The Perfect Catch

I am in a long-term relationship: one with my sport.



The author rowing in a single scull.

Amy Nichols

In rowing, there is a time that is both critical to learn and then to do right: Catching the water.

I know, sounds easy enough—take the oar back and drop it in to start your stroke. Sadly, while this sounds simple enough to understand, it can take years (and for some us—i.e. me—many years) to get right. When you don’t do it correctly, it’s called ‘missing the water’ and it will slow your boat down considerably.

I am growing to understand that with breast cancer recovery, there are also many simple-to-explain things that aren’t quite as simple to understand. My doctors have a quick, easy dialogue that sounds almost too easy for them to say and this makes me uneasy.

When I was first diagnosed, everyone seemed to want to be the one to share the news and each doctor I heard from had a more ominous diagnosis than the one before. Treatment plans were across the board: Take drugs, don’t take them. You need radiation, you don’t. It was a boggling time for me; compounded by the fact that the one escape I used to have prior to my bilateral mastectomy was no longer an option. I was not allowed to row my way through this learning process.

Yes, I am missing the water. But in a different way.

As I have mentioned before, I am a single mom. When my divorce was made known to many of my friends, their comments back were both kind and—I thought at the time—dead on: I was a perfect catch! I had my rowing, my family, and my friends. Life was good.

Then cancer came into my life.

In those first few days after my surgery, my rowing family, my parents, and my son were there for me. My son was with me during the days of the first surgery until, about a week or so later, he was able to escape the craziness and head back to college. I was left with great friends to try and tackle the sometimes overwhelming aspects of a cancer diagnosis and the next steps—all without having the one escape I had grown so accustomed to over the years living here in Austin: rowing away my worries in the single scull.

I was able to get back on the water earlier this spring a few times, but am not yet back to full time rowing. There have been some health hiccups, which have created a need for me to stop all workout activities—no rowing, Pilates, yoga, swimming, or running. (Okay, I am honestly all right with the ‘no running’ part). Without having any workout available to me, my frustrations have grown and I find myself focusing on all the “what if’s” I can imagine. The biggest ones that loom over me almost daily: What if I have a recurrence? What if these doctor’s got it wrong and, while they think they got it, this killer is growing silently in me? What if I go for that standard six-month check up only to hear the words, “Your markers are elevated”? (For those unfamiliar with that phrase, it simply means the blood drawn has come back with some not-so-favorable numbers. Meaning, there are active breast cancer cells growing somewhere in my body.) What if, what if, what if?

I have discovered in my wisdom over this past year that sometimes silence is my best friend.  I am working with my physical therapist to get stronger and, as my recovery continues, have found that all I want is to row again. I miss all things the water gives me, especially the peace of an early morning row as the sun works its way up into the Texas sky. I miss the sound of the water as the blade goes in, right at that precise moment giving me a perfect catch.

There is nothing more silent than the single row out on the glass-like water of Lady Bird Lake. When you are out in a boat all by yourself, the success (and failure) of the row is completely up to you.

Right after my diagnosis last summer, I found during my workouts that I could ease the worries of what waited for me on the land by working out the frustrations and questions on the water. Those solitary moments provided me with clearer thoughts as I glided across the water. I found that out there, I was able to separate myself from my health issues in order to focus on having a great row. The outings left me tired in all the right ways. I had a great sense of accomplishment, and I felt full. Things in life would all work out the way they should.

Besides the questions, other important things have surfaced over this past year—ones I never once thought of during the 30 days between my diagnosis and takeoff day: the scars that now mark a third of my body and most of my psyche. I am now in this place of acceptance as I realize my physical fitness may one day be perfect, but my body will not. Rippling and implant issues have created an avoidance to the mirrors in my home and staying fully clothed is the new normal for a girl who used to air dry after a shower every once in a while not so long ago.

I’ve come a long way in the past year, and am seeing the truth that is me: I am not really single and I don’t ever have to be perfect. I am in a long-term relationship: one with my sport. It’s a relationship that has shown me great passion; taught me the value of perseverance: provided agony for the times I have rowed without a clear mind; and yes, allowed me to freely dedicate myself without judgment.

My passion to return to the sport is overwhelming. I realize not the boat, the oars, the glide of seat, nor the run of the shell as it moves along the top of the water care if I had cancer, have scars, or look like a sewing pattern gone wrong. All that matters when I am out there is that both my timing and finish are smooth. My hands need to be quick and away while I gently glide forward on the seat to prepare for that perfect moment: the crisp feel of the oar as it touches and pushes water backwards, enabling me to catch perfectly and—with all the power I want—push my frustrations out through the footboards.

 

 

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