I met a couple of newbie rowing parents yesterday. All bright eyed and bushy tailed. Was I ever that naïve? It became clear to me very quickly that they have absolutely no idea on how their lives are going to change irrevocably.
Rowing is a team sport not only for the actual crew, but for their support staff – you, the parent.
Rowing is a fabulous sport. The teamwork. The outdoors. The sheer beauty of watching 8 rowers work in perfect unison. The sunrises.
All the good stuff.
However, there are some things no-one tells you about as the parent of a wanna-be rower.
These are but a few of them.
When your child chooses to row, so do you.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. There is nothing that can compare to it. However, (there’s always a but), you have to be prepared to actually do it. Your whole family has to adjust to support an Athlete – with a capital A.
Holidays. When you want to arrange a family holiday, you’ll find yourself hat in hand, cautiously approaching the coach to ask when it would be convenient. The answer is – never. You can have Easter Sunday and Christmas Day off.
Weekends: Lazy weekend braais by the pool with friends? Maybe a brunch with the girls? Don’t kid yourself. These will be but a fond memory. Your weekends will now be spent at regattas. Every weekend. And training stops for no man or woman – off-season or on.
Plans. Your friends and colleagues will stop asking about your weekend plans. They’ll know that there is only one answer – rowing. All your conversations will revolve around rowing. Your friends will exist almost entirely of other rowing parents. You’ll be bonded by the same rowing PTSD.
Having a sleep in. You’ll be in the car at 4:30am armed with a folding chair and a cooler box filled with water. Eventually you may find yourself investing in a gazebo. You’ll soon be able to erect and dismantle it in a shorter time than a US Marine can assemble his field rifle.
Dinner. Your meal plans at home will revolve around carbo-loading, pre-hydration, chicken breasts and protein shakes. Your child will eat you out of house and home.
Training. They start you off slowly. One or two afternoons after school. Then Saturday mornings. And Sundays. Then early morning training in the gym 5 – 7am. Before you know what has hit you, you’re getting up at 3 to take your child to the gym, getting them home at 7pm, feeding them a cow, battling through homework, bed and then the whole thing starts again. The pressure on your Athlete and yourself is intense. Everything, including exams, takes second place.
Spanners. You’ll buy so many size 10 and 13 spanners and no. 5 Allen keys that the sales staff at the hardware store will know you by name.
Folding chairs. You’ll quickly discover the pros and cons of every brand and design of folding chair.
Regatta food. You’d better love bacon and egg rolls, and the ever-ubiquitous, chicken prego. This is will be your main diet for most of the season. Bring a sandwich, plenty of water, fruit and chocolate milk. I don’t know why, but a cold Steri Stumpie is the best way for a rower to recover after a race.
The bar. The first time you head off to a regatta as a virgin parent, you might find yourself riding a moral high horse when you see another parent crack open a beer at 10am. Give it a few months. The good news is that there is usually a very good bar. Schools compete to provide the latest craft beer and gin, fresh Pimms and champers. It’s very civilized.
Talking to your Athlete. Your child will go from zeniths to nadirs in 4 minutes. Their hands will be bloody, they’ll be beyond exhausted. They won’t want to engage with you. Just give them food and water and leave them to it.
Watching the race: This will be the longest and most excruciating few minutes of your life. You’ll need binoculars, otherwise you’ll find yourself cheering on the wrong child. Oh, and they can’t actually hear you from the water at all. At about the 100m mark all they can hear is the pounding of their own hearts in their ears. People will tell you that you can identify the crew by their blades. This may be true when they’re rowing past you from the finish up to the jetty, but when they’re racing, you’ll be lucky to recognise anything.
The lingo. In order to survive you will need to know the language of rowing. Ergs. Blades. Stroke. Bow. Never, ever commit the cardinal sin of comparing a canoeist to a rower. Canoeist don’t row, they paddle.
Getting home early. Yes, the race takes 4 to 8 minutes. That doesn’t mean you get to go home. There are heats, semis and finals. Your child will be entered in 3 to 4 races. You’ll get there at sunrise and leave at dusk. From the dam, you’ll race back to the boat sheds to unpack the boats. You’ll be home by about 8pm. Get take-out. If you’re going to organize a lift club, try and do the morning trip and get some other sucker to do the home run.
Rowing camps. At some point you’ll be guilted into being a camp parent. This usually falls to the mother. You will fry up enough bacon and eggs to feed the Mongol hoards. You’ll sleep on an air mattress and on the backseat of your car. You’ll get inured to picking through the accumulated detritus of socks and underwear from 60 plus teenage boys. The trick here is to go to one and get it over with at the beginning of the season.
There are parents.
Then there are rowing parents.
Ask yourself. Are you up for it?