I hate being the object of pity. I’m not much happier with sympathy, I can sometimes handle empathy… But I hate pity.

I raced at Regionals this weekend, and although all of my four races felt good, and my team came together and performed well, I did not win any medals. Which was disappointing – every other person on my team won in one of their other races, I seemed to be the common denominator among losing boats. I thought I had made more improvements over the last year than I had, but apparently it’s going to take a lot more work to compete at an international level and win.

One of my coaches, who is an ex national team athlete (he was headed for the olympics until an injury forced early retirement), decided to race a single scull, and unsurprisingly he won. He felt like it was unfair, because despite having followed the letter of the law, it is somewhat unsportsmanlike for an athlete of his caliber to compete at a masters level. So this is where the pity comes in: At the end of the regatta, once the boats were packed back on the trailer and we were ready to make the 4+ hour drive back to the ferry, he called everyone together for a team meeting/end of regatta wind down chat. It started out nicely enough, he made some nice comments about learning a lot from adult athletes and how much he enjoyed coaching us…

Then he brought up a new thing. The “spirit” award. Citing the idea that this person had been positive and complained the least throughout the weekend, he called on me, and gave me his gold. And I just wanted to crawl under a rock and die. It I felt that I had earned that award, maybe it wouldn’t have felt so shitty, but I don’t think I did – There was another member of the team who had been far more helpful, positive, and proactive than I had been all weekend, which means they selected me because they felt bad for me. Because I alone had not medaled. I can handle my own disappointment, but knowing that I was the object of my coach’s pity just … It just sucks.

I held it together until I got into the car to drive home and then let the tears come. The ladies I was carpooling with were worried about me, and agreed that it was a poor choice and pretty transparently a consolation prize… and they were lovely. Half an hour into our drive home we were giggling about other things.

I have no desire to have anyone pity me. A large part of why I keep the details of my infertility largely private is because I have no interest in being the object of that attention. And I work my ass off at rowing, i’m just not performing at a high enough level to win yet. Having my coach think that that action was appropriate just… Makes me want to quit. Having it happen in front of all of my peers, and drawing attention to my failure, not to mention making me a lightning rod for their pity as well? FML.

I know that he thought he was doing something nice, and that makes the whole thing somehow worse. If he were just being an ass hole, I would write it off and dismiss it, but he genuinely thought that he was being kind. And there isn’t really a way to give it back without being an ass hole in return.

I’m aware that three days of racing in 35+ degree (celsius) weather, plus <5 hours a night of sleep for five days, plus 7+ hours of travel time on either end it making me more emotional than normal. I’m aware that once I am well rested and a few days have passed I will feel less miserable about this. But right now I don’t want to get back on the water, I don’t want to deal with anyone from that arena, I just want to hide, give up, oh, and starve myself to boot, because when I hate myself, I feel all the old body image issues resurfacing.

I have to go for a training shift at my new job today. I am overtired, have a slight heat exhaustion hangover, and my brain feels like fuzzy mush. Not ideal training circumstances, so here’s hoping I can get through it with some shred of dignity intact.

Fuck pity.



The Value of Community

Given the tone of the last few posts I’ve written, this should be quite different.

I spent the weekend at a rowing regatta with my teammates. I was very nervous going in, I feared that my own issues would be transparent enough that I wouldn’t be able to interact on a basic socially acceptable level. These are all people who have only seen me on one level – my social, positive, extroverted facade. I worried about the reality of spending four days in the presence of people who don’t know any details of my life (seriously, most of them couldn’t tell you what I do for a living, what my husbands name is, or my last name), would be too stressful and my own issues would out, whether I wanted them to or not.

Don’t get me wrong – I had some bad moments. I definitely hid from them in the evenings when I was worn down and tired and unable to cope. I had the blessing of one person I do trust being there. She doesn’t know all the details (in part because I have avoided telling her) but she knows me well enough that she helped me make space when I needed it, which was… for me, given how fragile I was feeling, nothing short of amazing.

What I did not expect was the sense of belonging I found over the weekend. When I started rowing, I joked that I had finally found my people – type A, OCD, compulsive, driven, hardworking, intelligent people who are just crazy enough to wake up at 4 AM and go sit in little narrow boats, rain or shine, dark or light, year ’round. I missed, on my first assessment, the other side of these people. I missed the compassion, the kindness, the support, kinship that exists within the team. That’s what I found this weekend. I have never felt so accepted by any group of people before in my life.

Knowing that this was my first regatta, they checked in on my constantly, offered advice and suggestions, and stories of races past, where win or lose it was worth the process. As a novice rower, the realty is I am a bit of a liability in the boat – it takes a while to get the technique down to the point that you’re contributing at a level equal to the more experienced rowers. But I never felt like they saw me as dragging them down. Instead there were constant words of encouragement. When I rowed my own novice single, I could hear my whole team on the beach cheering me on. I didn’t place, I wasn’t especially happy with my row, but coming back into the beach was like getting back under a warm blanket on a cold winters day. The results didn’t matter, my time didn’t matter – all that mattered was that I’d done it, and they were proud of me.

I grew up in a small town, and I think I am inclined to take it for granted. I forget the value of having a group of people who will stand behind you and be available no matter what. I didn’t know last year, when I started rowing as a favour to a friend (they needed another female, I’m reasonably athletic and I had time) that I would find a whole new support system to be part of. The warmth and kindness that these people have shown me – regardless of if they know any additional details about me – has been one of the most wonderful experiences I can imagine. My off colour jokes, silly dances, propensity to terrible puns, and inclination to be a cheeky little shit as often as I can manage are all accepted. Welcomed, even. Despite my reluctance to share (I didn’t), and semi-antisocial tendencies over the weekend, by the time we were on the boat home, I felt safe with my teammates. Safe to be me, whatever that looks like, and that it will be ok.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know I have a whole community of wonderful people who will help me if I need it.