Catherine WidgerySEC Contributing Member
A life-long lover of any athletic activity, I captained of all my girl’s high school teams but I grew up at a time when very few women were taken seriously in sport. I graduated from Yale the year the protest took place that eventually culminated in Title IX requiring equal funding for men and women in sports. During the following two decades in Montreal, I became a Provincially ranked squash player. At 41, I put down the squash racket thinking I was at the end of my competitive athletic life and focused on biking, cross country skiing and in-line skating.
While visiting friends in Boston I saw people rowing on the Charles River in these impossibly narrow sculling shells. So graceful, they looked, like insects skittering across the water and I knew I had to try to learn to row. Inspired by watching these beautiful boats and sculling motivated me to move to the Boston area and on a June morning at 55 years old, the day after I moved into my new home, I showed up at a small neighborhood rowing club to learn rowing.
“Do you row port or starboard?” the coach asked. “I don’t know, what those are” I replied. But by the end of that season I was selected to be one of four rowers in the club’s only entry at the Head of the Charles race. Two years later at 57 for the first time I got into a single scull and knew I had found my sport. Building on more than 40 years of consistent yoga practice I had both the body awareness and balance to feel at ease in a boat just 9” wide. My steering was problematic to say the least, but I was fast and the old competitive spark lit up once again. The first year after only a few months in the single I won two bronze medals in local races and the silver in my age category at Silverskiff in Italy, the world’s largest single sculling event.
But in the winter of 2010 I was stricken by Reiter’s Disease, an auto-immune disorder that gave me a body wide case of arthritis. For two very long years I could do no sports and minimal physical activity. I was barely able to walk. It was the longest period of inactivity in my life and a very difficult period. Sports had long been a way to diffuse tension. It was my source of joy and release. I was was so weak after those two years that my hip, no longer supported by muscle was discovered to have had from birth only half a hip socket, now bone on bone. I had a hip replacement in late July 2012 and began a slow rebuilding process the following Fall and Winter.
My dream of rowing again kept me motivated and I bought a used Van Dusen single sculling boat and on June 10, 2013. The first time I went out on the water, I was gasping for breath after just 10 strokes. Thus began the long, slow process of getting back into shape for competitive rowing at 60 years old. In October 2013, just four and a half months after I had started rowing again, I entered the Head of the Charles drawing the starting number 39 out of 40 rowers. Surprising myself as well as the rest of the field, I won the 60-64 age category. Yeah! I also won the 11K Silverskiff a month later.
These wins got the attention of the leader of Masters International, a competitive international women’s team and the following season rowing with them, I won four gold medals at the EuroMasters Regatta in Munich. In two US Masters Nationals Regattas in 2015 and 2016, I won 7 golds, 2 slivers and one bronze medal as well as a gold at the Worlds Masters in Belgium in 2015.
Yet, I recognized a crucial mental and emotional component could sabotage continued success despite all my careful training and preparation. To figure out the mental/emotional component of training is what inspired me to attend in June 2016 the first annual SEC Sports Festival conference.
The founders of the SEC Group as well as a few distinguished guests gave presentations that inspired me to work with Greg Warburton using concrete tools to unblock energy pathways in my body so my body, mind and emotions would effectively all work together. That summer there was a palpable shift in focus and calm confidence in my races. Racing competition gets stronger as each year as younger, strong athletes enter my age category so I am training harder than ever, working out 6 days a week on the water, on the erg and in the gym lifting weights. I have a support team of coaches and a nutritionist and I train with younger men and women each morning at dawn on the Charles. I am currently ranked among the top three women in the world in my age category, age 60-64.