Catch and Release: My Return to Rowing

I picked Labor Day to return to the gym because I knew everyone else preferred to do anything else but work out. There were a lot more signs on the door beyond the one I remembered warning to keep it closed. Now everyone entering was ordered to wear a mask and Department of Defense-approved athletic attire. A posted schedule showed the three times a day the facility closed for cleaning. 


The check-in system was the same as it had been when I last used it March 2020. But the faces behind the desk were all new. I showed my ID and asked where the rowing machines were now located. Their previous location had been converted into an F45 studio – a gym within a gym and the first on a military installation. The women’s locker room looked the same except for all the signs now prohibiting selfies, not just dying hair in the sinks. 


When I first started attending this gym 20 years ago, there was a lone rowing machine wedged between two pieces of Nautilus equipment. It later moved to the more appropriate cardio room. Then it and a companion rower were sent to the spin room. The spin room later was converted to a functional exercise area that yielded to the F45 Training Center.


I got wigged out by all the kids coming back from war with serious PTSD, so I joined a 24 Hour Fitness that had two rowers in the back balcony, where the TVs were tuned to Fox News and at least one machine had a broken chain and the other needed a battery replacement. Toward the end of my time there, staff trucked in a fleet of WaterRowers. I was elated until I discovered the machines were for a specific group exercise only. Some circuit class held while most of us were at work or making dinner.


When your favorite form of cross training is rowing, it can be hard to find equipment in conventional gyms. I live too far from the nearest Row House. I don’t wish to do anything but row, so there goes Orange Theory. And I’m just not a fan of the elliptical or stair-stepper or treadmill. I’d rather climb actual stairs or run outdoors. But I prefer indoor rowing to crewing. For starters, I don't have to worry about my earbuds or phone being ruined by river water if they fall or I capsize.


I had low expectations as the new front desk clerk told me how to get to the rowers now. On my first attempt to go into the basketball courts, turn right, go all the way to the exit door and turn two more times, I veered left when I should have gone right. There sat  four rowers in the hallway, all in various states of disrepair. I went back to the front desk and clarified, “I wanted actual working machines.” 


She sent me back with better directions and that’s when I discovered a room with six – six!! – rowing machines spaced apart for the times we’re in. There were bikes along one wall, rowers along another and some new C2 Concept ski ERG machines I will check out later. I had the room entirely to myself but kept my mask on so I’d know how if felt when I wasn’t alone. (It wasn’t bad; I could still breathe though my face heated up more quickly.) I cranked up my Apple Music playlist and turned the wheel tension down a few notches. Then I started to pull, catch and release, just like old times. 32-35 RPMs. In fact, despite the lower resistance, I finished my 20-minute workout where I left off almost 18 months ago. It felt good to walk out refreshed, a bit sweaty and ready to return. To indoor rowing and to my former pre-Covid

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