Rowers: Please Stop Talking About How Painful Rowing Is

Painfully played-out: Why are we constantly harping on the negative?

It seems like every few months, there is a new article or video published about how difficult rowing is. We're treated to another round of metaphors about abysses of pain, and needles being driven into legs, etc., etc., and for what? This isn't the first time we've discussed the topic here on RR, and it likely won’t be the last. And that's because 'rowing is pain' stories are not good for the sport.

Here's why.

1. It's counterproductive

Talking about how what you're doing is very hard in no way helps you achieve your goal, and in fact limits your ability to succeed. Acknowledging the realities of a situation is different from focusing on its difficulty. Focusing on the negative only serves to distract you from what’s important, rather than help you or those around you excel. This much seems self-evident.

2. It's self-indulgent

Part of the reason that the rowing community harps on the difficult aspects of rowing is that—let’s be honest with ourselves—it makes us feel tough. It's as though we need to legitimize our sport in the eyes of the wider sporting community through what can only be described as a kind of macho identity, which is easily seen through as the lamest form of overcompensation.

Also, it's self-centered. That rowing is painful goes with the territory: It's a competitive sport. Do boxers typically talk about how much pain they experience in the ring? (From what I’ve seen, they’re usually talking more about how much pain their opponents will experience during a fight.)
But seriously, there is nothing unique about experiencing pain in an athletic pursuit. It's a weakness of contemporary culture that we so covet being recognized for our suffering, in addition to—or sometimes even in advance of—our achievements (if indeed we have any of the latter).

3. It's bad marketing

“Hey join crew, which is the most painful thing in the world!”

...would be the worst marketing pitch ever, unless you were pitching a masochist (which, in fairness, many rowers claim to be). And yet, this is the message that the rowing community continually projects to non-rowers. If we are at all interested in growing the sport, it doesn't seem well aligned with that goal. (See point no. 1.)

There are many, many reasons why rowing is amazing. Teammates, fitness, the great outdoors—why would we choose to market pain above all that?

4. You’re better than this

Before someone comes back with Aeschylus' line, "there is advantage in the wisdom won from pain," [Eumenides, 519-521] let me tell you, I’ve heard it. The point of this article is not to say that pain has no value. Quite the contrary — the painful training that rowers go through serves to strengthen bonds between teammates and build trusting relationships that tend to last well beyond one’s competitive years.

Rather, the point is to say that pain is but one, not unique, but important aspect to rowing, and that it's ultimately not the main quality that we should ourselves fixate on or that we should encourage non-rowers to associate with our sport above all else.
So what is, then? If I had to choose one thing, I would say teamwork. Or, if we want to be a little more specific, synchronicity. In my opinion, that is the most addictive quality of rowing, and, ultimately, what makes it unique. That is the “symphony of motion” that George Pocock was talking about.

And that’s what keeps me coming back.
“It's a great art, is rowing. It's the finest art there is. It's a symphony of motion. And when your doing well, why it's nearing perfection. And when you reach perfection, you’re touching the divine. It touches the you of you, which is your soul.” -George Pocock

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