Tour de Léman – 30.09.2022

Katrina Edmunds, Guest Contributor

After the weather briefing at the Société Nautique de Geneve where the optimistic models forecast headwinds, squalls, sudden storms and 50 cm high waves, I was scared. Fear crept in that this time I had gone too far in setting an audacious goal. The 160km circumference of Lac Léman loomed large from every vantage point. The longest I had ever rowed was 37km and that hurt had floored me. I was scared that the combination of the conditions and the unknown fatigue would combust into a monster I could not slay. However, I looked at my crew and the work we had done to prepare and we rallied, we determined to stay in the moment and go one step at a time. 

We didn’t sleep much the night before the 50th Edition of the Tour du Léman and we rose reluctantly at 6 am to be on the water by 7 am. Then we waited in the rain with a sense of impending doom and determination. When the starter’s gun cracked, we crept out of Port Noir and around the first bend of the lake. Soon we found a steady rhythm rating 24, in our first crew formation and eased our bodies into the regime of 45 minutes rowing before a pause to change the cox, resulting in a rest every 3 hours. Our bodies adapted to the demands we made of them. We quickly realisedwe needed to keep the changes fast in order to avoid rowing through the night. Rowing went beyond the usual technical analysis and application; into a meditative state which was interrupted by the agitation of planning the priorities for the change. We were in the moment for the duration: our existence was reduced to refuelling, releasing and first-aid.

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional” is a Buddhist saying that I’d recently come across when reading Haruki Marukami’s “What I talk about when I talk about running” and Iturned it over in my mind. I thought of the slaves in the galleons of the Greek ships I’d read about in Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey and contemplated our contrasting but similar experience. We shared the muscular fatigue and aches, the blistering hands, the wear and tear wounds but our motivation came from the whip of our minds, not our masters. This difference is fundamental, I realised. Through my own free will, I chose to be here. I am determined to take this epic adventure into the unknown in order to go beyond my limits and explore what lies beyond.

I also chose to be here to prove that we could do it. A silent protest through participation as an all-women’s crew in a sport which continues to be dominated by men. Of course, we have made significant progress since I was a girl at the Junior World Championships when I was in the minority 3:1 but the culture of clubs in Switzerland could benefit from realising that anything men can do in the boat, women can do too. We may not be as physically strong as all men, but we are stronger than some and ment

ally we are equal. I rallied myself in recalling the incidents which had led me to recruit my crew for “Sporty September” and embark on the crazy plan of racing 1000m at the World Master’s Rowing Regatta, 37km at the Bilac in Neuchatel and now this, the longest race in the world in a land-locked basin…the mansplainers of rowing. The guys in my club insistently and persistently corrected and critiqued my manner of doing things when I am pretty confident that I am a competent oars person. The final drop was when one of the seniors, let’s call him “Mr Twirly-tache” interrupted me while I was coaching some girls on the basics of the rowing machine, to give his “superior” instruction. In that moment, I said “thank you” then took my frustration and converted them into the triple race registration. Our male coaches had told us we were crazy so we’d worked out our own plan, our own preparation, and we had charted our own path right into this moment. There was no way I was going to stop.  I knew exactly why I was there, what I was doing and that I would go the distance if my body did not fail me. When it hurt, I thought of my daughters and the future female leaders of Afghanistan who had been through so much just to pursue an education. I dug in and rowed on.