Ever since I began frequenting them as an adult, I’ve found women’s locker rooms to be inspiring. Not in a prurient way; women’s bodies are endlessly variable and thus endlessly interesting to look at, but the sight of them doesn’t really do anything erotic for me. High school locker rooms weren’t interesting at all: everyone was there because they had to be, trying to get dressed as quickly as possible and not to seem too embarassed. The difference is that the locker rooms I go to in gyms and rowing clubs are full of girls and women who are there because they want to be. Dutch locker rooms are even better because women here are so much more matter of fact about nakedness. In American locker rooms, there are usually there are usually people scurrying off into private corners to change or doing presto change-O acts in which they put on clothing under a towel without ever revealing any actual flesh, and then although I’m not body-shy I end up worrying that my nudity is somehow embarassing them.

Note: if you’re one of these people worried that someone might be repelled by your naked body, really, nobody cares. They’re all too worried about their own bodies. You are a special snowflake, I promise, but your body in a locker room is sort of like on letter in a mailbag.

The thing about locker rooms is that everyone in them is there because she’s doing something challenging with her body. And yet even in competitive clubs, even in university locker rooms where everyone is probably in the best shape she’ll ever be in in her life, they’re not full of perfectly toned hardbodies. Locker rooms at regattas with masters events are the best, though, because there are women there from their teens up to their 60s or 70s. There are jiggles. There are sags. There are bulges and scars and varicose veins and stretch marks, there are top-heavy and bottom-heavy and apple-shaped women. (Definitely the last, if I’m there.) And yet every one of those women, however her shape is shaped, is an athlete, trying to push her body to see what it can do.

What it says to me is that even as my body starts to show signs of aging, I can keep doing what I want to do. I don’t need to get off the water to make way for a new generation; I can play out there along with them. I can keep doing this all my life, and the sags and jiggles and inevitable slowing that come with age won’t have to stop me. (Neither does anything else, short of spinal problems causing total incapacitation. If I became a paraplegic, I’d try adaptive rowing. If back problems wouldn’t let me row, maybe I could ride a recumbent cycle. ) I love being part of a sport that welcomes all ages. Locker rooms inspire me, because they demonstrate that so graphically.

Oh, and: I rowed a quad today, with Roeiste and two 50-year-old women from my club. They haven’t got the times up yet and I’m pretty sure we didn’t win anything, but we had a great race!