The unbearable lightness of being a Lightweight

by Laura Ghioldi (translated by Gillian Shaw, source text)

I clearly remember the first time I sat on the rowing ergo. It was Monday 1st September 2014. And we all know a Monday is the perfect day to start something new.

Until that point, nobody had told me creation was divided into two broad categories. I used to distinguish people just by being male or female, unaware of the world being split into two by a simple set of scales!

The unbearable lightness of being

Before I encountered Indoor Rowing, my life was made up of drinking, bars, pizza, all-you-can-eat restaurants and of “pour me another” … A life I’d now define as extreme! And yes, I discovered in September 2014 that we were all divided into two broad groups: lightweights and heavy weights. From that moment on, knowing someone’s name, age and birthplace became secondary. “Hi! Are you a lightweight or heavy weight? Because if you’re a lightweight you’ll understand me, but if you’re not, don’t make the mistake I made and choose to be lightweight! I chose – and I emphasise I chose – to be a lightweight because the scales showed me it was obviously my natural category to belong to. But the reality is just the opposite. Yet I was so desperate because declaring myself a lightweight seemed to me to say I’d always be fit, and there was no doubt about that! From then on, I knew what I had to do in life – be a lightweight!

From the first session, I spent four years doing challenges, international races and world records. But I still hadn’t learnt how to be a natural lightweight and I continued to teeter on the edge of being lightweight! Four years spent in disarray, fluctuating between 61 and 62 kg without being able to drop those 5 kg that were oh so useful for staying hydrated and sated before a race. There are those who live recklessly and those who live on the edge…of the weight limit! Borderline lightweights like me know very well that the first challenge is the one against the scales! During the week leading up to a race, a heavy weight must focus on not overloading their muscle tissue. Whereas, a lightweight enters Ramadan, abstaining from tempting food, conducting a nutritional experiment of the kind: “is it better to have 50 grams of sunflower seeds or two cooked red turnips?” The only permissible gourmet dishes are the ones you watch on MasterChef. You learn to feel full just using your eyes – being sated by the end of the show!

There are no nutritionists or dietitians, for those seven days. There’s only one who speaks the truth – your scales. You try anything and everything, asking everyone. And then it’s there – race day arrives and the first weigh in is in the morning at home. Having fasted since the previous day’s breakfast, you see that you’re 300 grams under the required limit. It’s not much of a margin, again you have to forego eating and drinking, as you have to really be careful before the official weigh in! Being a lightweight has taught me the value of being on time, so I arrive at the weigh in at exactly 1 hour 59 minutes and 59 seconds before the race!

Straightaway you can spot the lightweights who are just on the limit, because they’re standing in the queue wearing the bear minimum! This is crunch time, under or over the limit, inside or outside status, lightweight or not. You add up in your head the calories and grains of rice consumed over the previous days; you’ve already been to the loo about 10 times in the last hour, climbed two flights of stairs just to be on the safe side and now it’s time. The umpire looks at you, points to the scales – it’s time to get on them! Everything is on the line and as you step onto the scales, you expel all the air from your lungs. You stand there, motionless, almost turning blue, thinking of new ways to levitate yourself off the ground! And the result is announced 60.9 kg… lightweight! The joy inside you is irrepressible, you want to kiss and hug the umpire, but you control yourself and extend your hand so he can put the lightweight wristband on it. Then, with your best smile, you reply, “Yes, please!” I AM A LIGHTWEIGHT is on repeat in my head. I am content because I’ve already won, in part at least!

I quickly gather up my scattered clothes, I also collect my soul, because even your conscience weighs something. And before I leave the weighing area, I throw a scornful glance at those lightweights carrying their backpacks as they are being weighed. There’s a circle of Hell for people like them! I’d like to tattoo that wristband onto my arm, post it on Facebook there and then, #finallyalightweighttootonightIeat, but there’s no time to take a photo! You go outside and start running, feeling light, a lightness that’s unbearable! In the sense that you can only maintain it for a short time – that race only has one direction, the locker. You open it and take out your treasure: a container of plain, unseasoned rice over which you risk losing your dignity! I wash it down with two litres of water, then eat two chocolate bars, three almonds, a citrus gel… weight regained!

Laura Ghioldi

Then there’s only the race left…the best is yet to come! “You’re just like me, you always drop the last weight right at the end!” the voice from heaven repeats to me. We’re just made that way; we’re lightweights on the limit, and we live perpetually balanced like acrobats, always searching for the perfect equilibrium to keep our spirits up and our weight down. And when we finally find it… it’s time to destroy it! When you’re racing there’s no time for cold calculations about weight; it’s time to ROW!

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