By Nykole King
Coming to the University of Galway as an international student, I was eager to start the year off strong by making friends early on. The best way seemed to join a special interest club and make friends outside of my programme, so I reached out to the university’s rowing club.
Coming from Canada, I knew that rowing culture in Ireland would be different, it’s more robust here with several clubs operating around the city. People here start rowing at a fairly young age, and they have the chance to perfect their form with year-round practice.
In Canada, at least the part that I’m from, there aren’t rowing clubs in high schools and it’s rare for there to be a university club. Instead, there is one city club that has a variety of levels — from beginner to advanced — and people of all ages.
I was a member of my club back home for three seasons, summer seasons, to be specific. Before May, there are still ice floes and then in late October, the freeze starts to creep up on the edges of the river.
I fell in love with the synchronized movement of the sport. Any hesitation or rush from a single rower can be felt by everyone else with a slight yet still perceptible tilt of the shell. Technique is key: the blade needs to be put into and taken out of the water at the exact time as everyone else or everyone can feel the resistance of the blade in the water.
Although I hadn’t rowed since before the pandemic, I was determined to put the work in and get back to my skill level from three years ago.
I was invited to join the intermediate rowing team during their two weeks of pre-season to see if it was a good fit. To begin, the team has six sessions a week that consist of a couple of sessions at Kingfisher Gym for conditioning, a couple of sessions on the rowing machines, and a few sessions on the water.
After a long first day of lectures, I went for the first conditioning session at Kingfisher. We cycled through the exercises: several reps of shoulder presses, squats, and bench bridges. Even before the 45 minutes were over, I could feel my legs beginning to wobble with a feeling I can only describe as jelly legs.
At this point, I was happy I made it through the session, and I was still determined for the early morning training on the water the next day.
At 5:30am the next morning I woke up, pulled on my clothes, and quickly downed a cup of coffee before rushing out the door. Out on the River Corrib, the wind was cutting and rocked the shell while the water caught my oars and disrupted my motion.
It was a completely different experience from the summer rows in the calm, sheltered river valley back home.
I had only ever sculled back in Canada — for non-rowers, that’s when you have two oars instead of just one, which is called sweeping. Jumping straight into sweeping after a three-year hiatus with well-seasoned rowers was a shock.
I tried to keep up with the rest of my team, but my jelly legs screamed at me while my hands struggled to find the timing to move my oar while practising technical drills. It was two hours of dragging the team behind, as well as splashing my poor teammates behind me.
I had highly underestimated how big of a difference my limited time on the water compared to Irish rowers, who can be out on the water even in December.
At this point, I felt like I was too out of sync with everyone. Granted, it was only my first time on the water, but I would have needed to dedicate a significant portion of time to become competition ready. With just starting my master’s programme, time was not something I had to spare.
Although my trial with the university rowing club wasn’t successful, I’m glad I gave it a go. I had the chance to experience a different sports culture, and I can always try other clubs out in Galway to find the right fit.