Turning Grief Into The Action That Would Fulfill My Dream Of Becoming A Rower

Ring Ring, “Hey dad what’s up?”, “Hey buddy we aren’t going to be able to make your game tonight”. “No worries” he replied. “Freshman aren’t suiting up for this game.” “Okay” I told him, “We may not be able to make it up there either”, “Oh, what’s wrong”.

That was the start of a series of events that had a drastic impact on both of our lives. My son Casey, 19 at the time was a freshman in college playing football for Nevada Reno, The Wolfpack!

“Well buddy, I’m not sure just yet. Your mother is in the emergency room and has 8 IV’s for blood hooked up”. Two of the eight IV’s were on machines to push the blood in as fast as possible while two nurses hand squeezed two more bags as her blood pressure was dropping rapidly.

Some 2 years ago my wife Margo of 22 years had been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. Approximately one year after initial treatments of chemo and a couple of surgeries later it returned. The cancer had metastasized to her liver and her lungs and was now stage 4.

That Day Started Out Quite Normal

The car was packed. We had some blankets in case it got cold in the stands and of course if you are a Wolfpack fan you know you have to have some packfetti on hand for touchdowns! Only one last thing to do, stop by the doctor’s office for some routine discussions about our options before hitting the road and tackling the four and half hour trek to Nevada from the San Francisco Bay Area.

After talking with the doctor and literally standing up to leave my wife became suddenly very nauseous and asked to sit back down for a moment. Still not feeling well she needed to lay down. Not moments after laying on her side on the doctors table she began vomiting up blood. The tumor in her liver had created a back pressure in her vascular system, which ruptured some vessels in the esophagus causing major internal bleeding.  

A Blessing in Disguise

“Do you need me home dad”, “Maybe, it might be best”. “Okay, I will get the next possible bus ticket and send you the info”. “Sounds good, I’ll meet you at the station when it arrives”. This moment oddly enough was actually a blessing. The doctor’s appointment had been moved from a later date which in turned delayed us from our trip to Reno. Had we not been delayed it could have truly spelled disaster for her. If this episode had begun while travelling, medical help would have been too far away and she likely would have passed while on the road sitting in my car. With the doctor’s office being in the hospital she was in the emergency room and plugged into those IV’s within a few minutes’ time which literally saved her life and bought some extra time.

My son dropped what he was doing and discussed the need at hand with his coaching staff. He then booked a ride home on the next bus available. The time was about 12:30 am when I picked him up from the San Francisco Greyhound station. He jumped in the car and we hit the road, its right about a 30-minute drive barring traffic. We were able to talk about the situation at hand as we drove back down to the hospital in Redwood City, Ca. by this time my wife was now in the Intensive care unit after having an emergency surgery to patch the vessels that had ruptured and things looked pretty good for her at the moment.

All Roads Led To Rowing

When I was young I didn’t really know much if anything about rowing. My first exposure of any kind was a movie called Oxford Blues which had peeked my interest but there were other things in mind for me – the Military. Yes, I was intent on going into the Military and going into the Special Forces. I believe that a large portion of my athletic ability was cultivated here, especially in Navy SEAL training.

For whatever reason I have always liked the rowing exercise, well maybe I should actually say that it was an exercise that seemed less treacherous and boring to me. Whenever I would go to the gym to lift weights I used a rowing machine if one was present to get my warm up and some cardio in before the lifting started. Contrary to many others, I enjoyed rowing on the erg and felt I was actually pretty good at it. Having been around water and swimming most of my life this seemed like a natural fit. Over the years, I would get the bug every once in a while and would look into rowing clubs around the area but could never really justify the expense or the time for where I was at in my life. Having gotten married just before shipping out to SEAL training put my life on a new course and I needed to make choices now based on family needs rather than my own needs and desires. Due to this factor rowing was always shelved throughout the course of my life up until the day my wife of 22 years had passed away. She had finally succumbed to the cancer.

I Could Spin Circles Going Nowhere or I Could Get Up and Move Forward

After dealing with that challenge in my life I decided that there was no reason to keep me from taking on this task of learning to row. First and foremost, I knew that life waits for no one! I could spin circles going nowhere or I could get up and move forward doing something I thought I might enjoy and had the potential to be good at, so I started making some calls around the SF Bay Area looking for a rowing club that could meet my needs and help me get started down this road. After talking on the phone with Alice, the woman who has become my coach, I decided doing this was worth a shot. We met at the boathouse where I shared a bit of my story and expressed my goals of looking into Para-Rowing (something I will cover more soon..) and possibly going to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Why have an Olympic/Paralympic goal? Well for me, I believe there is no point in doing something unless you want to be good at it. So let the goal help drive the results. Let it provide fuel to keep that fire burning. 

My New Life As A Rower

After climbing on an erg and spending some time it was clear she had a plan to asses my abilities and how they may or may not align with the aspirations shared earlier. In concluding our session Alice encouraged me to try a local indoor rowing competition that was only a couple weeks away. My initial reaction was “Are you crazy that’s Superbowl Sunday” but after some thought and confirming that I would most likely be home in time for the game I decided to go. In the end after rowing a couple of weeks with some instruction I pulled a 3:24.9 in the 1K distance, official para distance at the time which has now been extended to 2K. Who would have thought rowing was more or less designed for me or maybe it’s the inverse of that. You see, I’m 6’5” and apparently have a genetic advantage in rowing due to my height. Within a few month’s time while making steady progress I soon began getting on the water to learn both sweep and sculling (The two different rowing styles). The following year I competed once again in the indoor rowing competitions, this time I travelled to Boston in order to compete at what was known as the Crash-B’s World Championships where I set the World Record for the PR3 50+ age category pulling a 3:09 in the 1000 meter race. Needless to say, I have some places to go, people to see and races to row. It’s fun, keeps me fit and helps me continue striving forward into the future.

Having lived a lot of life and not just in years but experiences, I hope to be able to share some of them through the course of time as I continue moving forward in my new found rowing career.

Rise Up, Row Hard, Repeat!

 

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