I’m currently reading Drawn to the Rhythm: A Passionate Life Reclaimed” by Sara Hall. It’s been a while since I’ve reading something that alternates so frequently between lyrical and painful. Hall was more or less knocked off her feet by her first sight of a single rower; she knew she had to learn to row herself, but didn’t realize the sport would give her the strength to leave an emotionally abusive husband. She doesn’t welter in the details of her marriage, but shows enough to make it clear why each step was so big for her to take. I will never understand with my heart how a strong woman can end up in a marriage that does to her will and emotions what ancient Chinese foot-binding did to her feet. I can only understand it with my head (lucky me) – but I’ve seen a few too many women I respect go through it to have any doubt how constricting such a situation can be.

Rudder read the book first and recommended it to me, I think mostly for the amazing writing and the rowing descriptions, though he did know Sara’s life journey would affect me as much as her rowing one. He’s actually been heard to talk about reading it again, just to collect some of the collectable lines, and I don’t think I’ve heard him say that about any book before. My favorite line so far is, “I finally saw that a true partnership is one in which the “vessel” – a boat, a friendship, a marriage – provides the structure in which each partner has the freedom and support to express his or her greatest individual strengths.” Although I would say a better partnership allows you to explore, play with and maybe strengthen your weaknesses as well.

Actually, it’s the rowing bits that drive me a bit nuts. I can only applaud as she takes each baby step toward independence in her life, but her rowing experience was so different than mine even leaving out the lack of support from her husband contrasted with mine, who has to be careful not to push me. She exaggerates a bit, I think (I hope) in talking about her she was discouraged from rowing in the single scull, which most rowers “consider slightly, or not so slightly, antisocial and obsessive, a tribe populated by almost exclusively male or proto-male loners”. I actually found that last a bit offensive, since I’ve never considered drive to do something right or a desire to be alone particularly male traits. Anyway, no one seemed to think I was crazy when I began rowing a single, probably within the first year or two after I learned to row. Or at least not any crazier than they thought I was to be out there at all. s I read the book I see that for everyone who said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” she recounts one who said, “You’ll be fine. Knock ’em dead, kid.” I suspect when she was living it, her husband’s cutting remarks echoed every critic, making each resound far louder and stronger thn her supporters.

I am younger than Hall, though I began rowing around the same time, but still there are many fewer women than men competing in my age group. Actually, there are a lot more women in the younger and older groups, so I think a lot of Masters A and B rowers (27-42) may be taking a few years off to raise babies and getting back to it later. On the other hand, I have never personally benefited at all from Title 9, though there’s no doubt I have benefited mightily from the same wave of feminism that got T9 passed. My issues have never been about lack of support at home (lucky me, again) or resulting insecurity. I never was scared to talk to other rowers. Nobody ever told me I couldn’t do any race I wanted to in Club or Masters rowing – I might have been kept out of particular boats if I’d been wweep rowing, but that would have been about erg scores. I’ve certainly had the feeling I wasn’t as good a rower as others, but generally that was because I wasn’t. The only part of my head that’s held me back is a lack of willingness to train with the obsessiveness required to really excel, but my biggest obstacle has been neither my head nor my society but my body. My body is just not made to be good at rowing. Too small. Not strong enough. Not enough endurance. The latter two of those can be improved drastically with work, and there’s nothing but hard work keeping me from having perfect form, but I’m still never going to catch up with someone who started out bigger and taller and with a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers, then did just as much hard work.

Not that any of that’s a reason not to row, but it does explain why I’m not writing books talking about how I became a gold-medal winner at the World Masters’ Games. On the other hand, I don’t suppose I’d trade my 16 years with Rudder for Hall’s with her ex, even if they threw in a World Masters’ medal.