Several years ago, my friend Elizabeth Burke and I rowed twice a week through the Seattle winter. We ventured out without fail as dawn was breaking - rowing two single shells or a double. We'd row from the Fremont Bridge to the Chittenden Locks and back, or maybe across Lake Union and on to Lake Washington. Sometimes we'd come back to our home at the Lake Washington Rowing Club and wipe the ice off our boats. But we always came back with an irrefutable sense of moral superiority! We'd done it again!

Rowing - particularly Rowing Through the Winter - provides a richness of metaphors...instructive in my life as a Family Physician and the Home Dialysis CarePartner for my profoundly ill husband, Steve Williams. Now that Steve is gone, rowing reminds me of consistency and focus - so critical during grieving. Rowing requires balance, as does my life.

Row with me this winter. Linda Gromko, MD

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pre-Title IX Rowers Get More Than a Workout!

This glorious morning as I was rowing with the Novice Women's Sweep Team, I wondered what it might have been like to have started rowing earlier in my life. Like maybe at fifteen, instead of six years ago at age fifty-three. The other women in the boat are in their forties or fifties, too. And all have well-developed lives as professionals and mothers. None of us is rowing to enhance a college application; none of us needs a rowing scholarship.

Many of us are pre-Title IX women, having grown up before money was appropriated for women's athletics. We had gym class in school - I remember embroidering my name in navy block letters on my white snapped blouse, and those horrible navy shorts with "Linda Gromko" embroidered in perfect white block letters on the cuff. We didn't have the ubiquitous soccer teams which seem to be the current norm for school-age girls. I never lacked for things to do: playing and teaching cello, editing both the high school newspaper - AND the more dicey alternative press rag. There was political activism, and an abundance of academic pursuits. But girls' sports simply weren't an option.

Physical fitness came much later, as a way to lose weight and reduce stress. Those of us who have found exercise later in Iife may not struggle with chronic joint pain from repeated athletic injuries. But we may lack the physical confidence - the balance, the muscle memory, the assuredness that our bodies will simply do what we ask them to; that understanding comes from years of physical practice.

 But there is hope for us. Here are some incredible examples:

  • One woman I know did a 26-mile cross-country ski marathon during her first year of cross-country skiing.
  • Another woman who started working out at a gym a number of years ago has become a world champion power lifter: lifting 1000 pounds in her combined events of the squat, bench press, and dead lift. She'd never lifted before her forties. Watching her squat 400 pounds is a near-miracle.
  • A third woman, a civil engineer, chooses a "project" each year. This year, she entered a body-building competition for the first time ever - and came home with a third-place trophy!
So what does this mean for us as we stare down the Head of the Troll?

Our coach has guided us that if we don't feel like we're about to have a heart attack by the end of our race, we're not working hard enough. Moreover, there's supposed to be blood involved, but I can't imagine whose blood!

I think LWRC can count on fun and a good potluck - and from our group, the exceptional opportunity to reclaim what we may not have enjoyed as girls: a glimpse of the physical prowess we envy in our daughters!

Linda Gromko, MD

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