What I Have Learnt from Rowing

Rowing in Oxford. Image from National Geographic.

It is pitch black outside. It will be dark for the entire session on the water. The morning light will only begin to infiltrate the gloom as you hoist the boat back to the boathouse. The sweat threatens to freeze on your ears as your thoughts turn to coffee. Your friends are only just stumbling from their beds to join the day you greeted hours earlier.

When I started my studies in Oxford I did not think that I would find myself this close to the River Thames at this hour of the day. Yet deciding to row with Queens College (Wycliffe’s sister college) has been a wonderful addition to my time here.


I have just started rowing. I am not going for the top boats. Yet still to do well I, along with the rest of the crew, need to train. There are the early starts on the river. There are sessions in the boat house on the “ergs” (rowing machines). And whilst we are at it let’s chuck in a few sessions at the gym for general strength training too.

If I was taking this uber-serioulsy (as the guys in the best boats do), I would triple the above.

When that alarm clock rings at 5:30 I have two options: get up or ignore it. My body argues for the latter, my mind struggles to win with the former. Across Oxford, 8 others are going through the same thought process. It is an act of discipline to kill the desire of my body.

It is not easy to get up but I can tell you, strolling through town afterwards – celebration coffee in hand – it is totally worth it.

The benefits far outweigh the immediate rush of endorphins too. The discipline focusses my day, structures my efforts and even bleeds over into other tasks. Busting out an extra couple of hours study one night, or getting up to read my Bible, are both made slightly easier by the ‘wins’ I’ve been experiencing in my training.

You Go Further In A Team

When we row we are in a boat with 8 guys and one cox (little shouty person who’s in command that we all love). With 8 in a boat, pulling hard, we go places. We fairly zip across the water.

We go further and faster, yes. But it is not on the water that I’ve felt the teamwork the most, it is in the boathouse. A few weeks ago I attempted a ‘2k’. The goal is simple – how fast can you row 2 kilometres? It is an absolute killer.

I boarded my rowing machine next to a few other guys, ready for the command. The music starts – it’s fast and hard and forces you to row to the beat set. 1km in and the legs are burning, your lungs are bursting. 1.5km and it is agony. But then the guys in the boat house will crowd around and start shouting at you. The shouts turn to screams. “COME ON.” “PUSH IT.” “KEEP IT UP.” And some other choice phrases.

With each yell there comes an injection of motivation. You find another gear. You tap into a reserve of energy that you would have bet your last power bar didn’t exist. Finally, wrecked, you reach 2k and collapse.

The entire experience requires absolutely everything that you have but it requires everyone around you to help you to give your all.

How can I apply the same level of motivation to my brothers and sisters in the church. Just think, if we were to adopt this, what results would we see?