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Help! Our daughter hates ergs

Following our article Why do Rowers Fear the Erg, we got several comments including this story.  The author … read more

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Following our article Why do Rowers Fear the Erg, we got several comments including this story.  The author would like answers so please comment.

I have a very different and specific case of Erg Hate that I am hoping I can get some input on finding a solution to. Please bear with me as this is very long and very tough.

The person who hates the erg with all passion is my 19 year daughter.

First the background:

My daughter rowed all 4 years in high school with considerable on-water success winning several high school national championship races and others. They also logged vast miles on the erg during the winter. Her erg results at competition and in testing were quite reasonable for her age group, particularly since she weighed only 115lb. She always placed in the top group but was never quite fast enough to make “elite” status. Of course, only a very few are that fast. That was fine with her as she had no aspirations to compete at the elite level or beyond university. Both her high school and the club she rows at used erg testing only to rank the athletes for seat racing. There were never any cuts and team and boat selection was never done based on erg results alone. My daughter was quite successful with seat racing and consistently made the top boats. Even though she wasn’t the strongest girl on the team, the coaches usually assigned her to stroke seat because of her tenacity, technical ability and her ability to pull an amazing finish out of nowhere.

Tragically, just before she was to head off to university for her first year and with the hopes of rowing on the varsity team, her 17 year old very close friend and crew mate died suddenly while completing a 3k erg test. As expected, this was devastating to not only my daughter but to our whole rowing community. One week before my daughter headed off to training camp, along with her 4+ crew, she spoke at and was a pall bearer at her friend’s funeral.

Canada university rowing: Photo Credit Trent University
Canada university rowing: Photo Credit Trent University

The first 3k test after tragedy

The first full day of training camp, the team hopefuls were required to complete a 3k erg test. The coaches had been made aware of the situation with my daughter and were most accommodating and understanding. Not wanting to appear wimpy in front of the others or having the others think that she was getting special treatment, my daughter opted to pull the 3k test despite having a great deal of fear. For the hour before the test, she hid in the bathroom vomiting with the anxiety. Despite this, she persevered and completed the full 3k. Understandably, her time wasn’t that great and was almost 30s off her PB. Her father and I were amazed that she completed it at all and to us, that was a tremendous win for her, regardless of her time. Thankfully, the coaches had a kind spirit and offered her a spot on the varsity team based on her exceptional on-water results. That fall she rowed varsity and enjoyed the warm team environment immensely. During the fall season (the main competitive season for Canadian universities), there was very little erging; they trained on the erg only on a few occasions of inclement weather.

The new rowing coach comes in

Once the fall season was complete, a brand new head coach took the helm and changed the rules for the team. Even if the rowers had made varsity for the fall season, they had to make a minimum erg standard in either a 3k or 6k to remain on the varsity team for winter training (keeping in mind that in Canada, the main university rowing season is the fall. There is no spring on-water season – once April exams are complete, the students head home for the remainder of the spring and summer and row with their home club). Again, the anxiety for my daughter resurfaced. With a lot of calls home with many many tears, she opted this time to abstain from doing the 3k even though in the past she had made the particular standard that was set. She was however, going to give the 6k a shot. She was almost successful with the 6k, coming up only 13s short of making the standard (which happened to be a new personal best for her despite what she was going through) and performing better than many of her more senior lightweight teammates. Interestingly, most of the other lightweight girls did not make the standards either and were subsequently cut. I believe that only 3-3 lightweight girls made the standard.

Like the other girls who didn’t make the standard, even though most of them were in their senior year and had rowed for the university for 3+ years, my daughter was cut from the winter varsity team. She was sad for herself but also very sad for all the other girls that had participated in the varsity program for the last 3 years and had enjoyed securing 3nd place wins in the province for the previous several seasons and now found themselves cut from the team. (First place consistently went to the university located where the women’s national team trains and many women who have high hopes of making the national team someday select this university to attend. They have an intense program and they work hard.)

Persevere with training

Despite the setback, my daughter wasn’t ready to give up on the sport and she committed herself to training by herself during the winter. With no direction from the new head coach, she made up a workout program for herself that involved a lot of cross training – running and cycling as well as weights. As time permitted, the now retired former head coach lent a hand to her. Erging was kept to a minimum of mostly 3 and but as often as 3 days per week. That was all she could bear of the erg. Because she wasn’t allowed to use the varsity ergs, she instead used the few poorly maintained ergs in the general athletic centre. Most of them didn’t have a drag factor that worked and the chain felt like it was being pulled through gravel. Despite the loneliness, she persevered over the winter, maintaining as much fitness as she could while juggling her demanding science courses and adjusting to university life away from home. She enjoyed her first year, loves the university itself despite the new direction the rowing team has taken and made loads of friends. I think she did a stellar job.

When she returned home in April after the school year ended, she hit the water right away. I had been lucky enough to purchase a lightweight single (for myself) that she trained in everyday. She continued to row and compete for our club all summer with mediocre results in her first year as a U33 lightweight. I think that she was a little disappointed, not realizing the depth of competition at that level, but she was the only U33 woman at our club and she sure doesn’t have a passion for racing singles! Rather she prefers fours and quads because of the wonderful camaraderie that they offer her. She is definitely a big team girl! Our club did move some younger girls up so she had an opportunity to row the bigger boats as well for which she is thankful for. Actually, she ended up stroking a U33 Womens 4x to a gold medal at our provincial championship regatta with these Junior girls.

Anyway, to bring this story to an end and get to my point, the new head coach continued his requirement for all rowers to achieve an erg standard to be granted a spot on the varsity team for the fall season. She attempted both the 3k and 6k and was short in both so didn’t make the team. The standard set is an aggressive “elite” standard and much more stringent than the previous winter standard and the women’s team was trimmed from previous years by more than 75%, the men by more than 50%. The new coach’s preference is to have a very trim elite level team that focuses only on small boats. Not my daughter’s cup of tea. No other university in Canada has this approach from what I can tell.

Like the other girls who didn’t make standard, my daughter rowed for the local club for the fall season where they competed in head races rather than the university circuit. She enjoyed it even though it didn’t have the same “glitter” as representing her university. Now that the winter is here again, she didn’t even bother trying to make the more relaxed erg standard set for the winter as she knows that the current team environment isn’t what she is after. The new university team no longer has the warm team environment that she enjoyed. She instead has joined some of the other rowing cast offs and is training with the university triathlon club for the wonderful team environment they have even though she has no intent of competing in that sport. And she continues to do weights on her own which she loves.

The ergo remains a problem

Sadly though, my daughter has developed an absolute hatred for the erg machine. While she no longer fears it as she did right after her friend died, the erg simply represents to her so much loss. Loss of her friend and crew mate and the lost opportunity for the warmth of a large team environment because of the new direction that the university team has made of making elite erg standards so necessary.

As we know, the erg can be a wonderful training tool and with her continued desire to row at the club level, she may miss the opportunity for more sport specific training. I also fear that if she never overcomes her feelings for it, it will haunt her in the future. I don’t want her to reach some point in her life where she has regrets.

Do any of you have any ideas of how she can alter her mindset and overcome the hatred, or at least bring it down a few notches?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Her father and I haven’t pushed anything regarding the erg and are just happy that she has found another sport that she enjoys to keep her active for the winter. For us, it’s about her participating in a sport that gives her joy and hopefully, a long life of healthy living.

Thank you! Sorry for the length of this post.

About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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