A Letter to a Single Sculler Before the First Row of the Season


Dear Novice (or Not-So Novice) Rower— 

Please take a deep breath and know you’ll be ok.

I know it is the beginning of the rowing season, you’ve been off the water for months, and it seems that you’ve forgotten that you are a smart, accomplished rower.

Don’t worry. You’ll certainly remember how to balance that little v-shaped rowing shell that’s only the width of your hips. I know you’ve been inside on a super stable rowing machine all winter. Please remember that you’ll re-adjust quickly. And that you can do it.

If you live up north like me, it’s cold out, so you are wearing enough clothes to walk across Antarctica when you take that first row. You are worried that your thumbs will catch in your layers of clothes, or you’ll get stuck as you take your hoodie off in the boat.

In short, you fear that you’ll go swimming in the cold, barely un-iced water.

Know that these fears aren’t likely going to come to fruition. Know that these fears make you sharper.

Maybe you think you’ve forgotten how to row altogether. Maybe your stroke will be so tentative and deep that you roll the boat over. Maybe it will be so shallow that you pull and send yourself flying backwards.  

This likely won’t happen.

If you row on a river with current, there’s some flotsam and jetsam, but you likely won’t run into a huge log, or a flock of geese, or a dead cow that sends you swimming in the cold, barely un-iced water.

You’ll be careful and not row alone, right? You won’t go out when it’s too windy, yes? A PFD is a good idea, maybe? (My husband gives me these warnings before. Every. Row. I’m just passing them along to you. You know, as a friend.)

But even if the water is flat and glassy, at least once you’ll forget how tippy this rowing set up in your own boat can be. It will happen about half way through that first row, when you’ve gotten your rhythm and you get a bit careless. You’ll try to scratch your nose or push hair out of your face or grab your water bottle. Maybe one stroke will be just a tad off. Then you’ll feel yourself tipping left/right of center.

But you’ll catch yourself. Right?

Above all, don’t be like me the night before the First Row of the Season. Don’t be a neurotic mess. Please don’t sleep fitfully the night before, or dress and re-dress three times that morning, or wake up 60 minutes before your 4:45am alarm, or pray that it will be too windy/too rainy/too cold to row at all. Don’t hope that someone at the boathouse asks you to join them in a bigger boat—which is so much more stable, and even if the rower in front of you splashes you with 40 degree water, at least you are 100% certain you won’t go swimming.

Don’t be like that. Don’t be like me.

Remember what it’s like to power your own boat. Control your own destiny. Row where you want, when you want, and, yes, if you want.

Remember that you are strong and talented and you can do this brave and crazy thing.

And remember you’ll enjoy it as soon as you take that first stroke and move yourself backward with the grace and power only possible in a single.

I’ll be reminding myself of the same thing.


photo credit: mfatic Ejector Crab via photopin (license)