Dear Rowers- By Dr. Jessica Reyka
Over the past two months, we (human beings) as a collective have experienced a significantly traumatic and ever-changing period of time with COVID-19. You may have noticed that since this has taken place that you are more irritable, hypervigilant, stressed, experiencing more anxiety, less sleep, and a decreased (or increased) appetite. Some of you may have been navigating through these things prior to the pandemic, but for some these sensations and feelings may be relatively new and overwhelming. I just want to encourage all of you who are reading this, that there is no right or wrong way to handle or cope with this experience, there is solely just being in it and trying to move through.
“What does that even mean? Just being in this and trying to move through?” Think about the first time you took a stroke on the water, for the majority of you that meant you didn’t drop it in at the right time, or it wasn’t turned to the correct degree and you didn’t catch the water. Remember those emotions and how frustrating it was to be in that position and be unsure of to make your body do what your mind was saying. Fast forward to your 10,000thstroke, you no longer need to think about what you need to do to make your oar drop just right, it just happens, you feel it in your body. That’s what I mean when I say just be in this. Allow yourself to experience the feelings that are coming up, remember they are temporary (just like your inabilities and feelings of frustration in the beginning of this sport), and then express them in a safe way.
Unfortunately, I cannot provide answers to when this will “end” and I can acknowledge that at times that thought alone can be overwhelming and terrifying. But here’s another way to look at this pandemic: you’re in a single and you’re halfway through your race when you start to feel like you can’t or won’t make it to the finish line, your aching body screaming that you can’t do it. But somehow you do and you’re a stronger rower and human at the end of the race because you kept going. Although we don’t have a finish line in sight, we do have our own resilience and drive that we can tap into to help us feel like we can make it through.
For many of us, rowing brings a sense of community, belonging, love and support; and now, all of those things have been stripped away or feel like they have. Just being we cannot physically be together in a boat or on the ergs, we can still remain connected. Creating a Zoom workout group with the other rowers in your boat or on your team, holding each other accountable like your coaches would, reaching out to one another via text when you start to miss the connection, email your coaches for resources to share with your other team members, utilize the technology you have to keep that community alive!
Numerous regattas have been cancelled, events postponed, fundraisers shut down, and so many other aspects of this sport and lifestyle have been impacted. There is an element of grief to having all of these exciting events cancelled, the hope that you had to prove yourself on the water, the medals and awards that were possible, and for the seniors, some of the last moments with your team and as a high school rower. I’m encouraging you to allow yourself to grieve those moments, but to remember that there are still infinite moments in the future that you will have. Just because you couldn’t experience some of these present times, it does not mean that you are not a rower, and it does not make you any less of a rower. Grief doesn’t look the same for everyone, it can manifest as anger, frustration, irritableness, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, etc…So if you are experiencing any of these, there may be a need to allow yourself to recognize that you feel a loss and to work through that. You’ve lost before at regattas, on the erg, on the water, you know how to handle this, you just have to believe that you can. This has allowed time for you to develop more of the mindset of a rower without the physical rowing. Can we use this time as an opportunity to build a stronger mind and body to help us return back to the sport better than ever before?
For parents: I just want to acknowledge that I know this is a very challenging time for you as well, but I am going to encourage you all to help provide a space for your children to experience, feel, and process through their emotions during this time. For some of you, you may have lost your job, which is what your child now feels like, they have lost their purpose, their meaning, their routine. Many of you were not prepared for this, which is a place where you can find empathy for your child who also did not have time to prepare. Some ways to help communicate with your child and to encourage them to express themselves: a) setting up a journal system where your children can write in a journal and leave it in a specific place in the house for you to read and respond (if communicating verbally is anxiety provoking or distressing for the child), b) spending time discussing your own worries and fears (to an appropriate extent) to help normalize that they are not alone in their feelings, c) helping them create a flexible routine or schedule where they choose the tasks they want to get done for the day but may not necessarily need a time frame to do it in (less anxiety provoking and defeating if they can’t complete something), d) creating conversation about the present moment and how to stay mindful in that and then practicing those strategies (breathing together, yoga, meditation). Sleep is one of the most important things that we need as a human being to help heal ourselves and to just function on a daily basis, so if you recognize that your child is not sleeping well or just not sleeping in general, this may be an indicator that they are trying to navigate some of the things mentioned above. They are strong but they need you to help guide them through this, and it’s okay to let them know you are also navigating this for the first time.
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. You all know how to work your bodies, let’s use this time to connect with our minds and building an overall stronger self. There is no mandated timeline for your progress, as long as you as continuing to work towards your goals, you are doing it right.
Please reach out for support when you need it, you are not alone in this, we are a team!
All the light,
Dr. Jessica Reyka
Bio: Dr. Reyka is a psychologist in the Denver area mainly working with young adults and adults in navigating their healing process through complex trauma, significant anxiety, and attachment issues. She utilizes a holistic integrative approach where she focuses on the mind-body-spirit connection, often referring clients to massage therapy, acupuncture, and yoga to help facilitate a more thorough and comprehensive healing journey. Connection to rowing: She began rowing while pursuing her undergraduate degree and then went on to coach middle school athletes. She has faced some of the same challenges on the water and can understand the intense personal connection to the sport.
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