Thumbs…Up? Down? My Rowing Life in 2022

Yet another block of ghosting the training diary. Life got in the way of every ‘I should write an update’ until nine months later. Here’s the summary of how life as a Masters athlete has been going in 2022.

The big story: downhill skiing

Now that we live in the cold north, snow skiing exists. Alan pitched it as an activity that could get us outside in the winter, that we could do as a family and learn together. It sounded like a great idea.

Caelan, aka Mr. Fearless, excelled at skiing and came to love it.

In January, in my third time out at Mad River (maybe my eighth or ninth time ever on skis) we were night skiing. I was to meet a rowing buddy, but she was running behind. Alan encouraged me to start first and get a run in. I picked a green slope. Everything was going great and I felt in control as the grade leveled out. My eyes were on the ski lift about 100 feet away, until they weren’t. The ski caught something hard, my eyes were on the ground, so the hands flailed out, shoulder to the ground, skis flying off my feet.

Good hand
Bad hand, January 21

The pain in my hand was instant. I sat on my knees, holding it, breathing, wondering what the heck I hit. Nothing on the slope behind me but scattered skis and gouges in the snow. The snowboarders coming up behind me said, “Dude, that was epic.”

It took a moment of breathing, hunched over, holding my hand through the glove to get composed enough to pick up the skis and finish the hundred feet down the slope. By then my friend was waiting in line. I explained what had happened. I tried breathing it out, assessing if I could tough it out and jump back on the lift. I couldn’t do it. I had to bail. I tried packing snow on it to ice it. Once I got in the car and warmed it, the throbbing and swelling became intense.

Still Skiing, February 28

Hounded into an X-ray a few days later. It said no breaks, just a sprain. Rest, ice, ibuprofen.

A lack of use and improvement in swelling two weeks later signaled maybe not just a sprain. A ball formed at the joint. I couldn’t grasp anything or use zippers. It took six weeks in total to work the health care system before I was sitting across from a hand orthopedist office as he said, “you need surgery and you need it fast, given how much time has passed. Can you do Thursday?” It was Tuesday afternoon.

Between the fall and the verdict, in true bubble-wrap-girl fashion, I kept skiing. Even went on a weekend trip to New York. I just went slow and didn’t hold the poles, so when I fell I could just let go. 

All thumbs? Post-surgery

Obviously once I learned I needed surgery to reattach the ligament–hopefully he wouldn’t have to take a tendon from my wrist– my spring rowing season crashed like Mikaela Shirffin’s Beijing Olympics. It was six weeks of absolutely no sporting activity using the hand. The doc estimated I wouldn’t be able to row at all until about 12 weeks out. He said he’d worked on a lot of athletes, but he never had a rower before, so he didn’t have a true estimate long it would take me to get back to the level I want to be at.

Post-op March 4
Getting stitches out

But, I have a hard time sitting around idle. I figured doing something was better than absolutely nothing. Since my knee issues prevents running, and I couldn’t swim because of the incision, choices were limited. Shortly after surgery, someone in the neighborhood was selling a cheap spin bike. Now at least I could do something. Seven days post op, I started on the bike. I couldn’t even grip the handlebars.

Another goal was to come out of this with a nice two-pack of abs. Figured I could do sit-ups and bridges and some banded work.

My steampunk glove

The workout schedule was going ok. I’d strictly adhered to the hand therapy regime because that would get me back sooner. The start was slow, as the thumb struggled to regain elasticity. Such a small limb, but what a big impact. If you can’t grip or put weight on it, that’s no dumbbells, no pull-ups, no-pushups, etc. But once I finally got it moving, I am happy to report I exceeded OT expectations and eventually was cleared from therapy at 8 weeks.

Biking and core training were going well. I was keeping some base fitness until Alan got COVID in April. He quarantined in a bedroom, as we had a cruise in three weeks. If Caelan or I tested positive, we couldn’t go. It also meant I was solo parenting for ten days, while still taking care of Alan as best I could through a door. Every day, I woke up wondering if Caelan or I had COVID. Just surviving the day-to-day meant training fell apart.

Once Alan recovered and I stayed negative, the cruise was around the corner, so it wasn’t worth going hardcore. I did some workouts on the boat, but it was more to mitigate any further losses.

Getting clearance

Halfway into May, the doc gave clearance to start weight training again as long as I adapted my workouts and didn’t go hard. It was a very nice lecture. I also convinced him that sweep rowing would be okay, as long as I was on starboard side.

It was amazing as I went back to CrossFit the difference between the left and the right side, not just with the hand strength but strength through the forearms. For example, I had the core capacity to do more toes-to-bar, but my right arm would tire out and seize because the forearm muscles hadn’t been getting used as much.

I managed to get in a few sweep boats, but we’re not really a sweep rowing club. I didn’t get to row as much as I would’ve liked in the early days. At 10 weeks I got the go-ahead to try sculling. He gave the go-ahead to start sculling again, with another nice lecture on taking it slow and not to go out racing in three weeks.

June 4 was the 12 weeks out appointment with the doc. He wiggled the thumb around and had me do some basic exercises to check the strength. Satisfied, I got one last lecture on responsibility rebuilding and was declared mostly healed. It will take a few months more for the swelling to fully disappear and full use/strength to return.

First row in the 1x 5/29/22

Naturally, it rained for the next three days.

When I finally did on the water, I promise I listened to the doctor. Our reservoir essentially has three loops you can do. The short one is in the basin and pretty much is used by learn to row. The next one is called the “Wall,” and one loop from dock to the Wall and back is about 6500 m. That’s the one I aimed for first. My thumb got angry and swelled up.

It was clear this process was going to be a few weeks.


I wrote Sprint season off because I knew if I tried to train for it, I would probably go too hard too fast. Plus trying to get into sprint-fitness mode in three months would be a hard prospect. It was tempting when I heard Masters Nationals was in Sarasota, but since it’s returning for 2023, I don’t feel too guilty skipping.

Now it is August. I spent June and July months gradually adding distance in the single. I went from 6500m now to the 12,000 m loop regularly, with some up to 17ks in the last few weeks. I’ve started playing around with a stroke rate. My first foray in the 28-30spm range flared it up. It keeps getting better, although progress at rate is slow.

Off the water, my strength training blossomed. In July, I made PR‘s in the squat clean, deadlifts, and benchpress. It’s kind of amazing considering I have only been back at it about eight weeks, and I had to rebuild that strength in my right arm and hand. I’d avoided doing any cleans or overhead presses for about six weeks because I didn’t wanna stress the joint. Dumbbells started at 10 pounds because of the pressure on the hand.

Time to love those hips

My left hip has been an issue for a few years now. Once my hand bills were dealt with, I committed to finally getting checked out. Better to fix it now on an “off-year” so I can go hard next year. 

Trying to do my hip PT. Amora has other plans.

The orthopedic doctor looked at me like I was a overzealous google conspiracy theorist when I theorized my scoliosis, persistent knee/IT band problem, and hip problem were interconnected. She glossed over my knee issue almost dismissive in a way. Diagnosed SI dysfunction and sent me on my way with a print-out of stretches and a PT referral. Same as my initial IT band consult a decade ago.

The physical therapist experience was totally opposite. Yes, he agreed it was highly likely it was all connected. Scoliosis does tend to lend to SI dysfunction. My IT band injury and persistent problem likely caused a muscle imbalance that further aggravated everything. I felt vindicated. 

He did some assessments unlike the first PT I went to. It was amazing how little muscle activation I had in my left side. At one point, he pushed my leg straight down to the table like knifing hot butter, as if I wasn’t trying to resist at all.

About a month out now and the hip pain has already improved in my daily life. Rowing, it’s also been better, especially in the last few outings where I stopped using the Prow seat pad. I found it was adding too much pressure on my joint.

I’ve avoided running, but I did a few short, easy jogs. It starts to ache around 1000 m, but not the stabbing, gait-altering pain. I hope that’s a sign that if I continue down this path that I’ll get to a point where I can jog a mile nonstop pain-free.  At this point, I would be so happy just to reach that milestone.

Check out that max stroke rate.

Head of the Charles

Before all this skiing stuff happened, I considered trying to put a bid in for the Head of the Charles. When that happened, I figured I’d wait until I turn 40. Better to spend the next two years building strength and base. Maybe one year focus on sprint season and the next year head season.

Then I was asked to be in a composite mixed 8+. I weighed it for about a week. Composites are tough, and there’s always a risk it won’t be competitive or something will go awry.  It’s a lot of money to spend for a mystery row. But I figured another spin down the course two years out would probably be a good thing. And as Alan pointed out, I do like the regatta experience.

So back I go, in a Director’s Challenge boat as Allies with Oars. A fun regatta and a good awareness cause. 

It changes the intensity of the training, though. I always do what I can to be as above average as possible. 

Who wants some ribs?

And of course, in training week one of 12, and somehow I developed a rib strain. I don’t know what happened. We were in the car for two days coming back from Florida. Monday morning I started warming up for a distance test on the erg and wham-o, big ol’ achy pain in the right side. Not where I broke it, a rib or two up. I spent six minutes rowing a warm up before deciding to bail and spin. Tuesday, I went two minutes. A whole week went to a rowing rest, with lots of icing, ibuprofen, and spinning hoping to resolve it. 

The bright side is I’d rather deal with this now than in ten weeks. Thus far it’s been better, but it twinges every now and then. I haven’t swept, which is probably a good thing.

August 22, 2022. Back to head race training.

Port Side

The other positive of this slow rebuild would be the eight weeks spent retraining my port-side catch in sculling. I literally spent the entire rows counting 20 strokes for each little part of the stroke that was impacting my bad catch (roll up early, separate catch from drive, blade depth, accelerate through, squeeze lats at release, repeat). My first coached video of the season showed it has tremendously improved. Not perfect, but way better than September 2021.

Now racing is around the corner, so I’ll try to update my training more often. The objective for this year’s head race season is to be present, enjoy the process, and lay a foundation for a better 2023. And if I’m lucky, win a medal or two along the way.

My reminder every day.

About camckenna

I write; I row.
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