I know I don’t often do written posts (oar-head is mainly a photo blog), but I have some particularly important information that I’d like to share with all of you. This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so I thought now was a good opportunity to do a quick post on eating disorders and rowing.
Lightweights and open weights, men and women alike know about the struggle many rowers face to make weight. This applies particularly to lightweight women. All through high school, I was right on the 130-pound border. Due to the muscle mass I gained after my novice year, I exceeded 130 pounds in my second year of rowing.
The lightweights were favored on my junior team - they got more attention from the coaches, nicer boats, and better equipment. As a result, they often did better than the open weight boats in regattas. I struggled through my junior and senior years to lose the weight (usually between 2 and 5 pounds) that I needed to be a lightweight. Finally, my coaches told me that if I did not make weight by the next weigh-in, I would be put in the open weight class for my remaining 1 1/2 years with the team.
I starved myself for a week, and weighed in at 129.8 lbs. My coaches determined that I was too close to 130 to keep the weight off and said that I was to row open weight for the remainder of my time with them. I realized that my efforts to drop the weight were NOT worth it and I settled on making the most of the situation I was in.
However, many of my close friends were lightweights. Like I said before, they received preferential treatment. As they became better and better rowers and the open weights (including myself) were left in the dust, I began to lose confidence in my abilities as an athlete. I was no longer motivated to keep trying harder. My erg scores kept going up and the amount of effort I put into practice plummeted.
Eventually, I decided that I wanted to give another shot at being lightweight. I wanted to be in the nicer, newer boats and receive the attention I thought I deserved from my coaches. Again, I tried starving myself. I ended up falling into a cycle of starving and bingeing, which was very rough on me both physically and mentally. Because my body was in “starvation mode” most of the time, all of the calories I consumed from bingeing stayed with me. I went from 132 to 144 pounds in four months. Needless to say, it was devastating.
After I graduated and left my junior team, I began eating healthier and returned to my natural weight of 132 lbs. I no longer push myself to be anything other than my natural weight and I am so much happier that way. I feel like I can now put all of my focus into becoming a better, faster athlete and not worry so much about how much I weigh.
I feel that coaches and rowers should not focus so much on weight class and instead, work with what a rower is naturally. Even borderline open weights can become fast open weights, and that is best achieved through proper nourishment of the body.