This ANU staff member is on a mission to raise money for her local club, and women’s sport, one stroke at a time.
Rowing for 24 hours straight on Lake Burley Griffin isn’t how most of us would choose to spend our Saturday, but Elizabeth Blower is ready to get her boat in the water and make her own waves.
On 9 March, just after International Women’s Day, Blower, who is a staff member at The Australian National University (ANU), will launch her single scull from Sullivan’s Creek and row continuously across the Canberra lake until 9am the following morning.
Despite the physical demands that will come with this (hopefully algae-free) adventure, Blower is determined to raise money for the ANU Boat Club (ANUBC) and shine the spotlight on women’s rowing while she is at it.
Her fundraising goal is $50,000, which she says will cover the cost of a new women’s racing eight boat.
“We have such great talent at such an elite level that we just want to give them the best equipment so that they can compete at the level that they should be competing at,” Blower says.
“Having those bigger boats makes the rowing more enjoyable for people, and it also means that we can get more people out there and racing.”
Blower says that the idea for the race was completely self-inflicted, sparked when she was, surprisingly, not rowing but running around Lake Burley Griffin.
“I was on a run around the entire lake and I thought to myself, ‘I’m pretty good at keeping going; maybe I could use that’.”
“The first thing I did was pitch it to the club president and then the club committee, and they were happy for me to go ahead.”
Careful preparation for the event has been critical, which requires an extensive safety plan and numerous training sessions on the lake.
“We are going to have some parts added into the boat, that way it’s going to be pretty much impossible to tip over. I’m also going to have a safety boat out with me at all times and lights on the boat,” Blower says.
“Aside from the logistics of the safety, it’s been a lot of training. I’m doing five, six-hour rows at the moment on a Saturday to prep for it. Last weekend, the club captain and I went out on the lake at midnight to trial rowing for long hours in very dark conditions.”
Off the water, Blower says the club has played an important role in both her life and identity, making navigating the challenges of the fundraiser all worth it.
“One of the things about rowing as a sport is that there’s a lot of us tragics,” Blower says.
“It’s never talked about as, ‘oh, I row, or I like rowing — it’s always, I am a rower’.
“And the Boat Club is such a wonderful community to be a part of. Anything to give back to them is a great thing to do.”
The club itself is looking to steer much-needed changes in women’s sport.
“We have very strong women’s programs at ANU. We currently have dedicated, high-performance women’s programs, but not a dedicated high-performance men’s program — that’s just how our club turned out,” Blower says.
Despite research suggesting that 50 per cent of Australian girls will drop out of sport entirely by the age of 17, the ANUBC maintains strong female participation — from athletes to coaches and volunteers at a range of competition levels.
ANUBC’s high-performance female athletes have represented the nation at a range of international regattas, including the World Championships and Paralympics.
Despite this progress, Blower says there is still a long way to go.
“We see it everywhere — it’s changing now — but women are getting less prize money for the competitions they do. The way they are spoken about is different too.
“For example, we often hear, ‘here’s the Australian team and here’s the Australian women’s team’.
“Rowing is a great sport for gender equality, and we are well represented and supported. That’s one of the reasons why I love it.”
Come the day of the fundraiser, the community will be backing Blower all the way to the finish line.
“On the day of the fundraiser, I’m going to have some of my really good friends out there in boats supporting me as well. Being able to spend that time with them doing something that we both love for a common goal is going to be very exciting.
“And also just finishing — I’m very excited about that.”
Donate to Elizabeth’s effort on the ANUBC website.
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