Hard love

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March 8, 2019 by 8junebugs

A little over a year ago, I built a soundtrack for getting back on the water. Imagine Dragons and The Score ran on a loop and, frankly, anything used for American Ninja Warrior clips and promos was — and still is — a likely suspect for my erging playlists.

I had no idea what to expect from my body this time around…much like the first time, I guess. I didn’t start rowing until after I’d had a c-section, so training up from that wasn’t exactly an issue.

But coming back after a second c-section, plus two neck surgeries (and cancer, not that there was additional treatment) and a general disagreement with my mid-section about whether we were going to use our core muscles or hide them…well. And then there’s all the (/waves hands frantically) LIFE happening outside my body.

Trading punches with the heart of darkness
Going to blows with your fear incarnate
Never gone until it’s stripped away
A part of you has gotta die today

I couldn’t put numbers around my goals. My ultimate goal, and the most important one to me, was to move the boat. My only focus as a rower is to move whatever boat I’m in and make it faster than it was without me. The rest is just numbers on a screen, however useful they seem at the time.

Still, I didn’t know what to expect. My body and my life are a lot more complicated than when I was the overzealous novice chomping at the bit.

In the morning you gon’ need an answer
Ain’t nobody gonna change the standard
It’s not enough to just feel the flame
You’ve gotta burn your old self away

This was something I couldn’t convey to my coach when I left the team.

I got an email from him the day Alex was born; we’d been getting some contact form spam through the website that he would sometimes run past me. The note started with “Aren’t you due yet?” and asked, “Who should I send these to while you’re out?”

You’d think this would bug me, right? Meh, not so much. That’s how much a part of me the team had become, even with all the personal controversy of that last six months or so. It was an easy, quick response — “Had him this morning, send it to _________.” — and I got back a giant yay! and a question about whether my newborn was a port or starboard, which just made me grin.

It’s the “while you’re out” that stuck with me later, though. It felt so hopeful, like I’d be back…shortly. “BRB — having major surgery and taking home a new person entirely dependent on me!”

But there was no defined leave period for crew as there was for work. It wouldn’t — couldn’t — be like stepping back in front of my computer. Going back at all was going to take a lot more than that. I knew my coach thought I would bounce right back into training and I could never articulate why that was unrealistic, no matter how much I over-shared about women and babies and working motherhood.

No matter how much I wished it could be true.

Shifting back into that lifestyle was the biggest hurdle…to say nothing of regaining all the speed I’d lost, and catching up to teammates who’d been training for two years that I’d missed.

Oh, and proving myself to completely new coaches. That, too.

Hold on tight a little longer
What don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger
Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love
You can’t change without a fallout
It’s gon’ hurt, but don’t you slow down
Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love

The gains came quickly at first, which helped. But at Nationals, a friend and former teammate I hadn’t seen in a long time asked if I was rowing for two again.

I suppose that should also have bugged me, right? But this is not a snide, side-swipey woman (and she would’ve just been impressed and proud of me anyway). She asked because I looked like I was pregnant…and for what it’s worth, my progress had stalled. That enlarged, now-unnecessary uterus messed with me for months until I finally got to tell my 28-year-old male coach that I was going to have a hysterectomy.

(That was fun.)

You know the situation can’t be right
And all you ever do is fight
But there’s a reason that the road is long
It takes some time to make your courage strong

I had no qualms about coming back from that. My body was still working out the kinks, but my heart was dialed in and I could determine when I would come back and how. Best surgery ever! (And y’all, my OBGYN is a goddamned genius.)

I’ve been training hard for about six weeks — now with weights/HIIT/core four nights a week — and it’s all back. All of it. My core works. My legs work. I’m connected to the boat in a way that I hadn’t been able to manage since the start of the second trimester in 2016. I didn’t realize just how much I’d missed it until I started feeling the boat respond the way it used to.

Until I heard the bubbles.

There’s plenty to work on. There always is. But the connection that was missing…having that back carries me through whatever Mother Nature and our charmingly irascible coaches throw at me. The numbers are coming; last week, I met my unspoken goal of keeping pace with my old pair partner (on anything — she’s a badass). I’ve PR’ed my 5K, and my next 2K is going to look a lot different.

It took a year. It took setbacks and resets and focus and coaching and support and trust and another fucking surgery and meters and meters and meters. But it’s back.

I’m back.

And it feels glorious.

When the wolves come and hunt me down
I will face them all and stand my ground
‘Cause there’s a fire burnin’ in me
They will see my strength in this love I found

These days, a month out from my first run at San Diego Crew Classic, my internal rowing soundtrack is “Hard Love,” by NeedToBreathe (an unlikely fit for my taste). You can’t erg to it, but it still captures everything I’ve felt in this last year of trying to reach that fire in me and unleash it on the water.

There are no shortcuts to rowing faster and better. There’s no off-season; there are no timeouts. There’s only the work and the trust and the drive…the relentless investment of time and effort in who you are as an athlete, as a teammate, and as a person. Every day is a seat race, a chance to push myself further and see how fast I can get, how strong I can be, how far I can move the boat with my crew. Every day, the boat teaches me to fail fast and learn faster…going backwards, at 12mph, with screaming legs and burning lungs and a full heart.

It’s a hard love, but it’s love nonetheless, a “fierce and violent joy”* anchored way down deep that is unlike any other love I’ve known.


Side effects: I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been. I can toss my kids around without thinking twice and I run up stairs and escalators. My arms and legs feel longer, somehow. I have been lighter than this (and I’m also getting lighter), but never stronger. Yay!

I’m slimmer, as well, with a whole lot more definition…which has come with the unpleasant depletion of my Over-40 Mother-Of-Two Sexual Invisibility superpower. I thought we’d at least begun to plant the seed of “Should I tell her what I think of her body? Oh, probably not, that would be weird” in men’s heads, but APPARENTLY NOT.

I’m not bothered if a friend says I look fit and happy. Questions about calories and macros around the boathouse? Totally fine. Respectful Park Dad asking for my number in a non-creepy way and backing off at the appropriate point? Also not offensive!

Jackass pulling through a parking lot developing An Opinion About My Body? Keep it to yourself, man. That’s gross.

(That’s also why there are no pictures in this post.)

* This phrase comes from a really good coach who probably didn’t know that I google the crap out of all new coaches when they come in. I’m weird like that.


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