Friday, August 1, 2014

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

(Just a heads up that this post contains a few mildly NSFW-ish photos of me in a sports bra and lycra shorts.)

So if you read the recap posts of the end of my first year of grad school (here, here, and here), it's pretty clear that in many ways I had a pretty surreal and awesome spring. I got to do a lot of cool stuff, hang out with some crazy people, and get a peak in on a life that was completely unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. 

However, it was also really, really tough. I limped home in early July depressed, injured, and a bit mentally fried. To top everything off, I got dumped approximately 72 hours before I was due to come home for the summer.

So that didn't feel great.

I admit that I did spend around a week in as close to a rom-com, 'crying-while-watching-soppy-movies-and-eating-ice-cream' esqe phase as I've ever gotten--which for me is more along the lines of lying inert and drained in bed all day, watching repeats of British panel comedy shows that I've watched a thousand times before. I wanted to jump up and start enjoying home on the farm right away, but I just couldn't.

(Though fortunately, some things about home just blast you with loveliness so intense that you can't deny it, even when you're feeling awful)

But eventually, I started grooving again. I started going to doctor's appointment after doctor's appointment to get my back and shoulder feeling better. I got glasses, and suddenly could read street signs again while driving--an epiphany!

 (New four eyes!)

I tentatively started going for long walks with my dog, that merged into jogs, that merged into stationary recumbent cycling, that merged into regular stationary cycling and weights. 


(A montage of 'walking with Eloise')

Soon, I'd lost the 10 pounds I'd gained in my post-injury June convalescence and was looking damn fine again, if I do say so myself:

(158 lbs - 151 lbs)

All of a sudden, I went from sort of dreading the start of the school year, with all of the stress and having to see my ex again and blah blah blah, to actually getting really excited again. My back actually feels good! My body actually feels good! I can see! I can think again!

(rawr)

In a lot of ways I've had a pretty boring summer so far, but gosh has it been necessary. I finally feel like I have my old confidence back and am ready for another year in Oxford-land. I have no idea still if I'll be able to row again this fall, but at this point I'm feeling like I'll definitely be well enough to do something, which is fine by me at this point. Bring it on!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Trip to Horse Show Land!!

This past weekend was a very exciting one for me, because... I GOT TO GO TO A HORSE SHOW!!

Namely, I went up to GMHA Dressage Days for the weekend to volunteer as a scribe. It was my first time being at a show since last September, and ooh lawdy it felt good to be back.

The weather was absolutely unreal perfect, I got teamed up with the same great judge on both days, and had a blast scribing for 2nd level all the way up through Grand Prix over the two days. I have scribed for eventing dressage but never the pure stuff, and it was really informative to see what mistakes make different scores happen.


(Sunday in the FEI ring - this horse was sooooooo fancy!)

Most interestingly, the judge I scribed for was one that I had last year at PSG, and one who I got one of my lower scores of the season from. I had sort of grumbled about it at the time, but after spending two days with her I knew beyond a doubt that my low score had come from inaccuracies in my test (which she was brutal on, especially correct angles in shoulder-ins and half passes and getting things like flying change counts totally, flawlessly correct) and not from any bias from her. It's not even that I'd thought that at the time, but it is always easy to make excuses for a bad performance... until you're literally sitting there watching a test similar to yours getting scored low and seeing with your own eyes why it's not up to scratch. It was humbling, but also inspiring to watch the direct correlation between test accuracy and good scores. It works, people!

I have no idea when I'll actually be able to use all the education I got out of this weekend, as I have no idea when realistically I'll get to show again, but oh well; it was still tons of fun. It was also really fun to be up at GMHA again, which is far and away one of my favorite spots on this good green earth, equestrian or otherwise. I've showed at GMHA for nearly 20 years now and they've given me so much happiness, so it felt good to spend a few days giving something back to them. Plus, they really know how to make a volunteer feel loved: showering us with free food and goodies throughout the weekend. Thanks, GMHA!


(Morning light in the dust bowl)

I also got to spend some time taking some long walks through the green mountains, and enjoying the gorgeous Vermont scenery. There really is no place like it, and I felt so lucky to get to spend such a perfect few days there. I'd love to come back with a horse someday, but in the meantime this was just fine by me.

 (Early morning Queechee Gorge)


(Beautiful Vermont)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Springtime Rewind Pt 3: Henley Royal Regatta

I have just one last spring rewind, because summer is now well and truly under way and I actually have some new events to write about, but this last recollection was just too good to pass up.

Remember how in my last post, I talked about getting the right to wear a Pembroke blazer, and thus getting an admission ticket into the weirdly cultish world of Oxbridge rowing? Well, I got to put that to good use just a week or so after term ended, when a couple of friends from boat club and I pulled out our blazers for a weekend at Henley Royal Regatta.

Henley is the crown jewel of the summer rowing calendar in Britain, half elite-level competition and half elite-level social ritual. The dress code is incredibly stringent, with jackets and ties for men and below-the-knee skirts or dresses for women, with boating blazers being the most coveted accessory of all.

 (Wearing my Pembroke blazer with pride - I also had my high school's bowtie folded in as a pocket square for a little additional institutional pride)

 (Lounging)

 (Familiarizing ourselves with the plan for the day's racing)

There is an unspoken hierarchy of boating blazers, with the blue blazers of the Oxford and Cambridge university teams ranking near the top, Oxbridge college blazers comfortably in the middle, smaller club blazers near the bottom, and international blazers from the Netherlands and the US appearing as exotic sideshow oddities. An Oxford grad student had just published a coffee table book of boating blazers a few weeks before Henley, so my friends and I--newly versed on the many cuts and colors of Britain's blazer tradition--had a lot of fun identifying who came from where as we walked up and down the riverbank.

(With my friend Richard, who wears the striped blazer of the Oxford University Lightweights)

(With a Nepthys-blazer-clad Sam)

(Pembroke ladies with an Isis man)

I have to say I didn't pay much attention to the racing, spending a lot more time observing my fellow spectators in full peacocking splendor and drinking pint after pint of Pimms. It was so quintessentially upper class British, and pretty much lives up to all the stereotypes I thought about England before I moved here. I found all the elitism pretty old by the end of the weekend, but definitely enjoyed my little window into high society while I could.

 (With Charly, one of my best friends from Pembroke)

 (Showing some Stanford pride)

 (Much exhausted lounging)

Plus, at £200 a pop, boating blazers are hardly cheap, so it felt good to give mine a few more outings to try to make the price seem a bit more reasonable!!

 (Watching the rowing)

(In Photog mode)

 (Watching two Pembroke students in one of their last outings before representing Great Britain at the world championships!!)

 (The fancay Henley lawn chairs)

 (All dressed up for Henley!)

(Blazers, ready to roll)

After Henley, I spent one more night in the UK before flying home to the States for a few weeks, where I've now been enjoying a relaxing vacation before another crazy year in the surreal world that is Oxford. It's been mostly quiet, but I have had a few adventures worth sharing. More soon!

 (Henley, yaaaaaaas)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Springtime Rewind Pt 2: Summer Eights

Gahh I'm sorry I'm sorry, I truly am the worst; I'm still trying to get back into the blogging groove after my long absence, and I've had some real frustrations in the past few weeks that have put me off my game a bit. I'll cover all that in more detail later, but in the meantime I thought I should devote a post to the week that ended up being the central focus of my spring (and yeah, I say that with academics included... ssshhhh), and, in many ways, both the cause of and solution to every obstacle I've faced this year:

Summer Eights.



Summer Eights (or Eights Week) is Oxford's big intercollegiate rowing competition. Well over 1000 participants from the university's 38 colleges compete with their respective boat clubs, and the event is so popular that on the final day (Saturday) this year, over 15,000 spectators lined the banks to watch.




 (Bumps racing in action - so many boats on the river! We're the folks in pink in the middle; I'm wearing the red cap)

 (Not our boat club, but dang, Jesus College sure does know how to do a motivational sign)

I've been lucky enough to compete at some pretty important and prestigious horse shows, but I've never had 15,000 people watch me do anything! So in many ways, Eights was the biggest competition I'd ever competed in in my entire life, in a new sport to me, with a boat club with a reputation for being one of the best (and so most watched) on the river. I was definitely up to the challenge, but I won't lie if I said that I was a little nervous.


(Even getting the boat out on Saturday of Eights is a struggle with all the spectators!)

Unfortunately for me, the wheels came off my journey to Eights pretty quickly. In March I pulled a muscle in my back, then tried switching sides to alleviate that, and then started experiencing really strong neck and back pain. By the time we were two weeks out, rowing at any speed was uncomfortable, and rowing at pace was pretty much agony. However, because we'd already had a lot of injuries on the team, there was no one that could replace me. Also, the very competitive side of myself had had competing in the Pembroke First Eight as my goal since last October, so there was no way I was going to quit now!

I limped through Eights week, helping Pembroke W1 maintain their 4th place standing on the river (which was no easy task with tough competition from Magdalen, who started the weekend in 5th, overtook us on the first day, evaded us on the second day, and who we only managed to get back on Friday).

 (Coming in for the kill on Magdalen)

 (Bumped! In sight of the Pembroke boathouse! Sweet, sweet relief.)

Racing was... pretty miserable, actually. I love competing, but I also love not having stabbing nerve pain running down my arm while I try to do said competing. I didn't row with the technical standard that I usually hold myself to, with the result that the videos and pictures that came out of the weekend are pretty hard to look at. And because we were one of the last divisions of the day, we got A LOT of pictures and videos taken of us! Sort of mortifying, but what are you going to do.



I've since found out that I was rowing with not one, but TWO bulged discs--one in my neck and one in my upper back--which makes me feel better about being a bit of a spanner (the British word for 'lacking proper technique') over the week. Since I already have some chronic pain and inflammation in that region from my broken neck as a teenager, I got even more resultant nerve inflammation from the bulged discs this time around. So, it was a legitimately painful couple of days!



I've been very frustrated because my efforts at Eights have meant that I've had to be on essentially full rest from the moment the competition was over until now. It's been a full two months now, and while the discs themselves actually look pretty good at this point (still abnormal but more within the acceptable range), the nerve inflammation around the discs has still been really painful. I'll be getting a cortisone shot next Tuesday, which will hopefully allow the nerves to settle down and let the healing process get on its way.


(A Summer Eights tradition: after you finish your last race of the week, you get handed a pint of Pimms and can't get out of the boat until you finish it. Oh so very British.)

But all that grumbling aside, was I glad I did it? Yes. Summer Eights was a goal of mine from the very beginning of the year, and a really legitimate stretch goal at that. I'm proud of myself for gritting through and seeing it to the end. I made my best friends at Oxford through Boat Club this year and am going to get to serve PCBC as Captain next year, which is a position I've wanted to have since I was 14 and a freshman in high school and have never, ever actually achieved. I learned a lot of new skills and really did have a good time 95% of the way there. And I got the right to wear a pretty Pembroke blazer and enter into the Oxbridge boating blazer tribe, which I've looked in on longingly all year.


(The Pembroke ladies of W1, all blazered up on the first morning of Eights for the annual Eights Breakfast with the Master)

Summer Eights made a lot of my dreams come true, albeit at a pretty high physical price. I have no idea still what my recovery time is going to look like (the reaction to the cortisone shot will dictate a lot), so I don't know whether it's realistic to think that I'll get to do it again next year, but gosh am I glad that I got at least one shot.

 (Plus, we got to party like it was 1999 for the next week after we were done!)

 (The women of W1, plus our two 'super subs' who filled in for me and one other girl through the last two weeks when we were too injured to train.)

(PCBC love)

Oh, and I coxed too! I learned to cox a month before the race and led Pembroke Men's Third boat to 'spoons' glory, which meant we got overtaken every single day. We were not good. But dang, we had a good time.

 (I even wore a crown to make it even more super serious)

 (Pimms for everyone!)

(Us with our spoons, which I made myself. So classy.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Springtime Rewind: Easter Shenanigans and City Bumps

So when I last left off, Hilary Term had just finished and I was looking ahead to a nice long East break before the start of the last term of the year. As I mentioned two posts ago, a large portion of this time ended up being consumed in 'blue screen of death' mode, but I did manage to squeeze in a few fun activities as well.

First, my brother and his wife came to visit, which was a lovely treat. They took to pub life in England with gusto, and finished their weekend with the (maybe dubious?) honor of having visited 12 pubs in 3 days. Well played, D&G. I really loved seeing them and it was great to have a little taste of home when I wasn't feeling so great.


(D&G digging into a pub lunch at The Punter)

Then, my friend Millie invited me up to Manchester to spend Easter with her family. Again, it was a really fun chance to get out of Oxford, and I felt truly loved to be included into her family for Easter festivities. I got to experience a real Anglican Easter, complete with a (very long!) Easter service and then a traditional British Easter roast (complete with lamb, though as a vegetarian that was more for looking than tasting). I was so overwhelmed by Millie's family's kindness and hospitality, and it definitely made me feel a bit better about missing Easter at home, which is normally one of my favorite holidays to spend with my family.


(Dr. O'Driscoll carves the Easter lamb)

Then finally, I got to do a little racing! Every year the Oxford city clubs (aka the ones that aren't associated with specific colleges) put on a bumps-style race similar to the ones the colleges do for Torpids and Summer Eights, though with 4+ boats instead of 8+s. I joined the Oxford Academicals, one of the city clubs, at the beginning of the vacation, and had a great time racing with them. We had a very successful day, winning 3 of our 4 races and coming soooo close to 'winning blades' (which would have happened if we'd won all 4 times). It was a long and exhausting experience, but a really fun start to the spring season of rowing, which would prove to be a doozy.







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