This Girl Can: Alia and Rowing

“As the saying goes, you either row hard or row home” — Alia

My rowing journey began from the moment I signed up to row with my college rowing team. I was thrown on a boat for the first time along with seven other very experienced rowers, and asked to take my first uncoordinated and hesitant stroke on the water. Intimidating and daunting would be an understatement.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I realised that I thoroughly enjoyed rowing. Maybe it was on one of those early morning outings as I wearily cycled from home to the boat house, perhaps it was during the first fifteen strokes of my first summer eights race where I got to experience the sheer excitement of bump racing for the first time. Or maybe it was the culmination of an entire season of training, regattas, and the breathtaking picture perfect sunrises. One thing was for sure: taking up rowing was one of those decisions that changed my life.

Having a small frame and not being very tall did initially strike me as a potential impediment, as leverage is important in rowing. However I soon learnt that hard work, determination and your ability to respond to training are as important as natural talent.

Equally, finding appropriate attire was challenging, and despite having the occasional headscarf malfunction during a race, I haven’t been discouraged in the slightest. That being said, I have never let my headscarf get in the way of my sporting activities or pursuits, and despite the curiosity and speculation it attracts, I choose to embrace being different and do not let it define me nor impede on my progression as a sportswoman in anyway.

What I truly find beautiful about rowing is that it is a sport that often mirrors reality — the camaraderie and elation starkly contrasted by the frustrations, pain and heartache. It’s grueling as much as it is mesmerizing and poetic. Similarly, such as with life, fixating and focusing on long term goals in order to succeed, is an ability that one learns to master both on and off the water.

Despite the harsh realities of the sport, the rewards are immense. There is nothing quite comparable to the feeling of the oar in your hand and the sound of eight blades catching the water in unison, all while the boat glides in what seems like an effortless fashion beneath you.

Taking up rowing is by no means an easy task; it will test your mental and physical resilience, your stamina and you will have to learn to strive for perfection while knowing it is likely unattainable, but that the effort alone is worthwhile — which will result in an unconquerable spirit where very little in life will seem impossible or unattainable. What rowing has taught me and continues to teach me, is that your achievements in life are solely contingent on the drive you put in to achieve them. As the saying goes, you either row hard or row home.