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The how-to guide to Hilary: How to tell if you are a typical rower (and what to do about It)

Uma Gurav explains why rowing is so loved and why we're all a typical rower.

Do you constantly complain about the number of frankly appalling blisters you have on your hands? Frequently whine about how you just have to go to bed early tonight so you can wake up for rowing tomorrow? Repeatedly remind people how you simply cannot go out this evening because you are so tired from all the ergs you have been doing? 

If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, I am sorry to have to tell you but, yes, you are in fact a typical rower. 

As I am sure many fellow rowers have already discovered, when someone finds out that you row they tend to react as if you had just told them that your favourite food is ice cream and chips – you are met with raised eyebrows, a lip curled in disgust and a sceptical groan of disapproval even as you attempt to convince them that it is actually ‘really good once you try it’. 

You see, when you are not actually rowing at 6:30 in the morning, you will still undoubtedly be complaining about how you fell asleep in your 9am lecture because you had to row at 6:30 this morning. You will be grumbling about how your toes are practically dropping off because it was so cold at 6:30 this morning. You will be parading around in one of your numerous rowing jumpers or – better yet – the unisuit because, did you know, “I row at 6:30 in the mornings?” 

What is more, over the last few weeks, colleges have begun the nail-biting process of boat selections, adding a whole new layer of erg-mania into the equation. Rowers have been pouring blood, sweat and tears into training with the hopes of defeating the most fiendish and dreaded adversary of the rowing world: the 2k test. If you are anything like me, the very thought of the 2k test leaves you feeling half-determined, half-terrified and completely exhausted before you have even gotten anywhere near an erg. 

All in all, it hardly sounds like an enjoyable way to spend your free time. I can hear the confused voices of oh-so-many of my friends, and I can hardly blame them for asking me: ‘Why on earth do you not just quit?’ The answer, of course, is blindingly obvious but it is something that I know I certainly do not remind myself of enough: I love rowing.  

Too often, we forget that we are allowed to do things for no better reason than the fact that we love doing them. It is hardly surprising given the pressure that is put on us during term time to not only complete a lot of academic work, but also to produce that work to a very high standard. But no matter what level of a sport or an academic subject we are at, working hard and putting long hours into it should never be at the expense of your passion for it. 

I have heard the term ‘typical rower’ get thrown about a lot at Oxford. It is a phrase that somehow manages to turn the act of being extremely devoted to a particular discipline into a fault. 

But the thing is, we are all typical rowers in our own way. 

Being ‘a typical rower’ is not about constantly reminding all your friends about your early mornings and your tiring ergs. It is not about blistered hands or 2k tests. It is not even about being amazing at rowing. It is about the hard work and devotion that each and every one of us puts into those things that mean something to us in life. They can be the degrees that we all spend hours and hours working towards, the sports that we train in, the societies that we are part of or the skills that we hone. 

I started rowing last year while I was going through a bit of a difficult phase in my life. Friendships and relationships were starting to become exceptionally strained and work was continuing to be (unexceptionally) stressful. Dragging myself out of bed and cycling to an outing each morning before the Sun came up became an oddly empowering ritual in the midst of all this. It reminded me that dedication is something for each and every one of us to be proud of. If you are a typical rower, wear that badge with a smile.  

It is true, the things we commit to so wholeheartedly have the power to make us feel worse than we thought we ever could. I have rarely felt as bad as I do when I come back from a morning outing where I feel I have not rowed as well as I could have. I have never seen some of my friends as stressed as they were before we had to do our 2k tests this term. Alongside all the blisters and the tiredness, there is a disappointment of the worst kind which can only result from not quite achieving the goals that we worked towards with all our hearts. 

But the things we love and devote our hours to also have the power to make us happy in a way that absolutely nothing else can. For me, it is the orange and pink sunrises over the Isis river that suddenly make the early mornings worth it; it is the herd of cows that noisily shuffle across Port Meadow in the summer, and the rapid halting of our boats as we watch processions of tiny ducklings cross the water; it is the motivating screams of my wonderful friends that keep me going through a 2k test that seems to stretch on forever, and the exhausted smiles of achievement that we share as we collapse on the floor having finally completed it together. 

If, as I have sometimes done lately, you ever forget what the blisters or the late night essay crises or the hours spent practising your skills are all for, take a step back – remember what your orange and pink sunrise moments are. 

To all the typical rowers and typical degree students, to all the typical musicians and typical writers, in short, to all those people who strive with a wholehearted commitment to reach perfection in your chosen discipline – I hope you are proud of what you do. 

As for me, I really should be off to bed now – after all, I do have rowing at 6:30 tomorrow morning. 

Image Credit: Jpbowen, CC BY-SA 3.0

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