Rowing: The Only Sport That Originated As Capital Punishment

Row Well Number 42 16.9

In ancient Rome, Rowing on galleys was a form of capital punishment. It was torturous, fatiguing, repetitive and ridiculously hard work, with many dying in the process. To my knowledge it is the only modern day sport that began as capital punishment. It says a lot about those that row – without saying much at all.

“Row Well and Live.”

Rowing is a microcosm of life. Yes, the phrase is borrowed from Howard Cosell, but no sport captures the true essence of this more than Rowing.

Rowing embodies much of what is the very best and very worst in life as we scrape out our existence on the planet. And yes, despite the repetition, rowers have their own form of enlightenment. If you are in the Australian VIII,  a length and half up on the Russian, German and British teams, now that is ‘Enlightenment’.

“We Keep You Alive to Serve This Ship.”

This motto traces its origin to 1959’s 11 time Academy Award winning film, Ben-Hur, in which Charlton Heston depicts a slave. During one famous scene, Heston finds himself on a galley ship, led by a Roman captor that advises Heston and his fellow slaves to “Row well, and live.” The same is true of life. If you serve no practical use – or utility, in your life, family, work or relationships  you slowly die.  You are indeed alive to serve the crew, the greater good, the community. Not just take photos of your bottom and post them to Instagram.

Rowing is about being willing to do the dirty, repetitive, monotonous and inglorious work to solve a problem. To do the heavy lifting when no one is looking. To be up on the cold winter mornings putting your body on the line – when everyone else is in bed. To be one of the many working for the good of the team, the family, the organisation to achieve greatness. A greatness, that cannot be achieved by yourself. You do not exist for your own benefit but what you can contribute to your team.

Rowing: The Ultimate Team Sport.

No other sport captures the concept of Team like Rowing. You truely cannot win by yourself. And a Champion Team will always beat a team of individual champions.

Greater wordsmiths than I, have said that Rowing is like trying to run a ‘4 minute mile in step’. I would agree, but consider doing it with guys that are around 200 cm tall, 100 kilos and less than 10% body fat.

Rowing is about the only true power endurance sport. Rowers consume more oxygen on average than any other athlete. Rowing requires more caloric expenditure than any other aerobic sport. Rowing is mostly aerobic but the anaerobic fitness standards and muscular strength requirements are as high in Rowing as many sprint and short-duration sports. Rowers race for around 6 minutes at a power output and in a heart rate range that would kill an average human being.

While in a Rowing VIII, each oarsman must slot their blade into the water at around 60 degrees from square. (Square is where the blade is perpendicular to the boat). Blade placement must be in perfect timing with all seven other crew mates – most of which they cannot see.

At race pace, moving more than 20 kms per hour, the window of opportunity to put the blade in the water is less than 10cm. Remember the blade is BEHIND the oarsmen – and they cannot see it without turning their head and disrupting the rhythm and balance of the boat. This is complicated by the fact that they are moving at more that 6 metres per second GOING BACKWARDS with a heart rate of more than 180 beats per minute and enough lactic acid to kill a small mammal.

Yes, we are idiots, but that is why we love this sport,  Dr. Hooper.