Thursday, June 5, 2008

Twitch, row, twitch, row, twitch…

Now, don’t tell my husband, who’s been rowing since he was 12, or the Nereid masters women, who are gunning for the top 10 at the Head of the Charles this year, but I’m really in it for the birds.

Yeah, yeah, I know rowing gives me an incomparable, low-stress, total body workout, and sure I love to hang out with other rowers and eat Briant’s (internationally known) pancakes by day and picanha, Brazilian-style steak, by night.

(BTW, Here’s Briant, the famous chef, drinking OJ, I think:)

But my most cherished moments on the Passaic River are those of bird sightings: a belted kingfisher, dive-bombing for a meal; a black crowned night heron, bursting out from a low-hanging branch; or an osprey, atop a tree on the riverbank.

Osprey? Did I say Osprey? On the Passaic River, home of Agent Orange – the avian kingdom’s worst enemy? Yes. Twice last year, I saw an Osprey in the trees near our club.

My specific joy on the Passaic relates to the persistence and diversity of birds on a body of water often clogged with floating islands of empty bottles, tires, and nail-studded construction materials, never mind enough logs and branches for all the beaver dams in North America. Did you know that washing machines and filing cabinets can float? (That's what I learned last summer when the river flooded – talk about surprise sightings!)

I often think of that Keep America Beautiful ad from the 1970s, with the Native American brave crying about pollution. I’m sure he was paddling across the Passaic.

In case you never saw it, it's a must-see:

The Passaic is an aquatic border between our past and our future. It’s a tidal legacy of our country’s industrial roots, including its history of environmental abuse. Yet it’s a sign of nature’s stubborn insistence on living – a flicker of hope that ecology just might win out over man’s foolery. That’s what I love about it.

The Passaic is an idyllic place to row, because the water is very flat, and there is almost no boat traffic (except for an occasional training maneuver by the Rutherford fire department). Typically, the only disturbances on the water are jumping fish and gaggles of Canada geese, who seem to think the river is theirs. (They do perform the occasional public service: rowing one day when the tide was unexpectedly low, they squawked aggressively to warn me that I was about to go onto a mud flat.)

I connect to the birds when I row because, on a very good day, I get the sensation of flying. When a boat is moving well, and you feel it glide underneath you as your slide creeps forward, there is a fleeting moment of weightlessness. It’s a delicious feeling. I imagine it’s what a bird experiences when it stops flapping its wings and cruises on its own momentum.

Perhaps this is a bit romantic of me. In truth, the closest parallel to a rower in the animal kingdom is probably the water strider.

See the similarities?

But birds are much more fun.

Thankfully, trash on the Passaic is a problem sporadically – the birds are there all the time.

Next installment: The commonality of a boat house rat (have you met my husband?) and the muskrats who have built a home near Nereid.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"The sport that doesn't turn away anyone"

With National Learn To Row day coming up, the sentiment expressed by the U.S. National rower interviewed in this local news article is something worth remembering.

[Micah] Boyd, 26, grew up in St. Anthony Park and graduated from Central High School. "I was athletic, but not good enough to do any other sports," he said. He's 6-foot-3.

His twin brother, Anders, was rowing and coaxed him into the boat as a sophomore at the Minnesota Boat Club in St. Paul. "I found the sport that doesn't turn away anyone," Micah Boyd joked.

The U.S. system is different to the U.K. set up that I know, but nearly everyone I have ever rowed with has come to the sport late in life, after either abandoning other sports, or having never really been into sports (my case). Something about the water draws non-sporty people, while the perfectionist requirements of the rowing movement appeals to those that have realised they don't have the talent to compete at a high level in a throwing (or, in the U.K., kicking) sport.

I started rowing because I grew up near the sea, and went to university inland. I thought I'd miss the sea, so I chose to do an activity that would at least keep me near the water. I never dreamed that it could turn me into a healthy, fit and active person - before arriving at university, I chose to take extra classes for the express purpose of missing PE or mandatory Wednesday afternoon sports...

So how did you get into rowing? We'd love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Psychology Of Women's Rowing

There's a good article here from The Australian, which has interviews with members of the Australian women's eight that won gold at the World Cup earlier this month. It has some insight into their training and sports psychology, as well as discussing how the crew has come together since Athens, when rower Sally Robbins 'blew up' ahead of the finish line, and how the squad has handled the extra pressure and media scrutiny (excerpts below).

Commitment to each other has now reached a level where there’s no need to tiptoe around dramas, be they real or imagined, says Kate Hornsey. “In the past there’ve been concerns with crews when things haven’t been said because they didn’t want to upset anyone, but now we’ve got strategies to deal with that. You can get your point across without crushing a person. But that works both ways – if you’re going to give it, you’ve got to be willing to take it.” She believes a bigger boat also spreads the dramas. “We get to the point in training where we’re almost breaking, we’re shattered mentally. So it’s nice to have others around to share that – they’re suffering with you.”

[Lizzie] Patrick [coxswain] reckons female rowers suffer more from these uncertainties than males. “From what I’ve observed, men can row with a bit of fracture – they just row hard – whereas women seem to be quite uneasy with drama and uncertainty. I feel terrible saying that, but I think we’ve all got to work to our strengths.” And one of women’s strengths is inclusiveness. “What we have seems to be working so far, so we’ll keep doing it.”

There's also some inspiration to those of us that don't quite have height in our favor:

Australian female crews tend to be smaller than their rivals – average height of this eight is the mid-170cms while weight is in the low 70kgs.

[170 centimeters is 5.58 feet and 70 kgs is 154 lbs.]

You can watch a clip of the crew winning gold at the World Cup here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

NYT Rowing Article On Michelle Guerette

The NYT has a great article on Michelle Guerette (pictured above) and her quest to win Olympic Gold.

"No American woman has ever won a gold medal in the single scull event at the World Championships or the Olympics, and no American single sculler, male or female, has won an Olympic medal of any kind since 1988."

The piece runs through a lot of the drills Guerette uses, as well as discussing her training (two to three on-the-water sessions a day, plus ab and back sessions, pilates and yoga) and there's a great video on technique from Harvard rowing coach, Charley Butt, embedded in the piece.

One of Guerette's other recommendations for rowers looking to improve their technique is to watch previous World Championship races. If anyone has any personal favorites, let me know, and we can stream some through the blog.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Top Five Most Irritating Erg Habits

Have you ever been peacefully erging away when suddenly a newcomer selects the rowing machine next to you and proceeds to row, grunt and grimace in a way that completely distracts you from the enjoyment of your own sweat fest?

I think this is more of a rowing-in-the-gym phenomenon than a boat club problem, but still - we'd love to hear the things that really wind you up about fellow rowing machiners.

In the meantime, here's my top five most irritating ergo habits:

1. Canoeing. 
Have you ever had the misfortune to erg next to someone who thinks the Concept 2 - quite often covered in stickers marked 'ROWING MACHINE' - is some sort of land-based canoeing device designed to work their triceps? They waggle the handle, and themselves, from side to side, often only just missing swiping you in the process. And don't get me started on the people who pull the handle over their heads....

2. The Noises.
Those nasal noises that can be heard through your headphones at top volume. Oh, I know you're making an effort - and believe me, if your mom was here, she'd be proud of you - but there's no need.... Admittedly, I'm turning shades of purple on my ergo - but at least I'm going purple QUIETLY.

3. The Chatterers.
Yes - the people who spy you, in solitary rowing machine isolation, and assume you must be interested in starting a conversation. Because, of course, the reason you're sweating your guts out on the torturous machine is because you go to the gym to make friends. Why me, I have to ask? Why not the guy slumped over the bench pull machine? Or that nice looking lady doing her hair while reading a magazine on the recumbent bike?

4. Elbow Wagglers.
Yes, scullers. That could be you. I'm talking about the people who draw their elbows out at the finish, rather than pulling through, thereby sticking their elbows in the ribs of the unfortunate person next to them...

5. Drag-Setting Heavies.
Just because you have the drag setting at 10, and mine's at 6.5 precisely, neither makes you cooler nor fitter than me, ok? Actually, geekily, this really bothers me. I hate to see tiny girls in the gym hurting their backs with the drag setting at 10, literally about to be sucked into the wheel at every stroke, or, even worse, gym instructors putting fresh victims on Concept 2s with the drag setting at 10.

So now you know that you would never like to sit on a rowing machine next to me, how about sharing your pet ergo peeves? And while we're sharing, I'll confess the real reason you don't want to erg next to me - I have a terrible habit of head banging when really 'good' (for head banging) songs come onto my iPod.... unfortunately, there are no mirrors near the Concept 2s in the gym that I go to - so I have yet to be cured of this problem...

Welcome To Nereid's Blog

This is a blog - under construction - for Nereid members and interested others. If you are looking for information on the boat club, you'll find the official site here. If you have thoughts on the information, pictures, updates and stories you would like to see on this blog, let me know.