I’ve never been an endurance athlete. In high school and college, I could chase a basketball or frisbee for hours at a time, but running or swimming in straight lines seemed like a complete waste of time. When my kids were born, I let myself get out of shape; perhaps 15-20 pounds over my fighting weight when I was diagnosed.
But, all the data out there suggest that endurance athletes do better surviving cancer than the rest of us.
So, I decided to become an endurance athlete. I dabbled in swimming, running, and biking, but for a variety of uninteresting reasons, none fit quite right. During the summer of 2015, during a moment of inspiration after Quinn’s 4th birthday party, I had an epiphany that rowing might just be my sport.
The cardiovascular workout is excellent, and it hits all the major muscle groups, including the upper body and back muscles often neglected by typical ‘cardio’ workouts. Concept2 (the industry standard for rowing equipment) even has a page of testimonials from cancer survivors on their homepage. In any case, I committed myself to the goal of rowing one million meters. That’s roughly the distance from St. Louis to New Orleans if you want a sense of scale. I had never done anything like this before in my life, and it proved to be harder and more rewarding than I expected.
If you haven’t had the pleasure, pick up a copy of Daniel James Brown’s “Boys in the Boat“. Fantastic read. It doesn’t get the serious attention it deserves because it’s “only” a sports book, but don’t let the dust jacket fool you. It’s also history and a love story, and the writing is insightful, well-paced, and sensitive. I mention it because I’m struck by a quote in the book from George Yeoman Pocock that has direct relevance to rowing and cancer:
Rowing a race is an art, not a frantic scramble. It must be rowed with head power as well as hand power. From the first stroke all thoughts of the other crew must be blocked out. Your thoughts must be directed to you and your own boat, always positive, never negative.
It took me two and a half years, but I finally crossed the one million meter threshold. I even had enough fuel in the tank to sprint across the finish line… or as close to sprinting as my humble capabilities allow. 2.5 years isn’t exactly a blistering pace, but in my defense, I was sidelined by silly over-use injuries at three different points. I’ve learned my lesson, for now anyway. I expect the next million won’t have quite as many unforced errors on my part.