The dust is settling on the 2016 Olympics. We wait now for another four years for the the world to be swept up again. But this year was different for me and for all Irish rowers. This year we broke down walls and built up belief.
Rowing is a sport that goes relatively unnoticed in Ireland. It’s not in the big leagues like GAA, hurling, rugby, football etc. We have less of a fanbase than many, many other disciplines. Basically, it’s just rowers watching rowers. And sometimes our parents (if they’re especially awesome). We’re a small, tight community of people who have all grown up together even though we’re all from different parts of the country. We gather by rivers, lakes, canals. Congregate in forests, carparks or water-logged fields. We battle in nearly all weather conditions, from bitterly cold (where condensation freezes on your leg hairs) to blisteringly hot. Strip down to very little and race backwards for two thousand meters, starting and ending the race with a sprint. There is no denying it, it’s a tough sport and because of that we respect each other. There is never any sore losers or poor winners. But we don’t make the news. Most of my rowing friends have competed for their country and nobody knows this.
And that’s ok. It’s how it’s always been. We happily plug away at our own sport, baffling non-rowers as to why we get up at 6am and why were kill ourselves on rowing machines and why oh why do we wear teeny tiny one-pieces (they are very comfy BTW).
But this year something changed. We were on everybody’s minds.
This year we had not one but TWO crews in the A finals for rowing at the Olympics. THE OLYMPICS, PEOPLE! That in itself is an achievement, and for one of them to be a female crew, even better. Our first crew to make it to a women’s A final of the Olympics ever! And with the other crew we did the unthinkable, the unbelievable, the ‘dare we not speak it’s name’. We only went and got ourselves a medal. A silver medal, for the first time in Irish rowing history. And the country sat up and took notice!
I sat there with pride as my office talked about the rowers and learned everything about them. I was beside myself when we watch the races on my colleagues computer. I cried as they received their medals and beamed as my Facebook feed filled up with love and support for the rowers. These kids in college were now household names. All of a sudden people wanted to row, give it a go and see what it’s all about. Rowing camps are over-flowing with eager young teenagers and parents with hopes for gold in their eyes. Rowing is now a sport that people wanted to partake in, to live, to breathe.
And for us already rowing, what did that medal mean. It meant pride. All of us are so very proud of our rowers who have battled for us on this grand stage. Proud of the sport, of the discipline, of all rowers. It meant hope for the future. Hope that the sport will continue to blossom and grow as a community in this little country of ours. Hope that our top athletes start getting a little more coverage and maybe even a little more funding. Make life easier in a sport that is 100% amateur. It meant belief. We have done it and we can do it again and again… and again. We have jumped that final hurdle and we are up there with the other top rowing countries. We can be taken seriously and we are a force to be reckoned with.
But most importantly for me it meant justification. As I’ve said before it is a hard sport, a lot of pain and sweat and tough hours go into it and half the time you are wondering why you are doing it all. You want to quit, go home, rest, find another sport where your hands don’t blister up and your back doesn’t ache and you don’t work until your legs are jelly. But when those boys won their medal I was consumed with this warm glow of love and appreciation for rowing. I realised I truly loved the sport, the people and what it does for me. It reminded me why I do it, day in day out.
And that’s enough.