From Heavy Smoker to Bronze Medal Rower!

From Heavy Smoker to Bronze Medal Rower!

I sat down to write this blog post sure that it would flow…..I was swept away on a high this last weekend, I had gone over what I would write so many times in my head but now the words aren’t coming so I’ll just have to give you this….

Training at Sunset

Four years ago when I quit smoking and started running I knew I was changing, my focus changed, my energy levels soared and I started to do things I never even began to imagine. At the time running and perhaps a little boot camp were all I thought I had in me but then just as I had fallen into exercise I fell into rowing and little did I know where it would take me.

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Last weekend Mr C and I competed in The Irish Coastal Rowing Federation All Ireland Championship in Waterville, Co.Kerry where over 2,700 rowers lined up for the heats on Saturday with those who qualified out of their heats going through to the finals on Sunday……guess who rowed on Sunday???? :))) ah just look at us below…..

Selfie with Mr C before heading to the shore for my race.
Selfie with Mr C before heading to the shore for my race.

Nothing could have prepared me for the fantastic experience of this weekend. Where Clubs came from all over Ireland, set up tents and Marquees, brought food and BBQ’s and set about to make themselves at home on the side of a lake in County Kerry for an entire weekend.

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I row with two clubs, Kenmare and Templenoe, both Clubs row on Kenmare Bay only 6 miles apart but they are two very different types of rowing. Kenmare use a Gig, Slider or Skull as used in Olympic rowing, a very narrow boat where balance is key to everything, very elegant and graceful to watch.

Kenmare Regatta in our Gig
Kenmare Regatta in our Gig

Templenoe is a larger boat used in Coastal rowing, it’s very well suited to rough conditions out on the water and a much heavier boat to pull. I love rowing with both clubs because of this difference between the boats.

Templenoe was the club and boat that I rowed in this weekend at the All Irelands. They were held on Lough Currane just outside Waterville, a stunning location.

'All Boats Ready' at the start line lining up in lanes
‘All Boats Ready’ at the start line lining up in lane

I’ve already ran a half marathon and a full marathon this year and having ran numerous road races over the years I wasn’t sure what to expect from the start line of this race?

My running experience kept my nerves very much in check during Cork City Marathon and stood me well but this was in a boat….on the water…..with three of my crew and our Cox! Way outside my comfort zone.

Sitting at the start line was an experience I will never forget, there were thousands there watching the race, the officials and commentator were full swing, boats were lining up and tension was rising.

Start Line
Our boat 2nd from the right at the start of the race. Photo courtesy of Valerie O’Sullivan Photo.

Our Cox had coached us well, you never look at the other boats at the start line and never EVER during a race. Key to rowing is timing and balance, all oars need to go into the water at the same time, the blades need to be at the same angle and they all need to exit the water at the same time, the stroke length and pull needs to be the same, if this happens then the boat will glide through the water, if not it will rock and drag.

The stunning Dromquinna Manor and Boathouse Bistro at dusk
The stunning Dromquinna Manor and Boathouse Bistro at dusk

All weekend we watched boats line up and the commentator call “All boats READY!” before the starting horn.

The rush of sitting in the boat waiting for the off was a new experience to me. Once the race gets going you focus on your Cox and oar, looking from the oar to the Cox to read his face, you place everything in his hands while you row your hardest, he is your eyes and ears, he measures the race and the distance, he shouts when he needs you to pull hard to close a length on a competitor boat, he roars when he needs 30 strokes at 100% and tells you when to ease off a little to conserve energy for the remaining distance, he tells you how many strokes to rounding of the buoy as you can’t see it, he shouts for the rounding and in the final stretch home when you can’t see the finish line he pushes you as hard as he can to get you across the line.

All of this got us out of our heat on Saturday and Qualifying for the All Ireland on Sunday where we came 6th overall…..not bad I think ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thumbs up after qualifying out of our heat for the All Ireland Final
Thumbs up after qualifying out of our heat for the All Ireland Final

Perhaps the unexpected highlight for me was the Ladies Seine Boat Race. I somehow ended up filling in in this boat during training and again for the race on the day. The Seine Boat is an old Timber Mackerel Fishing Boat with a crew of 12.

Rowing during our Seine Boat Race. Photo coutesy of Valerie O'Sullivan Photo.
Rowing during our Seine Boat Race. Photo coutesy of Valerie O’Sullivan Photo.

Two sit on each oar and its a tough hard row but we did it and we have a Bronze All Ireland Medal to show for it.

Bronze!
Bronze!

The course is much longer than the other races lasting 20 minutes and I’m very proud to say that we went into that boat thinking we were doing the shorter race and had a few minutes of panic at the start line when we discovered we were going to be rowing the mens distance.

Four years ago I didn’t walk, I didn’t run and I certainly didn’t row. I was terrified of water having lost my beloved cousin to the sea when were teenagers. This stayed with me all my life and for may years I hated water, it terrified me.

Three years agoย after I took up runningย I very nervously and carefully got into a rowing boat terrified that we would capsize, we didn’t and I didn’t give up.

Three years later I get into that boat and I row, I think about my stroke, the finish line and whatever pain I may be going through to get there, I don’t think about water……

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We all have our mountains to conquer and this has been mine!

Vincent and I after our races.
Vincent and I after our races.

 

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2 Comments

  1. An amazing story and even more amazing achievements. Martin and Decklin had impact on so many of us, and it’s fantastic that you’ve overcome fears and stopped smoking !!!! Truly inspirational !!! Congratulations, now onwards and upwards Karen !!! Xx

    • Thanks Kieran and its so nice to hear their names and have them remembered. I guess if shaped me in what doesn’t break you will make you.
      Well done you on flying solo! That’s some a achievement too. X

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