So I’m gonna take you back 6 years in time, to when I was a big 13 year old. I grew the wrong way around.
September of 2014
Rowing. It was new at school and nobody knew what the hell it was. Whenever somebody said ‘rowing’, there was always some kid moving his hands forward and back, sniggering. So obviously, I ended up at rowing.
And no later than two months later,
I’m at home, near tears because I just got a text:
‘There may be a short-notice training session today at 3pm. Will confirm soon.”
At the time I found that out, I had no way of getting to training, and I was heartbroken. It turned out that training was actually cancelled, but if that doesn’t sound like love to you, then you, sir, have never been in love.
So things continued this way for a while, and rowing became the sun around which my world revolved, for five long years.
Have you heard of that saying? Love never dies a natural death, but only one of negligence? Rowing and I, lasted through a change of coach, five changes of crew/friends, many changes of boats, and a change of club.
Fast-forward 5 years from the first day, and things have turned upside down. It’s my last year of rowing, and I hadn’t a clue. Over the next few weeks, I’ll go back to what went wrong, and analyze. I will share with you, my mistakes, in the hope that you will learn from them too.
We’re all figuring it out as we go along, you know? The ones who seem to have it all together? I’ll tell ya something. They’re pretending.
Life lesson #1:
I thought I could go it alone. After June/2019, (which was when I finished secondary school,) I’m thinking it’s a sustainable plan of action to scull for another full season, without my crew around anymore, and increase training intensity to 9/10 sessions a week consistently. But wait. There’s more. Have I told you that I’m an only-child?
“The hell has that to do with rowing?”
Since you ask: Well, I have this belief that every only-child has this belief that they are perfectly okay with spending serious lengths of time alone., with no help from anyone. Is it just me? I realized the unforgiving way, that, as much as we’d like to think that Charles Bukowski’s right, the fact of the matter is that we are social creatures, and really, no man is an island. I thought I was though, for those lovely months. That was the start of a chain of bad decisions and misjudgements.
Do you think there are athletic personalities out there who can manage without a social environment for support? Share your thoughts with me.
Sometimes, we get so absorbed in what we think we are capable of. I was determined to prove a point. To myself and to everyone around me that I could go this alone. I still believe I can (which is where cycling comes in), but when the odds are against me (things beyond my control), and it gets difficult, I know I need someone to say ‘I believe in you’. At that point, the only way to keep moving forward is to ask for a little help. Only at that point though.
It’s December 2019, and at this point, two months to go for Sri Lanka Rowing Championships. The goal is set at Open Gold.
Meet my gym coach. He’s usually silent – he’s a bodybuilder, keeps to himself, helps when he can. Today, he’s talking, it’s just him and me. Weight room plan for today is assessments: one-rep max, to figure out where I am. Hands on the bar, heels down, I’m set, and I lift it.
It’s really not too heavy, so I add 10kg. I’m lifting it, and that’s more like it. The lift is done in a time frame of 10 seconds, usually.
And as soon as I drop the weight, I collaspe because i have excruciating pain in my lower back, and the only way I can ease it is by lying flat on my back. Now, Doctor, please leave a comment as to what you think that is. I never figured it out, and an MRI showed nothing.
Crisis point: I had badly overdone things to a point where I couldn’t realistically recover to where I was just a week ago. Two weeks went by, without a cog being turned. And it was January when things were in motion again. Things between my coach and I were getting bad, because there were visible signs of (his) doubt (in me) showing. Slowly, I was coming to realize that he and I were very different people with very different lives, and he was far too busy to realistically offer me the attention I needed as an athlete, and that wasn’t a fault of his.
Why?: You see, as training volume increases, competitions get bigger, and external pressure builds, the coach is someone an athlete turns to, to help make sense of things and figure out which direction (s)he must move in. I wasn’t the easiest athlete to deal with, I must admit, because I am stubborn!! unless someone offers me sharp reasoning for their instructions. It didn’t help that coach wasn’t one that saw such detailed explanations neccessary.
Red flags I learned to watch out for: I became all too familiar with how easy it is to get carried away with thinking that pushing myself at nearly every oppurtunity is actually making me improve. More than once, I overestimated my body’s capability to recover, and I failed to realize that little changes to the plan, over a long period of time, add up to produce big differences, come race day.
A little too much or a little too less. It’s a choice I must make between being 0.03 times worse, or 37.78 times better.
Now that we’re on that topic, I must mention overtraining. An article on that is due, but there’s more digging needed to figure that out. Scientific research on it is sparse, for many reasons.
I’ll tell you about my experiences with it, and what I did to get back on track: part of it is mental burnout – that’s how I would describe the rest of this story.
I filed for divorce.
Before Nationals, it was only a plan in my head, because I realized that things weren’t going to work out in the long run, between me and Sri Lanka Rowing: an able athlete comes to a disappointing halt, unless one enlists.
Coaches worked for the National Team on volunteer basis, and what little funding came in, was used to finish constructing the boathouse, and for overheads.
Athlete sponsorship – at the very least, for travel, accomodation and kit – was difficult to come by. We’re talking National Level here.
I had a pretty good divorce lawyer though: I hand-wrote a letter to my coach, explaining myself. Things didn’t line up anymore, and Coach and I had grown apart. Assessments repeatedly turned out bad and I was desperately trying to figure out what went wrong. Was it injury? My boat? The most difficult possibility to face was the ever-lingering doubt that I may not be as tough as I thought I was. And I had gotten used to thinking I was. I must dig a bit deeper into the why’s and how’s of the failed relationship.
February/2020, two weeks for Nats.
There wasn’t much left to salvage anyway. And I’m two weeks out, now. I nearly died that morning, cycling to training. (Refer post ‘BICYCLE’ )
The sun around which my world revolved, was starting to show spots.
Things were getting hot. I decide to switch my focus to technical refinements, and start tapering off gradually, because at this point, I really don’t have many options. This is the lowest point in 6 years of rowing!
That was a bunch of drama, but everything happening at rowing was overshadowed by the Race The Peal performance, and steadily improving average speeds, over the long evening sessions I did alongside my rowing. I had something to safely fall back on, and with every new difficulty at rowing, the prospect of letting go of something that had become an integral part of my life, became so much easier.
If I turned ‘Sri Lanka Rowing’ into a person, I will say that we grew apart, just as real people do. Wow, how melodramatic does that sound?
I made mistakes that hindered my ability to do what I had to do, when I had to do it. I had made mistakes with technique which would take a long time to fix, and it wasn’t practical anymore to keep going like that. And so we parted ways.
What’s next on the agenda?
The University of Tasmania definitely provides hope for a return to rowing, so that I can finish what I started, but that’s really a distant future. It’s too uncertain and far ahead for me to dream about, at this point in time.
Maybe I will return to the sport one day, when I miss the way things were, again. That’s not anytime now though, because the lake doesn’t look like the home it used to be, anymore. For now, the bicycle steals the limelight, and the magician returns for his usual role, playing escapist.
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