Sunday, November 28, 2010

Two Little Words

I started rowing in December 2006 after being asked to take up the sport by the Australian Paralympic Committee through a Talent Search day.  Little did I know what learning to row would do for and to me over the next four years!

How many times do we hear the words "Can't" and "Never" growing up and even into our adult lives.  As children we are constantly told "No you can't do that" and as adults we are told "You will never be able to do that".  Well that is exactly what happened to me back in May 2007 when I was told that I would "Never" be good enough to make a national rowing team.  I believe that both of those words should be taken out of the english language.  Why should anyone have the power to tell someone that they "Can't" or will "Never" be able to do something, especially if they don't really know the person.  I went on to prove this man wrong and subsequently made the national team the following 2 years.

Although I haven't competed internationally this year, I am still aiming to compete next year and help get our crew qualified for the Paralympics in London 2012.  But because I wasn't competing internationally this year I had to find another focus.  I believe in goals, we need them to push ourselves through the pain and dedication to training.  I changed rowing clubs this year and it was probably the best decision I have ever made over the last 4 years of my rowing.

In June this year I joined the Melbourne Rowing Club and started training with the Masters Women.  There are some amazing women at this club, some who have been rowing a very long time, some who have been rowing for about the same time I have.  My coach has remained the same as he came to the club as well. 

The focus of the women at this time of the year was the Head of the Yarra regatta.  This is the largest regatta in the southern hemisphere totally devoted to the "Big Boats", the eights!

With 5 crews to look after, 4 of those being female crews and one a mixed crew, my coach has his hands full.  I don't know how he did it, but he worked out all the crews, took all of them for training sessions and really made all of us believe in ourselves and our abilities.  We all took turns in different boats and in different seats and he finally came up with the combinations of crews based on rowing scores and ages!

When he finally asked me to stroke one of the crews (for those non-rowers this means to take charge of leading the other rowers when it comes to stroke rate and speed) I was very honoured but to be honest scared to death!!  I am sure there were a few of the rowers who were concerned that due to my MS I wouldn't be able to carry out the task and to be honest, I wasn't sure I would be able to do it!  I certainly didn't want to let anyone down on the day.

That day dawned yesterday, all the hard work had been put in, the blisters, the sweat and the sore bodies all for this one day and this 8.6km race.  I can tell you that I was extremely nervous even as we were carrying the boat down to the water, but once on the water my stomach settled, I focused and I knew what I had to do.  The weather wasn't exactly the best but for the time we were racing it was probably the best of the day.

We knew that we were starting off first in our category and had 16 boats that were going to chase us, so the plan was to get out really fast.  Row the fastest first 2km that we could possibly row because after 2km it becomes harder to pass due to the twists and turns in the river.  But the most dangerous place on the river in this race was Big Bend, a 90 degree bend in the river.  With all the rain that we have had the silt had shifted and gathered at this one corner, so to get around this bend without a mishap was probably going to be the breaking point of other crews.

By the time we hit Big Bend we had about 400 metres on the crews behind us. (Not bad for only a 10 sec head start)  Our coxswain Emma is so experienced that she took a fantastic line and we really zipped around the corner then drove our legs as hard as we could to get back up to speed.  At this point we still had about 4km to go, so it was up to me to keep a good rythm and stroke rate and up to Emma to keep us on our toes with our heads firmly focused on what we were supposed to be doing.

But with about 1km to go an almost unbearable pain started in my hip and I really had a hard time getting up the slide and even sitting up straight.  This felt like a nightmare about to start! The velcro on my right shoe had come loose right near the start of the race, so when my hip started to hurt I couldn't even use my foot to help pull me forward, as it was loose in the shoe.   I am sure that Emma could see it in my face every time she said to me "Sit up...sit up".  Believe me I was trying to.  When she realized that I had a problem she quickly yelled to everyone "Right bow 7 lets help Carol, keep it long, keep it strong! Let's all back her up" and with that I could feel the boat lift! All of a sudden I heard the finishing line horn, the most beautiful sound in the world, especially if you are in absolute's over.   I quickly looked at my watch and then looked ahead for the other crews.  It took almost 3 and a half minutes for the next crew to cross the line...that was a good omen, but we had to wait to see what the boats at the back had done.

It didn't take long to find out the results...we had WON!  Not only with the handicaps (due to ages) applied but on raw time!  All that hard work had paid off.  Not only that but out of the four female crews, 3 of them had won and the 4th was 2nd!  Our coach had done the most remarkable job!!

So I want to thank the women who backed me up in that boat!  You are the best!  Thank you for your friendship and your one can ever take away that win from us and no one can ever say to us those two little words...Can't and Never !  Through rowing I have two new favourite words; Teamwork and Friendship. 

You my friends have all made huge waves in my life!!

Melbourne RC Masters Women E Crew


  1. Hi Carol,
    read it with tears in my eyes and feel what you describe. Keep on dreaming and make your dream come true. See you in Bled and London (I am dreaming too...)

  2. Thank you Anke and congratulations on your Bronze in New Zealand! Hopefully the dream will be kept alive and I will see you in Bled!