Sarah’s Story

Wow you look amazing!  How did you do it?
Rowing and weight loss: My journey to 2 million meters

By Sarah Fuhrmann

On October 28, 2010, I watched the monitor on my Concept2 indoor rowing machine as it ticked just past 10,000 meters.  Surrounded by the women who have been my constant cheerleaders and companions throughout this journey I celebrated rowing 2 million lifetime meters.  For those of you who are wondering that’s 1,243 miles and more hours than I’d care to count over the course of a year and a half.

Logging 2 million meters with Concept2 Logging 2 million meters with Concept2

It was a momentous occasion, not because it was the end of something, nor because it was my biggest accomplishment on the machine (that came when I rowed a million meters in just a month and won the Concept 2 World Rowing Challenge in my community).  Instead it was a great symbol of what I learned along the way – that by releasing my inner athlete I could recapture the strong, healthy and happy woman who is my true self.

I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds in the last few years and transformed my body so much it looks like I’ve lost more.  I often don’t recognize my reflection in store windows because I can’t believe that small person could be me.  My friends and family tell me that in addition to my physical transformation my attitude and outlook on life have become equally lighter, brighter and more energetic.  And while this is still a work in progress, I have proven to myself that I am stronger and capable of a whole lot more than I thought I was.

Indoor rowing was the “magic bullet”

Indoor rowing was my weight loss “magic bullet” in terms of exercise, the activity I found that I could enjoy and maintain, and that would give me the results I was looking for.  The combination of a workout whose intensity I could vary just with the effort I put onto the flywheel and the stroke’s meditative, rhythmic synchronicity was irresistible.  Once I built up to being able to work with good effort on the rowing machine I started to see big changes happen, both in terms of losing weight and getting stronger.

I had already dropped about 20 pounds by the time the Rowing Challenge began, but throwing myself into that competition was the beginning of my real transformation.  Since rowing is a total body exercise that works every major muscle with every stroke, I felt and saw myself getting stronger each day.  It wasn’t for the faint of heart: during the challenge I often rowed three hours a day or more to reach my meter target, sometimes by myself but often with other members of my team.  The whole thing is a little crazy (and thank goodness it only lasts a month), but we supported each other and made it fun with silly themed activities like hat day, bring-a-favorite-treat day and movie night.

Solving the weight loss puzzle

Sarah before Sarah before, in August 2009

As it turned out weight loss, which would have been my main goal had I known what was possible, turned out to be the side benefit and the easiest part of the whole experience.  Rowing is a great calorie burner, up to 800 calories an hour, so I was able to lose weight almost without thinking about it by rowing consistently while favoring healthy, balanced food choices and not depriving myself of the occasional treat.  As a an inveterate emotional eater and a four-decade veteran of virtually every diet known to man it was amazing to me that the formula could be so simple – break a good sweat every time you work out and do it often, make mostly good food and drink choices, don’t obsess about food or use it to fill voids that aren’t real hunger, and let the rest take care of itself.

Six months after the challenge ended, rather than pouring myself once again into my fat clothes because I had regained the weight like every other time I had been down this weight loss road, I was instead re-buying my favorite little black dress, this time in a size 8 instead of the 16 I bought the first time.

I’m still working on losing my last 10 pounds, and with letting go of the fear that the weight will come back, but I have the gift of a stronger, healthier, happier me, and that is the greatest gift of all.

Lessons learned on the road to 2 million meters

-   You have to be a little bit selfish.  My good friend and business partner says that often of what it took for her to be successful as an elite rower.  For most of the rest of us, getting healthy and staying that way takes the same consistent dedication.  Put yourself first by making challenging workouts and nourishing meals your top priority.

-   Find physical activities you love enough to do them until you sweat, and do them often.  Nobody ever lost a lot of weight without sweating hard, or by working out just a couple of times a week.   The human body is the only machine that breaks down if you don’t use it.  Never forget that.

-   Find a workout setting that works for you.  The competitive, yet team-based environment of the rowing challenge was just what I needed to jump-start my weight loss and fitness.  Experiment until you find the formula that makes you feel challenged, energized, supported, and most of all like you want to stick with it.

-  Take the focus off food.  I am not one of those people who sees food as just fuel for the body.  I love to cook, I love to eat, but I have realized that I can be satisfied with a whole lot less than I thought I could.  Eat good food, when you’re truly hungry for it, and let your stomach, not an overloaded plate, tell you when to stop.  If you want to eat but you’re not really hungry figure out what’s missing and address it, don’t mask it by eating more.

- Give yourself a break.  Losing weight and getting fit are hard work and both take time.  Getting off course every now and then isn’t the end of the world, nor is it a reason – nor an excuse – to give up on yourself.  One foot in front of the other, day by day, row on!

Want to learn more about Sarah’s weight loss and maintenance journey?  Follow her blog, Rowed2Perfection.