Athlete To Coach: Love Lost, Love Found

Author: Liz Kebby-Jones  is a rower and a cat-lover. She’s a graduate of language, literature and social policy, but words will always be her first love. She’s the tiniest bit more introverted than extroverted, just in case you were wondering. She’s also incredibly stubborn at times and is unashamedly feminist. Philosophastra is just muddling through life and her latest adventure has parachuted her into the coaching launch…

Since I first took up rowing almost eight years ago now, it’s consumed a lot of my time and energy. It taught me to appreciate my body, about toughening up, about what to do with infected blisters on my hands, and about “mental fortitude”. I’ve ploughed countless hours into trying to get better, to get faster.

I’ve neglected the housework while I sank coffees with crewmates, forging lifelong friendships. I’ve turned down opportunities to go on holiday, visit old friends, and innumerable trips to the pub. All because I loved my sport.

Over the last couple of years I have rowed in some amazing crews. Even failing to quality at HWR was one of the highlights of my rowing career because just weeks before the race we didn’t know if we’d even get there.

When we did, I got to spend an incredible two days soaking up the sun and the atmosphere, toasting our best ever row as a crew with a glass of wine, stuffing my face with pizza and generally just loving the crewmates I know will be friends forever. It didn’t matter that we didn’t qualify.

Last summer I found a doubles partner who just “got me”. Every training session, even the ones where I cried with frustration at not being able to sit the boat or get the catches in early or steer a straight course, was satisfying in some way.

In terms of fitness, ability and mentality, my doubles partner and I were so well matched. It just worked.

But lately something has been different. I’ve started to resent the hours of sleep lost to the early starts. Journeys to the club in the dark, debriefs after the sessions that haven’t gone well, those frosty ergs on the mornings where I’ve awoken before dawn and driven to the club only to find that the conditions are unrowable.

I’ve felt guilty about the days when I’ve binned an erg halfway through. Or not even bothered to go to the gym at all, preferring to vegetate in front of the TV or read a book. But I’ve savoured the extra hours of sleep.

Time spent with my lovely and very patient fiancé, mornings drinking coffee curled up in my dressing gown with a book, visiting long-neglected friends. Even the opportunity to go to a circuits class at the gym, ride my bike, check out a local parkrun, have been breaths of fresh air. Since I eased back on rowing and cut myself a few breaks, I’ve discovered how non-rowers live, and its bliss.

That said, I can’t seem to leave my sport behind and something in me has stopped me from resigning my membership and returning my key…

I may no longer be interested in slogging it out on the ergs in preparation for competition, but I still have something to offer. Following a back injury in 2014 I decided to get myself a coaching qualification, realising that should my body ever fail me long-term, it would give me a way to keep in touch with rowing.

I got my certificate in 2015 and since then it has sat in an envelope somewhere, gathering dust.

Over the last few weeks I’ve decided to dust off that qualification and see if I can scrub the rust off of the skills that I so enjoyed learning about and practising when I spent four days at Nottingham Trent RC under the tutelage of British Rowing’s famous Persephone “Perse” Wynn.

Since I opened this particular discussion with the coach I have been training with since the beginning of the winter, I’ve had two cracks at testing my coaching skills. Two sessions whooshing up and down the river in the launch, sitting in a muddy puddle on the floor of the boat and losing the feeling in my fingers. I loved it.

I haven’t yet worked out the logistics of how and when I will coach, and I know that I will have to sacrifice some sleeping hours, but I’m excited. The group of women I’m going to be working with – former crewmates – are all incredible, strong, determined women. They’re filled with the motivation to become better scullers, to support each other through thick and thin, to eat pastries and drink endless coffees together, and to cement the friendships that bind crews, squads and clubs together.

For the first time in a while, I feel excited about my sport again. I am excited to see where the next few months take me, and already I can feel something else stirring up – a new rowing adventure to test my own limits…

I’m coming back – watch this space…