Rowing, my sister and me

Katya Duncan

When I heard this week’s blog theme for Girl Talk , ‘Women in Sport’, my first thoughts went to my sister. She has been my role model in sport throughout my life, and I have always aspired to be as good as her. However, our sporting journeys have been markedly different, something which my unassuming results in bumps when compared to her regional, national and international credentials testify to. Needless to say, we have different relationships with sport.

As a child, I envied her sporting abilities: she would be the last one standing in tag, beating me in our bike races down the road. Our one and only judo match ended up with me on my back. And so, when I emerged as the victor of all our Just Dance offs, I felt entitled to a feeling of smugness.

These little spikes of jealousy took a different turn when she took on the most glorious and dreaded sport in British history: rowing. Suddenly, an aptitude in sport and a competitiveness mindset took on a new level, and it seemed to me that her sole objective in life had become to be the best at moving a boat backwards on her bum. I wasn’t half wrong – that was in in 2010, and she’s still trying.

Naturally, as she wouldn’t stop talking about it, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Since we lived in the middle of the countryside with a mountain in our front garden, and one of the best rowing lakes in the world at the bottom of the road, I decided to give it a go. That little rowing club quickly became my world. But once again, it was a world I shared with my sister, and it was a world she had a knack for winning in. At the beginning it was fun having my big sister teach me something she was proud of. Then it felt condescending. Then just plain stressful. I realised that we were to be members of the same crew and that she had vastly higher ambitions than I did.

During our first and last joint competition as a double in a local, inconsequential regatta, I was shaking so much with nerves and stress that the boat trembled beneath us. I couldn’t do it. We needed to win. She was good enough to win and if we didn’t, everyone would know it was because of me, everyone would know that I was the reason for our failure. All of a sudden, I realised that I hated this sport, I hated our coaches for putting pressure on me to row with her and I hated my sister for making me feel this way. A hobby, an activity meant to build your confidence, destroyed mine. I didn’t finish that season. I just gave up.

But, I’m a stubborn gal, and I hated fearing something for no good reason. No one else seemed to have this stress problem and all I needed to do was get over it. I tried again and I’m so glad I did. My sister was still better than me by far, but I was training on my own terms. It didn’t matter that I didn’t collect as many medals around my neck as she did, the same way it wouldn’t affect my view of her in the slightest if her extraordinary race results started dropping. She would still be my incredible big sister in my eyes.

I don’t love sport for the rankings, I love it because it is where I have forged my strongest relationships. It is where I’ve learnt to be part of a team, where I’ve realised aspects of my character and where I can combine complete silliness with ambition and hard work. It’s a bit scary how much I depend on sport now: need space to think? Go for a run. Need energising? Dance. Feeling angry? Erging is the only solution there. Need a break? Pick up a frisbee.

Not to sound cliché and boring, but if I had to tell you why I decided to write down these snippets of my experiences in sport, I would tell you that it is because sport really isn’t about winning – it’s about taking part.



3 responses to “Rowing, my sister and me”

  1. Méline Ruel Avatar
    Méline Ruel

    That’s so pleasing to read, good job Katya !!


  2. Dee Avatar

    Love that it’s about the spirit of sports and not just winning. I think it’s important to note the wholeness of it all and not just one sided competitiveness. Love the article!


  3. Rowing, my sister and me — Cambridge Girl Talk – ARMANS TEE HUB Avatar

    […] via Rowing, my sister and me — Cambridge Girl Talk […]


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