The Many Faces of Strength

When I scroll through Facebook on any given day (I’m a millennial, my avocado un-smashes if I don’t), I am assaulted by more information and opinions of varying quality in 5 minutes than someone from the 18th century would experience in a lifetime. Sometimes it is the absent voice, the head bent in silent industry, that tells the most. This is what I found in the case of Lisa Dwan.

Lisa, out of relative rowing obscurity, leapt onto an ergo and rowed her way to an Indoor Australian Championship. Having represented Australia in rugby she was no stranger to performance, and in the sickening fashion of the very talented made a natural transfer from being a champion in one sport to another. Naturally, like any good coach, (having run some casual sessions for her) I immediately claimed partial/major/exclusive responsibility for her success.

Lisa continued to row, both indoors and out, taking her physical prowess to the water. I had been lured south by the siren song of snobbish coffee culture and graffiti-art lane-ways (it’s a Melbourne thing, man, only people from Melbourne would get it) but Lisa astonishingly in my absence continued to impress, almost as if her success was due entirely to her being a driven and capable athlete. Given that the majority of our time ‘training’ together in at Urban and then Inspire consisted of jamming to the Beegees and the soundtrack of the RE on a Sunday in the 90s, I think that may definitely be it.

She is a wonderful competitor, but there is an abundance of those, from rowing to fencing to chimney sweeping to competitive squirrel wrangling (what, did you think those squirrels came pre-wrangled?). It is to this that the title refers.

Coming from a generation who is repeatedly told to extol their virtues in every public forum, to wear themselves like brands and post manufactured moments of ‘organic’ joy on social media as if our value depended on it (often, it does) — to see an instance of humbling strength deliberately downplayed is enlightening.

I wouldn’t presume to know Lisa very well, or how she conducts herself at home or in the secret places of her heart. All I see, in spite of having been diagnosed with a crushing illness, is her and her partner being as infallibly pleasant as ever. I see them training with, if anything, increased regularity. I laugh with her over jokes about hair loss, even though my eyes prickle — not over sadness of lost hair (she wears a bandana with terrific style), but at the grace and strength in how easily she wears her disease. That kind of self aware humour disarms the fangs of an impartially cruel fate, shreds superficiality and reveals a light that could teach us all something.

Seriously, though, Lisa — my ego struggled enough when you pulled better splits than me on the ergo previously, but doing the same with cancer has dismantled it. Just cool it, ok? For your health, of course.

Ashley Dighton

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