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.)


SprinklerBandit said...

So intense! Hope your back/neck continue to heal so you can have another go next year only without the pain part.

redheadlins said...

What a thrilling year you have had, even with the ups and downs! Congratulations on achieving so many goals and fingers crossed for quick healing!

Kate said...

That sounds equal parts awful and awesome. One thing's for sure though- you can't say you haven't made the most of your time in the UK :)
Hope the back & neck heal up soon!!

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