The strength I gained from rowing saved my life.
I’m no stranger to competition. In elementary and middle school, I found as many ways to use my competitiveness as I could manage, playing every sport you can think of. Soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, ballet, gymnastics, volleyball, ballroom dancing, and even horse-back riding.
Once I hit 8th grade, my competitive nature started to have a dark side. I grew more and more competitive against myself, and fell into a downward spiral, striving for perfection. Before I knew what was happening, anorexia had taken hold of my life.
This same spring in 8th grade, I tried rowing for the first time. The sport was focused on power, technique, and strength. It helped me find a reservoir of mental strength I didn’t know I had; it ended up being the thing that gave me the strength to beat the disease. Rowing made me competitive against my anorexia instead of against myself; I was intent on making myself the strongest I could be.
I started rowing in 8th grade through an introductory program offered by my high school. For six weeks I woke up three days a week at 5:15 am to get to practice by 5:45 am so I could get to classes by 8 am.
Surprisingly, the early mornings weren’t a negative to me. They were a positive.
Waking up early wasn’t hard, and the sport was so rewarding that I realized I wanted to continue even after the six week season ended.
Once, I was told to draw a pie chart that diagramed the proportion time I spent thinking about food, weight, and looks in comparison to family, friends, and my hobbies. At the lowest point, my thoughts about food took up 1/3 of my mentality. It was overpowering my mind. And, yet when I rowed, all that chatter quieted down; all I would focus on was taking the next stroke. Following the person in front of me, one stroke at a time. There was no space for negativity, compulsive thoughts about food, or plans to skip my next meal when I was carrying a heavy boat or trying to remain in sync with my teammates.
It didn’t take me long to realize rowing was a sport for crazy people. It took me even less time to know I wanted to be crazy with them.
In Boston, rowing on the Charles River has given me exposure to meet a diverse group of people who share a passion for being on the water. Meeting people I felt connected with at Radcliffe, CRI, or Cambridge Boating Club, I quickly learned I had stumbled into a fantastic and small world full of extremely competitive, supportive, and crazy people. I loved it.
On a scientific level, rowing was beneficial not only because it helped regulate my stress levels, but also because it builds bone density. A major consequence of anorexia is osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak, brittle bones that occurs from lack of nutrition.
Of course, I didn’t know this when I discovered rowing, and it wasn’t a factor in my choice to stick with it. That makes me so grateful for my decision. Rowing was helping me to build myself up for the future at a time when I was preoccupied with destroying myself in the present.
After finishing my freshman year, I switched to private school and had the opportunity to row on the school’s team. By the end of that season, I had wholly recovered from anorexia, and I credit a good part of that recovery to rowing. Now, rowing does for me what my disorder used to: it helps me to cultivate laser focus and allows me to be competitive with myself.
And now, I’m still rowing in college. The small rower I was in middle school no longer exists. Now, instead of worrying about eating too much, I worry about not eating enough.The possibilities of my body are endless– why would I want to ever hold myself back by not eating enough?
Check out these articles too: