After 29 years
May 8, 2022
After 29 years, I’m back to rowing.
Neural pathways, dormant for decades, light up in my head with the joy of reuniting with a familiar experience. It must feel like an old-school reunion for my nerve cells. I was thrilled, although superbly unfit. Two years of pandemic led to gym closures led me to take the path of least resistance in physical fitness. I aimed for a meager 10000 steps a day through nature walks and city crawls – hardly enough for the stay-at-home lifestyle.
As a teenager, I rode a bicycle to the Madras Boat Club twice a week to row with three daring (and gorgeous) school friends. We were by far the only all-girls crew in the club. We were fabulous, coordinated, and very fit. We won a few regattas too. These small wins boosted our teenie egos immensely, and we walked around town like sports celebrities. As we transitioned from teenage to university, followed by career ambitions and motherhood, we abandoned our boats to take the archetypical roads to success.
My family relocated to Zürich some months ago, and the new home brought back rowing to my field of view. Tempted, I nervously signed up for an Infoabend at one of the many local Ruderclubs. The trainers at the club briefed us in German about what to expect in training. Koordination, Technik, Kraft und Ausdauer. Exactly what I expected. Prima! And then I heard 300 m im offenen Gewässer schwimmen können. Did I hear that right?
I looked around the room.
No one batted an eyelid.
Swim in open water?
Errrr. Yeah. Sure. Three hundred meters is not a problem at all but the water temperature, at the time of the introductory talk, was about 3 degrees celsius. I couldn’t wrap my head around that.
At the end of the introductory evening, this was all I could remember. It kept running through my head in repeat mode with images of me swimming animatedly in the frigid Zürichersee. The rest of the Infoabend was fuzzy in the temporary brain fog I experienced.
And, I alighted the boat before I got on to it.
I am warm-blooded by birth and upbringing. Raised in Madras (Chennai), I wore jumpers and scarves to cope with the December chill that averaged 20 degrees Celsius in the mornings and evenings. I had no experience dipping even my little finger in frigid waters, let alone swimming.
Yet after much contemplation, I decided to sign up for the training for two reasons – for the love of an old sports experience and as a mental exercise in pushing my boundary of comfort.
Like any other sport, rowing has many benefits. The more obvious ones are teamwork, fitness, endurance, and commitment. But I experienced many more – especially one that’s far too underrated. When I sat down to share this experience in writing, what flowed was poetry. Cheers.
After years of isolation and social distancing,
To work together is enterprising.
In flesh and blood, in rain and shine,
Where many minds and bodies align.
The proximity to humans,
The sheer mortal effort,
The constant grapple,
For the technique to be perfect.
Excellence is not,
Racing ahead of the team,
But the ability to row in rhythm,
Like a part of a grand scheme.
Communicating with just our senses,
With sight and the sound of clicking oars,
Few spoken words between us;
Fewer means we achieved more.
Simultaneous and synchronous,
Take us far and faster,
The Catch, The Drive,
The Finish, The Recover.
Efficient are we when together,
Unproductive when we try to rise above another.
Ubiquitous is rowing, as a poster sport,
For teamwork, commitment, and collaboration,
High-res photos of rowers and scullers in boats,
Adorn many offices in very many nations.
Fitness seems only an incidental benefit,
In comparison to the mind in the present moment.
The synchronization of senses,
The serendipity of silence,
The symphony of movement,
In the often tranquil and sometimes tumultuous lake.
Devoid of all things digital,
That mostly deliver unnecessary information,
The experience of the moment is heightened,
through the power of non-verbal communication!