"We will push our bodies to the limits to stop eating disorder sufferers doing the same."
As female university rowers the women of Corpus Christi College Boat Club, Oxford, inevitably have muscular thighs and regularly turn up to lectures with no make-up and sweaty hair following early morning training sessions. And yet we love our bodies because they are the very things which allow us to be successful in our sport! Our goal is to show those who suffer from eating disorders and low self-esteem that it is possible for them to feel the same way about theirs.
We are preparing to become the first all-female crew to row the 180kilometres from Oxford to London for charity. This will take place over three full days between 23 and 26 June (made up of a half day followed by two full days and another half day to allow us to make the most of the launch and welcome parties), and will result in catastrophic muscle ache, innumerable hand blisters and, to put it bluntly, numb bums!
But why put ourselves through that? What has motivated us to stand up for this cause? At 5ft 2in, I shatter the rowing stereotype and am confined to the 'little person' seat at bow - the back of the boat, although looking at me the obvious assumption would be that I am the cox (for non-rowers, this is the loud-mouthed midget that sits at the front of the boat and dictates instructions which the rest of the crew must follow or face being thrown into the ice-cold river at 6am). I have a continuous fight to 'keep up with the big people' to retain my place in the college boat, and thrive on gruelling training sessions requiring immense physical and mental strength. But I wasn't always this motivated by fitness alone.
As a teenager with a diagnosis of severe anorexia, exercise to me was purely a joyless means of burning calories which I hadn't taken on in the first place. At age 15 I spent nine months as a hospital inpatient, but four years later I am now fully recovered and volunteer as a Young Ambassador for the eating disorder charity 'beat', who we will be fundraising for through our expedition! Beat is a charity which works to raise awareness of eating disorders and provide support and advice for sufferers and their family and friends.
The camaraderie and need for physical strength provided by rowing has allowed me to regain my love of exercise simply for the endorphins, and not for the weight control! My personal mission, therefore, is to teach eating disorder suffers to view exercise not as a way to get the body they want, but as a way of celebrating the amazing things their bodies are capable of!
Countless eating disorder sufferers have told me of their fear that they will never get rid of the anorexic voice in their head. I felt that way myself! But I am proud to say that through my training I have reached a stage where calories are no longer my enemy, but my friend! Food is no longer a forbidden weakness, but is the very thing which fuels my journey towards a goal, and allows me to succeed!
We are currently trying to publicise the event as widely as possible, with the view that if we are going to put ourselves through that much pain in the name of charity then we may as well to everything we possibly can to raise a significant amount of money and make it worth our while. We would love it if as many people as possible might be willing to sponsor us and/or spread the word about our challenge!
You can support us at:justgiving.com/londonrow
Thanks so much for reading!