My coworker Helena is a jazz singer and a rower. She joined a rowing club on the banks of the Thames river after watching some rowers pulling their boat out of the river and storing it in a clubhouse. They looked like fun people and she likes fun people so she asked and they let her in. I think they knew they were getting a two for one–they got a novice rower AND a singer for club parties.
Three days a week, Helena bows out of after-work shenanigans so she can go rowing. She would rather strap her feet into too-big shoes and row gracefully up the river, than join us for a pint at Henry J. Beans. I understand, I would rather do the same thing–only I would not accomplish it gracefully, I’m quite sure.
She invited us to come to the River on Sunday morning to watch her first ever race–against other Thames teams and she was the organizer. I got out of bed and was at the South Kensington station by 10:15 AM. Maureen and I hopped on the District Line and went to the Hammersmith Station in Zone Two. After grabbing a couple bagels, we walked to the Furnival Rowing Club just past the Hammersmith Bridge.
Then we waited. And waiting. Eventually we followed some people with stop watches and galoshes out to the middle of the bridge and waited for the race. When a race starts upriver 2.4 kilometers, it is hard to know the race has started. Especially when it is your first rowing race and you don’t know what to look for. So, we stood over rowers wondering if every boat that went under us was a racing boat. “Is that the race? No, it’s that one. Maybe them.”
Eventually, the cohorts from Furnival who were standing on the balcony started yelling. “Go Furnival! Wooo HOOOO! Go Furnival!” Ah ha! THe race was approaching. Which one is Helena in? Those are all men, so is that boat, so is that one. Okay, they must be coming later. We wait (and freeze) a little longer on the bridge and then the Furnival clubhouse erupts again. “Go Furnival!”
Here come the women. From a bridge high above the Thames, every blond woman looked like Helena. One, two, three, four. No, I don’t think she was in any of those. Finally, there is one final eruption from the Furnival crew and the women’s novice team comes gliding up the Thames.
They zip under us and I hollar one, “Go Helena!” and snap one photograph before they disappear under the bridge. We then follow the galoshed rowers with stop watches back to the club house. We watch team after team come to the short pier or up to the shore to get out of the boat and bring it into the clubhouse. It is amazing that after exerting so much energy and racing so far, these women and men still have to lift their boat onto their shoulders and carry it up a steep ramp into the club house. In the freezing cold, with water dripping down from the boat, in the wind, muscles shaking from the race.
Rowers are fit people. Kind of crazy, but very fit. The official result was that the Furnival Women’s Development Team rowed 30 strokes per minute (apparently very fast) and beat a Senior Team on the clock. After a few final congratulations, we left the rowers and trainers to dissect the race and celebrate their victories.