Out & Active Champions: Sarah 1

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Sarah: London Otters Rowing Club

It never occurred to me that I’d ever get an opportunity to go to the Gay Games – I’m beyond excited

Rowing started for me in 2013, when my sister-in-law was approaching fifty. She wanted to do something out of the ordinary and decided to row the channel. I said ‘Oh, can I come along too?’ not thinking too much about it but it involved a lot of training and getting fit. In the end there were two boats-worth of fourteen women. I’d never met the other’s before, but we all became firm friends just through the power of sport. The channel row took considerably longer than we’d hoped but we were strong women, all mums with stamina so we carried on. Afterwards, a group of us wanted to carry on rowing so we commissioned our own boat to be built. We’re a partnership of twelve women, so we go out as often as we want and row on the Thames.

I volunteered for a charity called the Ahoy Centre and they asked if I would become a rowing coach. After training, I quit my job and worked with London Youth Rowing, coaching school groups and also adults. The Otters had just set themselves up and they came to London Youth Rowing for coaching. At that time, it was the Gay Men’s Rowing Team and I became one of their coaches. They went from strength to strength. Their numbers grew to the hundreds and they decided to become more inclusive and recruit more women. Some of my friends joined, and I saw how much fun the Otters were having and got that fear of missing out thing – FOMO, so I joined. I knew them all, because I’d coached them. They send people on a six-week course to learn how to row.  We’ve just done another women’s course and we’re hoping that some of those will join. We’ve got six women rowers all over fifty. The men are all ages and there’s a huge range of nationalities – it’s the friendliest rowing club I’ve ever known. When you rock up in the freezing cold on a December Saturday morning, you always know that someone is going to come and give you a big cuddle.

We just found out that our women’s team is going to the Gay Games. We’re going to put out a women’s boat – there’s six of us. The boys are going and doing their thing – some of them are very, very, good competitive rowers. We’ll try and be good – we’ll give it a really good shot – just for the experience. It never occurred to me that I’d ever get an opportunity to go to the Gay Games – I’m beyond excited.

My children are grown up, one boy is twenty-two and the other is eighteen. When I told my youngest I was going, he was absolutely thrilled. That was lovely as neither of them are particularly sporty. So, I’m a sporty mum with two non-sporty boys.

We all know we should get fit and eat healthily. I’ve known this, all my life, yet I’ve always been over weight and unfit. Now I have motivation. I have training partners and a training plan which I’m told to stick to and I do, because there’s your team, it’s not just you anymore. You can’t let them down. The fitter you get the more you enjoy being fit and the stronger you feel. After a heavy session you row yourself almost to the point of retching, but then you get that endorphin rush. It just makes you happy. And that’s just the training. When we’re rowing we take it very seriously but as soon as we stop in the café for a brownie and coffee, the banter starts.

I row with my women friends and they are straight, unfortunately but I wouldn’t have joined a non-LGBT rowing club. I’ve been gay all my life, I’ve been out all my life but I still feel quite tribal and sometimes it’s nice to be with your people, it’s safe and you are more yourself. I don’t think the younger ones feel that way because I think we oldies paved the way so their lives are a bit easier.

If you are an LGBT person over fifty – oh my God, just do it. Nobody has expectations. I think that’s one of the big fears, a worry that you’re not going to be good enough. The first time I was in a boat, I was apologising and they were just … ‘that’s fine, you’re doing really well, it’s good to have you, it’s just so nice that you are here.’ I’m sure that’s across the board with many sports. You’re going to find friends and feel good about yourself. You’re going to get stronger and have more motivation. It has a knock-on effect for the rest of your life. It’s going to give you confidence. If you know how strong you’re being and you know you have the support of your team, you can have the worst week at work and you know that on a Saturday, you’re going to be with your team-mates and they’re going to support you and love you. It’s absolutely changed my life. So, do it.

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To find our other Out & Active Champions, click on their names.
Christopher from Out To Swim
Tammy from London Royals Hockey
Nigel from Goslings London Badminton Club
Nash from London Royals Hockey
Sarah from Out To Swim
Peter from London Otters Rowing Club
Chris and Tina from Waltzing with Hilda and Pink Jukebox
Joanie from Hackney Women’s Football Club and The Federation of Gay Games

To find out more about the club click
London Otters Rowing Club

Champion interviews by Christopher Preston
Design for Out & Active by Laura Salisbury

Feature image photography by Alex Grace

Out & Active is kindly
supported by London Sport