Ugly Cat Shirt is the Secret to Fat Ergos

This week was Wisconsin Women’s Rowing’s annual Bucky Days. It’s a three day festival of testing, to mark the end of the fall season. It includes a 6k, 4 mile run, one minute max test and 2k. It ends up being a brutal, stressful week, but it’s also kind of fun in a masochistic way.


This year, I was 40% bummed and 60% relieved that I no longer had to participate in Bucky Days, or “F*** Me Days” as the class of 2015 used to call them.


My 40% fomo was elevated when one of my teammates sent me this picture.

That’s a selfie by my old roomate with two of my favorite current team-members. I wore that cat tank top for every major erg test since junior year and passed it on to the girl in the pic when I graduated. 

Here’s what that stupid cat shirt means to me.


During the winter of my sophomore year (my first year on varsity) I was really struggling on the erg. Wisconsin winter training is punishing and almost as challenging mentally as it is physically. By March I was a total mess and sought advice from our assistant coach.  

This is approximately what she told me:

“There’s nothing wrong with you. There are other girls who are less fit, weaker, and smaller than you that are beating you on these ergs. Do you know why? Because they’re tougher than you.”


Wtf. I’m tough. I thought.


“Here’s what you have to do,” she continued. “You have to be more confident and expect more from yourself. You have to walk into that erg room and expect to win under any circumstances.”


I thought about the girls on my team who had been doing this for two, three, four years longer than me. How was I supposed to beat them under any circumstances??


Like a shark smelling blood, my coach could sense my doubts.


“Ok, for example, when I was on the national team, there was this crazy, Eastern European single sculler. Before every race, as he was launching, he would rip his shirt off his body with everyone watching. After that display, he couldn’t go out there and lose the race; he would look like a fool. His only option was to win.”


I was still lost.


“I’m not saying you should literally rip your shirt off, but you have to have that kind of confidence and mentality. Don’t let yourself have an excuse for why you can’t hold your goal split in the second half of the piece. Find a way to figuratively rip your shirt off.”


I walked out of the office half inspired and half confused, but the advice helped me limp to the end of winter training.


The next year our coaches decided that in order to send a boat to Head of the Charles that fall, 8 people would have to go faster than a 1:56.0 split on their 30 minute test. I looked around at our team and a bit of quick math. I knew for sure 4 of the seniors could do it, but after that, who else would make the standard and qualify a boat for the regatta?


Sh*t. It looked like I was going to have to do it.


I had solid splits on the first two attempts at the 30 min goal, but it still wasn’t faster than the standard. Time was running out. The people who had already hit the split were counting on someone to step up.

I decided I was going to rip my shirt off. I dug through my closet and pulled out the most ridiculous piece of clothing I could find, my cat shirt.


Wearing something like that is a power move. No one wants to lose to a girl wearing a pink shirt with two fugly cats on it. The only thing worse than losing to That Girl is failing when you’re wearing something so showy. It’s just not an option.


I beat the erg standard that day and the cat tank became my erg testing uniform. I wore it like a crown. When I had my cat shirt on I was the queen of the erg room. I refused to lose. I was the psycho-single sculler who ripped his shirt off on the dock.


The magic of the cat shirt is less material now. I have found a way to channel it and have passed it on to the next rower who just needs a little bit of the pussy-cat power before she becomes queen of the erg room.


I am so freaking proud of Alicia, who grinded through last winter, trained all summer and PRed on her 2k yesterday. I wish I could have been there to scream at her, but at least the cat shirt was there to help her through it.


Congrats on a great Bucky Days, Badgers! Be confident and find a way to rip your shirt off preferably figuratively, but if you’re more of a literal person go for it.



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