Science - June 26, 2008

Blistered hands but lots of fun

The early morning mist still hangs above the Rhine as an Argo boat is lowered into the water. Training starts at six thirty for the first-year rowing crew, Tournee Generale. One of the five stays behind on land as there’s only room for four in the boat.

From front to back: Vivian, Jennifer, Gerjanne, Daniela, and coach Stephan on shore.
The team started last September with six women: two German, one Belgian, an American and two Dutch students made up the only women’s international team, and from the start it clicked. Unfortunately, after a few months they had to continue without the Belgian Erasmus student, Sophie Littermans, as she returned home. The team have had five wins so far, and on Saturday they are going for a sixth in the national finals at the Bosbaan in Amsterdam, when the student championships for first-year rowers are also held.

The three international students enjoy being in the team. ‘I signed up with Argo during the introduction days because I wanted to do an outside team sport,’ says German member Daniela Lüth in the changing room. ‘Everyone pulls their weight in the team, and we eat together regularly as well.’ As they collect their oars in the boathouse everyone speaks Dutch. ‘At the start of the season we spoke English most of the time. But I’m learning Dutch and now I can follow what’s being said,’ says Daniela.

Jennifer Steinback, the other German in the team, is also glad she chose an outside team sport. ‘Rowing is not something you can do everywhere,’ she says. ‘Many international students stick to themselves, but I’ve met lots of new people here. And because of all the competitions I’ve seen lots of different places in the Netherlands.’ Getting up in time for training is still awful, she admits, as she picks at the palm of her hand. Blisters and patches of hard skin compete with each other for her attention. Jennifer’s parents were amused when she announced that she was going to row. ‘They don’t do any sports themselves.’ Daniela’s mother does and is jealous of her daughter, as there’s nowhere to row back home. And the American team member Vivian, who played tennis and softball before, sends nothing but photos of rowing home, she loves it so much.

The team’s coaches also get a lot of pleasure from their international team. You don’t have to train a lot for competitive rowing, but recently the women have been training four or five times a week. ‘They are enthusiastic, always on time, keen to learn and their rowing has really improved,’ says Carlijn Wentink, their coach who has come along to watch together with her colleague Stephan Wijkhuijs. Even once in the winter when the river was really rough the team wanted to row, so Carlijn allowed them to do so. ‘They came back soaked to the skin, but had had great fun.’ Doing the coaching in English took some getting used to, but now she doesn’t even notice, although she gives the rowing commands in Dutch. Carlijn: ‘In an emergency I revert to Dutch, and for them it’s a way to learn new words.’

The final on Saturday is the last time the team will be together: Vivian, Jennifer and Dutch member Harmke will all be doing their stage next year.

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