Student - March 31, 2010

Rough hands and always hungry

No snacking, two beers a week max, and always in bed by twelve o'clock. But also: exploring Amsterdam from the water, and making good friends. The life of a first year rower.

Argo's first year ladies' eight in action on the Rhine, with Elise Bressers in the middle.
'Hands on. Shoulders, ready, up. Now!' Chatting away, five girls heave a long boat above their heads and take it out of the boathouse. In the afternoon sunshine, and with red hands from the cold wind, they are preparing an eight for the water. After their rest day yesterday the rowers are a bit hyper, as they are used to training every day: indoor fitness training twice a week and the rest on the water or the ergometer, partly depending on the weather.

Eight sandwiches
Elise Bressers (first year Plant sciences) chucks a banana peel into the bushes. These girls are always hungry, and dieting is forbidden. Elise eats at least eight sandwiches a day. She takes fruit and biscuits with her to lectures - her favourites are 't Stoepje cookies - and at lunchtime she often has a fried egg. Supper is at about 8.30 in her house, when everyone is back from training. 'I happen to live in an Argo house.' Then it's time to wash up, curl up on the sofa with a cup of tea to watch a bit of TV, and by eleven o'clock her bed is calling. 'Then I'm really quite tired.'
The introduction period was nice, says Elise, but she became a true convert after her first competition last autumn at the Amsterdamse Bosbaan. 'All those other boats and clubs, the competitiveness that I felt there.' And so she became a competition rower. Since January there's been no more going out for her. She laughs about the fact that she is at the Friday morning lecture looking quite fresh, while half the students are missing. 'You do this all together', she says, with a happy glance at the girls around her. At a recent competition weekend, twelve of them slept in an Amsterdam student house. 'And sharing two showers for the twelve of us is easy too.' There is no intrigue in this group either, according to one of the trainers; they are a friendly bunch. 'As a competition rower, you just have a different kind of social life. And by training a lot together, you get to know each other really well.'
But Elise does find it a bit tough that she often can't go home to Best, and her boyfriend there doesn't like it much either. Many of her teammates have already given up going home. If the return journey takes you three hours, you simply don't have enough time between the training on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. Elise's diary is full of training sessions until July, with the odd day off. 'You have to learn to plan', she says with a shrug.

Tight shirts
It is pleasantly busy at Argo, with students walking around in smart green-white-and-black suits and rock music blasting out of the ergometer corner. Sitting among piles of clothes in the steamy changing room, Elise puts plasters on her blistered fingers. All the rowers suffer from rough hands, calluses and blisters. The hard work gives them well-developed muscles too. Elise has grown out of a few shirts, but her tummy is still nice and flat. 'There are students who gain ten kilos in their first year from all the beer. I certainly didn't fancy that.' In the boathouse she listens to her coaches talking about the training, shivering slightly because she forgot her jacket. Then they carry the boats towards the glistening Rhine. She will soon row herself warm.

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