by Anonymous Rower (translated by Gillian Shaw) source text

My name is Fabio and I, like many others wanted to be a rower. I was born and grew up in Sardinia and I enjoyed water sports as a youngster. I lived near a large lake, which is where I began to row, when I was little more than a child.

The feeling of being in a boat made me fall in love with the sport there and then. Yet, I was to give it up all too soon. At 19, I left home to go to university. At 31, straight after graduating with a PhD, I dropped everything and moved to Oxford.

I cant

Don’t say: “I can’t!”

Luckily the river was a stone’s throw from home and I spent the first few months watching the various rowing crews training, morning and evening. In the rain and snow, in the cold or heat they go out and I am there watching them, taking photos. I’d like to take up rowing again, but it’s been 12 years since I’ve been out in a boat. Then, there was something else too. Only a ‘little’ thing: I have M.S.

A year goes by and I still haven’t decided. I’m scared that someone might notice ‘the other thing’. In the meantime, I’ve learned all the 36 Oxford blade colours. One morning, I get up the nerve and decide: within a week I found a club that will let me row. Fate struck though, and made me look ridiculous – the following morning ‘the something else’ had come back. I couldn’t walk. I began to panic and spent whole days crying, reproaching myself for having expected so much.


Fortunately 3 months later, things have improved. I can walk again. At a party, someone tells me that one of the people sitting at my table is a men’s rowing coach. Without a second thought, I take him a beer and introduce myself: “Hi , I am Fabio and I’d like to row in your squad‘. He looks me up and down and replies: ‘We aren’t taking any newbies at the moment, but if you come back at the end of the season that should be fine’. Bluntly, I reply: ‘I have been rowing since I was a kid. Singles, doubles, 4’s, 8’s, sculling and sweep. Whichever – but let me row’. He smiles and says: ‘It’s nearly midnight and it would be best to sleep first: I’ll expect you in the morning at 5.30’.


More than a year has passed since that morning. I am training and competing more or less twice a day, with the same squad. The coach who accepted me a year ago has now given up coaching, but has started to row and compete with the rest of the squad. I’ve never told anyone in the club that I have M.S. Some days are hard, but I put up with it. The enjoyment of rowing in a place like Oxford is better than anything. I know that one day in the not too distant future, I will have to stop, but for now I’m enjoying myself doing the sport I fell in love with as a child. It’s just a little more difficult, but not impossible.

3 Responses

  1. Good on you! I am 78 years old and have had Motor Neurone Disease for the past 18!
    I was given a maximum of 5 years to live, but I had a secret weapon; Rowing!
    Since diagnosis, I have rowed in winning vet crews both at home and abroad. In a 2-, we won gold at the World Masters and 10 national championship medals at home in 4+.
    Keep rowing, never stop.

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