exercising. I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been in my life; I have a resting heart rate around 60 bpm, my iron levels are miraculous compared to when I was a teenager, and I feel strong. I have a roaring appetite and I can pretty much eat whatever I want, but I’m motivated to look after my body and I can sense the difference when I do. Most importantly for me, rowing helps me regulate my energy and mood. In first year a familial predisposition to depression pounced during my first British Winter, and even as Spring slowly arrived I found myself exhausted, my mind and moods flattened. Then, as now, rowing got me out of bed and helped me get to sleep. I’m at a point now where I feel sluggish if I don’t row or erg, and I’m so much more efficient with my time once I’ve got a dose of endorphins.

View of the river from the Cutter Ferry footbridge

View of the river from the Cutter Ferry footbridge

Rowing has also turned out to be its own reward. This year especially I’ve learned so much more about technique; how to feel the movement of the shell in the water and balance myself in it, how to connect my shoulders to my legs using my core. Every outing now I make improvements, and it’s thrilling.

And this year all the hard work has paid off. I’ve rowed W1 for the entire year, I’ve earned the beautiful white and blue blazer, I’ve earned ‘blades’ in Lent Bumps and I’ve earned a pewter pot at Bedford. Best of all, I’ve earned all that with other women. With a few exceptions, women like myself who weren’t sporty before uni. Women who started rowing in Cambridge and got hooked.  Women who started in the lower boats, at a time when our biggest recent ‘achievement’ was spoons, and decided they still wanted the early mornings, painful hands and sore legs, and gruelling training sessions required to be in the first boat. An incredible group of women who through sheer determination and grit have made the entire women’s side a force to be reckoned with.

W1 at their starting station on the last day of Lent Bumps this year, where we won Blades

W1 at their starting station on the last day of Lent Bumps this year, where we won Blades

I love rowing, and I love PCBC, and I love the seven women (and one man) who come Wednesday will be sitting at our starting station waiting for the cannons to go off. So if you’re done with exams or you need a study break I’d love it if you came to watch, one day or every day, for one division or all of them. No matter what happens, it’s going to be a great May Bumps.

Courtney has been writing a series on rowing with PCBC in preparation for May Bfor Hear The Boat Sing which you can read here

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