Kate Adams works for Rowing NZ and she is currently learning to row alongside her twins, Harper and Xavier (12). We catch up with Kate to find out what the 'learn to row' experience has been like.

Why did you and the kids want to learn to row?

I always thought rowing would be a great sport to get into as my cousin was a cox and we used to go and watch him compete and it was very exciting. Unfortunately, my high school (Waikato Diocesan) did not have a rowing programme until I was in 6th form (Year 12), and with all my other sports and activities, it was too much of a squeeze by then. My best friend was in the squad, and I remember heading out to Maadi 1995 at Lake Karāpiro to support her. It was an amazing event to watch. This was the start of what has become a very strong rowing programme at Waikato Diocesan.

Fast forward and now I’m a mum to twins, and despite twins quite often being on the small size, our kids are very tall for their age, and I often said to them from a young age that it looks like they were built for the physicality of rowing. I took them out to the Maadi Regatta in 2021 when it was held in Cambridge to give them a little taste and they thought it was pretty cool. So, when Cambridge High School put out the call for ‘Learn to Row’ participants and included the Cambridge Middle School students, I encouraged them to sign up to give it a go and see if they liked it. At the same time, I had been working at Rowing NZ for about 4 months and was completely absorbed in the sport day in and day out so I thought, now might be the time to give it a go myself.

I contacted the club captain from Cambridge Rowing Club and enquired about their ‘Learn to Row’ programme and signed up.

Have you or your kids had previous rowing experience?

Apart from using an erg in the gym, absolutely no rowing experience for any of us.

What did the first session involve?

Unfortunately, my first session was a wash out due to bad weather so we just worked out on the ergs in the clubrooms and started learning the correct rowing stroke, which is definitely not what I previously used to do in the gym!

The kids’ first session involved them going out in an eight sweep boat and an octuple, with one or two experienced high school rowers in each boat. They did some rowing around Lake Karāpiro but didn’t stray too far from the clubrooms on their first row. They both came off the water excited about rowing and couldn’t wait for the next session. Xavier, in particular, wanted to practice on our erg at home and was very keen to learn all about nutrition to help him be better.

What’s been the biggest learning or challenge?

My biggest learning is that I completely underestimated how technical the sport is in reality. I am spoilt by being able to see some of the best rowers in the world train every day and they make it look so effortless and easy, so I expected to be an expert after a couple of sessions!

My first on-water session definitely put paid to that idea. My coaches Jo and George are fantastic, and they help break everything down so once you get one part going well, it’s then time to work on the next one. We have had the chance to row with experienced rowers, which definitely helps with timing and working together as a team, so I have really appreciated that aspect

Have you had to adjust your meal planning?

Not at this stage as I’m only doing two to three sessions a week. I am super hungry after each row, so I am mindful to eat good foods rather than heading for a drive through!

Eggs are a very popular food item here at Rowing NZ so I try to have some poached or scrambled eggs to refuel, and I always take my water bottle in the boat with me as we can be out for over an hour.

Have you had to adjust your sleeping routine?

I am an early riser due to the kids’ sports and school, so my sleep routine hasn’t been affected too much so far. I have done one early row with some experienced club members at 5:30am, which was a bit of a struggle, but the lake was so beautiful and calm, it made it all worthwhile. Our LTR sessions are at 7am and 4:30pm so not too much sleep disruption at this early stage.

What was the biggest surprise you have encountered about rowing?

As stated earlier, it’s not as easy as it looks but when it comes together, it feels so great! I also think that I am surprised at how anyone can row. Whether you are short or tall, skinny or curvy, young or old, rowing can be for you. I’m definitely not as fit as I once was but I don’t feel as if I’m dying each session through my lack of peak fitness. Yes, I am trying harder outside of rowing to be more active with swimming and sessions at the gym, but when I started, only eight weeks ago, you would not look at me and say, “she looks like she works out every day”.

If I decide to compete in regattas, yes, I will need to get fitter and faster at rowing, but I don’t feel the pressure to get to that level now.

Will you continue to row and what do you see as the biggest benefits of the sport?

Yes, I will definitely continue rowing and have joined Cambridge Rowing Club as a master’s rower.

Harper is heading to Cambridge High School next year, and at the end of her ‘Learn to Row’ programme with Cambridge High, the girls’ squad coach said that he wants to see her turn up for training next year when she is eligible for the school team as she did really well. So she must be doing something right!

Xavier is starting the Year 8 rowing development programme through Hamilton Boys’ High School in Term 4 as he will be attending there next year, so he may get selected for the small squad of Year 9 boys to start them off on the right track. They are a very good rowing school so we will have to wait and see if he makes the grade for early training. If not, he will join up and start in the spring next year.

The biggest benefit I see in rowing is the community. I have become immersed in the rowing community so quickly and everyone is so welcoming and warm. Whether it be school rowing or club rowing or Rowing NZ, everyone I have encountered has been enthusiastic and keen to help me or my children get to where we need to be.

"It’s not as easy as it looks but when it comes together, it feels so great!"

What support have you received?

My colleagues at Rowing NZ have been so supportive. Our elite development coach, Tom Stannard, gives me great advice and helps analyse the videos that we get from our sessions and tells me what I need to work on. The other rowers at Cambridge Rowing Club have been great also. They always keep saying, “we were you once upon a time”. My recent 5:30am row with some experienced rowers was a great source of personal satisfaction as I didn’t feel like I was letting the team down and they really kept me going with positive words of encouragement and coaching along the way.

As previously mentioned, my Learn to Row coaches, George and Jo, are hugely supportive and encouraging. They are so patient and really want us ‘Learn to Rowers’ to succeed and have fun at a new sport.

Has the sport helped you make any new friends/connections?

Yes absolutely. It is great heading up to Podium Café at Lake Karāpiro after rowing on Saturdays and catching up with other club members in a social setting.

Do you think you can row casually row or do you need to invest significant time into the sport to make progress?

It really depends on what you want to get out of the sport. I think you can do either casual or recreational rowing as a sport if you don’t expect to turn up at a regatta and smash out first place. As I have said, rowing can be a very social sport so if the social aspect of rowing with a little bit of exercise thrown in appeals to you, then go for it and find a club that suits your needs.

If medals and glory are what floats your boat, so to speak, then yes, you will need to put in significant time and training to realise your expectations, but this is true for any sport.

You will need to disrupt your sleep to row before work and then either row in the evening or do a gym session. You will need to watch your nutrition and make sure you are guided by a good coach. Time and effort on your behalf will definitely see you progress in rowing and then it’s up to you how far you take it. For me, I would be quite happy to be good enough to compete in some regattas and maybe one day, the national masters championships. But hey, that’s not for everyone and the good thing about rowing, I think, is that there are enough options to make it work for anyone.