When I rowed in university, I generally avoided the lightweight rowers.
They tended to be stressed out and uptight all the time, and I don’t blame them. They wandered through their days hungry. I remember one lightweight in particular, who was trying to shed 20 pounds in 20 days to make weight at the upcoming regatta, setting a “Three-S” rule for herself: When she was hungry, her options were to shower, sleep, or have sex.
Lindsay Sferrazza is a lightweight rower with Canada’s National Rowing Team. Somehow, she has managed to avoid becoming the stereotypical HANGRY lightweight. She is usually the happiest person in the room, is always the first person to make someone else laugh, and she chooses to see the positive sides of having to watch her weight carefully. The humour, even.
“We can buy cuter clothes (than the heavyweights),” joked Sferrazza, a former heavyweight rower who weighed between 150 and 160 pounds. Today she sits around 135 pounds, and generally has to lose the last 5 pounds before a competition to get down to the 130 pound lightweight limit.
Sferrazza explained that she has run the full gamut when it comes to body type. She was actually at her heaviest when she was a child: A five-foot-one, 175 pound “diesel butterball of a kid,” she said.
Despite her happy-go-lucky nature, Sferrazza can be serious from time to time and admits that life at the National Team Training Center in London, Ontario isn’t easy.
“It’s hard to really define what it’s like to train full-time until you actually are doing it. The daily grind can be tough, and you are constantly battling fatigue, but that’s when teammates and keeping your mind positive is essential,” Sferrazza said. “The toughest part for me is that I consider myself a pretty social person. I’m very extroverted and can feel isolated from reality or normal social activities or civilization when all I do is train everyday and see the same 20 faces.”
And she even admits that being a lightweight comes with its own unique set of challenges. High volume, high intensity training, especially in windy or cold conditions is definitely tougher for athletes constantly having to focus on keeping their weight maybe a bit below where their natural weight wants to sit, she explained.
“I find we're are maybe a little less resilient in those situations, but that’s why we focus so heavily on proper recovery and nutrition because we have less reserves and ‘bounce back’ than our heavyweight counterparts,” she said.
And, of course, cutting weight can add some stress, too.
“It depends where you are leading into the regatta. Sometimes I don’t have to worry so much about weight and so it’s just about focusing on fuelling properly for the race,” she said. “But when I have to cut weight for the race it adds additional stress to an already high stress event like a race.”
On a day-to-day basis, though, Sferrazza doesn’t starve herself. She trains three times a day and eats to fuel her training; generally this means eating two breakfasts, lunch, dinner and often an afternoon and evening snack. She has dabbled a lot with her nutrition since becoming a lightweight and has discovered that her body functions better for performance when it is getting carbs.
Weight aside, one aspect of rowing that’s common to all rowers are hand issues: rips, cracks, dry skin, thick calluses, and generally sore hands. The worst time for rips is generally in the spring when rowers get back onto the water after a winter of training on the ergometers.
“My hands generally toughen up in the summer and I get the odd blister or hot spot. Calluses tend to build up and can blister around them,” she said. “The worst is when we go from indoor training to training camps or outdoor rowing again. Then I get torn fingers, and hands like crazy,” she said.
When that happens, she bandages them up and tapes them, but usually the tape doesn’t last the whole row. You can’t wear gloves because you need to be able to feel the handles, so she douses them in polysporin and waits for them to heal.
“Right now with the windy cold conditions, my fingertips are all cracking, which is a new experience I have to learn how to deal with,” she said.
Or maybe she doesn’t.
RIPT has just sent Sferrazza a RIPT hand care kit including the Grind Stone, Daily Dose and Quick Fix.
We’ll wait for Sferrazza’s review but we’re confident RIPT will help Sferrazza reduce at least one stress from her crazy life as a lightweight rower with the national team.