BY CHIP DAVIS | PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER
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A disgustingly underappreciated element of safety is personal health in the form of hygiene.
Illness and disease, from the common cold and warts to more serious afflictions, can come from poor hygiene among rowers. The solutions are as simple as they are old: Wash your hands, and include water bottles and shoes on the list of things one doesn’t share, like used tissues, underwear, and condoms. Seriously, don’t share water bottles and shoes—it’s gross and can make you sick.
State health departments make handwashing the law for food-service workers for very good reason. Dirty hands spread disease. Make hand- and handle-washing the law in your boathouse. Concept2 offers clear cleaning instructions online, but it’s nothing an adult who lived through Covid shouldn’t already know: hot soapy water, a six-percent bleach solution, and a minimum 70-percent alcohol are your best options for washing. Choose one.
“Clean before and after every row” are the first six words of Concept2’s instructions. Follow them for erg, oar, and scull handle cleaning. Think about your megaphones, stopwatches, SpeedCoaches, and CoxBoxes while you’re at it.
To borrow a line from an advertiser in this magazine, “Get your own shoes.” In no other sport that we know of do athletes share footwear. Players in stick-and-ball sports all wear their own often incredibly expensive footwear for such sound reasons as the contribution proper fit makes to performance. Athletes in any other sport besides rowing wouldn’t even consider sharing shoes.
“Inside those shoes that dozens of people have worn,” said podiatrist Thomas Vail of Findlay, Ohio, “can be a host to several microorganisms, including fungus, bacteria, and the virus that causes warts.”
Will you or a rower you care about die from an infection caused by a used shoe? Let’s hope not. Student-athletes do suffer and even die from rare bacterial infections, including an Arizona swimmer this past winter and Kansas State coxswain Samantha Scott in 2018.
The best guidance on water bottles is consistently the same: Don’t share them. Bacteria thrive in the warm water a mouth can introduce to a water bottle. The Mayo Clinic reports that viruses, like those that cause everything from the common cold to Covid, live longer on plastic and stainless steel, two common water-bottle materials.
Cleanliness is a key part of the safe practice of sports, including rowing.