Only someone who has never rowed competitively can avoid knowing how it feels to lose a race. For the rest of us that knowledge is a regular part of our rowing year. If we and our crew are doing well then there will also be some wins, but here’s the strange thing: it isn’t the wins (precious and hoarded as they are) that keep us coming back for more.
Winning regularly even at club level requires a real committment to year-round training, a committment which in rowing is going to consume more time and more calories than in many other sports. Winning even once at national or international level requires greater sacrifices than most rowers would want to bear and I can’t be alone in knowing people who have left rowing not after losing but after winning at national championship level.
“We didn’t win, but we had a good race” is the key here. A typical regatta is organised as knockout, and many rowers will know the experience of turning up as a competitor at 9am and being a spectator by 10am. Are you happy? No. But if you rowed well and the boat went well and you were in touch with the competition from start to finish, you don’t feel bad. Rowing is a non-contact sport, so there is very little you can do about the performance of other competitors. You and your crew are racing your own race against your own limitations and you measure yourself as much against your past performance as against the competition. Rowing well in a crew boat is a challenge in itself and mastering that challenge, together, from start to finish, under the intense mental and physical pressures of competition, is a real achievement. Every rower knows that and takes real pleasure in it every time it happens – win or lose.