Imagine pushing yourself to your physical limit hours a day everyday….this is the world of ROWING.
Now imagine doing the same without drinking or eating for up to 48 hours….this, all too often, is the world of rowing LIGHTWEIGHT.
In addition to the physical stamina needed for practice and competition and more than just strength, many lightweight rowers have to have the mental stamina necessary to constantly watch what they eat, count calories, and consistently “weigh-in” at a certain weight in order to be successful. However, far too many lightweight women who are currently rowing lightweight are above a pre-season cutoff weight that should exist for lightweights (as determined by coaches, etc.). In turn, these women play dangerous mind games in their relationships with their bodies and the food they eat (or don’t eat!) which could lead to extensive permanent damage to their health.
The photos above were taken hours before a weigh-in. Most of the lightweights are tired because only one or two of them can freely eat or drink the day of weigh-ins. Most others are running on less than 500 calories and insufficient amounts of fluids for the level of activity they are doing. One of the women did not eat or drink anything for over 48 hours and went for a pre-weigh in row with her teammates. She looked exhausted. I can’t imagine she was helping the other seven women much in pulling the boat through the water.
There are countless extreme weight-loss tactics that borderline women use in order to get down to 130 pounds. Most involve dehydration- losing as much as 8 pounds of water weight in a day! Spitting, sweat-running in multiple layers of clothing in extreme heat, sitting in a steam bath for up to an hour, and layering-up and sitting in cars with the heat blasting are just a few examples.
And once the weigh-in has passed successfully it’s all about rehydration and eating. In this case, one of the rowers was 3 pounds under weight after not eating for more than two days. However, after being hungry and thirsty for so long, it’s nearly impossible for most of the lightweights not to binge. While none of the women stepped on a scale after eating and drinking that evening, it can be assumed that each of them regained all of their weight in a matter of hours.
Finally (and only after a fellow lightweight spoke up about the issue), an unannounced mid-week weigh-in occurred and anyone not falling within three pounds of the necessary weight would no longer row lightweight. Keep in mind that this is something that should have been going on since the very first practice. The coaches finally made the correct decision- they told the one rower who was having difficulty that her lightweight days were over. While they could have announced it in a more tactful way, rather than in front of the rest of the team (see a teammate’s disapproving face above), the point is that something was finally being done. The rest of the team continued on and faired well, getting medals in many races. The final photo always makes me wonder though: is the thrill of victory really worth the all too evident agony of making weight?
What do you think?
As a coach, as an athlete? What is needed to create a safe environment for lightweight rowing.