These are some of the greatest hits:
YOU’RE TALL – YOU MUST PLAY VOLLEYBALL
Most rowing athletes are compelled to join a rowing squad at some point because we are not coordinated enough to excel at other team sports. Being tall is an advantage in rowing because the idea is to move the boat as fast as possible by maximizing the length and efficiency of each stroke. The taller you are, the better natural lever you are and the more of a mechanical advantage you will have. Rowers are often mistaken for volleyball or basketball players or swimmers; but a closer look at our overdeveloped quads, racerback tanlines and callused hands can’t conceal the truth.
I LOVE TO CANOE!
Rowing, canoeing and kayaking are all very different sports. If you’re making the air-motion of circles on just one side of your body with one fist above the other, you’re imitating canoeing. If you’re making the air-motion of alternating circles on opposite sides of your body with one hand high and one hand low, you’re imitating kayaking. In both of those sports, the athletes are kneeling (canoeing) or seated (kayaking) and facing the direction they are paddling. In rowing, strokes are more or less straight back and forth and we are seated facing the direction opposite we are traveling. Rowers also use oars which are 9+ feet long whereas canoeists and kayakers use paddles which are significantly shorter in length. We are all water sport family, but in truth there is a silent feud among us since wakes from kayaks are quite unpleasant for rowers and we can never see or hear them coming up behind us.
WOW, ROWING – YOU MUST HAVE REALLY STRONG ARMS
Actually rowing is a full-body sport, but we try to generate most of our power from our legs and our glutes. The seats in the boats (or on the rowing machine) slide, so we can compress to the back of the boat and when the oar enters the water, we drive our legs down while suspending our body weight on the oar handles. The idea is to lock the oar blade in the water and drive the boat past the oar, not pull the oar through the water. We do engage our arms and shoulders near the end of the stroke to remove the oar from the water, but only after a massive effort from our legs and then transferring most of that effort in to our core and finally to our arms and upper bodies. Our arms and lats need to be strong enough to handle the huge amounts of stress inflicted on them by our bodies’ largest muscles working at maximum effort – but they do not actually do much to move the boat.
YOUR HANDS ARE DISGUSTING – WHY DON’T YOU WEAR GLOVES?
Two reasons: first, with the amount of training we do, the friction that occurs between your hands and the oar handles is going to happen eventually, whether you’re wearing gloves or not. If you’ve got pre-existing blisters or calluses under your gloves, the extra layer may actually make the friction worse. It’s better in the long run to break in your hands and make them tough. Secondly: we make fun of people who wear gloves when they row.
SO WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO?
The top female rowers in the United States row full time. We train 30+ hours per week which breaks down to two or three sessions per day six or seven days per week. Some of us do manage to work part time, but only if we are able to find employers who are willing to work around our training and travel schedules.
HOW DO YOU AFFORD THAT?
I don’t, really. Top athletes on the US Team are eligible to receive a monthly support check from the USOC. But that check doesn’t always cover all the costs of living and training in Princeton. Every athlete’s situation is different – some of us rent, some of us stay with host families; some of us have cars, some of us don’t; and stipend amounts can vary depending on performance. During my time on the Team, top athletes can expect to make about $1000 per month from the USOC, and with a World Championship medal performance earn a year-end bonus of $5000 from the USOC “Operation Gold” program. So $17,000 annually. For athletes who are not top performers, the amount is less, or zero.
WHEN IS YOUR COMPETITIVE SEASON?
Most of our races occur between April and September. We start our national selection in the US in April with a series of National Selection Regattas in small boats to help determine who will make the World Championship Team later in the summer. We then compete in a series of races – the World Cups – which are one per month in May, June and July. These are all precursors to the main event of the year: the World Championships. This is our primary goal in non-Olympic years.
DO YOU HAVE AN OFF SEASON?
Nope. We train year round, with the exception of 10-14 days after the World Championships during which we either greatly reduce or stop training in order to recover from our competitive peak and prepare for the next season of training. We train in New Jersey, which does get cold during the winter months, so we plan one or more trips to our warm-weather training facility in San Diego when our lake freezes over.
HOW OLD ARE YOU?
I am slightly older than the average US female rowing athlete at 32. I have been rowing at the elite level for ten years and have competed on two Olympic Teams. It is common for US athletes to retire after only one or two Olympic cycles (typically before age 30). It is not common for athletes to do three or more cycles in the US system, due to the lack of financial security available to athletes. Because of variations in athlete funding and support, it is more common for rowing athletes from other countries to be able to train for 3-6 Olympic cycles. However, very few rowing athletes from any country compete over age 40.