I would love to hold your hand, but you probably do not want to touch mine. It’s covered in callouses on the best days and oozing with open blisters on the worst.
Getting your first blisters is like an initiation into the world of rowing. It’s visible evidence of the hard work that happens in the boat; nasty hands are a mark of toughness, a source of pride.
While watching a rower absentmindedly picking at the dead skin off their fingers and wince as they peel off a little too much blister, it’s hard not to wonder why we don’t wear gloves. It would save a lot of pain and agony. It makes sense. It would be easy. But a real rower would not be caught dead wearing “bitch mittens.” It’s a pride thing I guess. We would rather risk oozing, swelling, tenderness, extreme pain and possibly serious infections than wear gloves and look—pardon my French—like a pussy.
At the boathouse, if I show someone a dime sized bubble on my index finger their reaction will be somewhere between “BRO. NICE.” And “I’ll be praying for you.” They’ll wince the next day while they watch me spray New Skin on the fresh, bare flesh on my hands. No one is repulsed by how nasty my hands are because chances are they have to put food in their mouth with fingers that are equally as blistered and raunchy.
In the “real world” things are not so rosy. I’ve shaken hands with people and watched their brain wonder if they’re shaking a person’s hand or if they somehow grabbed an alligator’s tail by mistake. Casually touching anyone will be met with a request to “get that sandpaper off of me.” It’s a rough life.
With perspective, things could be a lot worse. I am lucky to have hands to get blisters on. I am privileged to have a functioning human body that can perform the rowing motion. I am fortunate to have such a first world problem.
This being said, it doesn’t make the moment when I realize that my oar handle is wet with the fluid that used to fill my blister bubble any less horrifying. I know nothing worse than stopping a piece, turning my hand over and seeing a flap of skin exposing flesh where a blister used to be. I know I’ll have to take thousands more strokes before the practice is over and know by the end, my hands won’t even be the part of my body that hurts the most. What a beautiful sport I’ve chosen.