By Sarah Townsend
My first Gay Games was in Amsterdam in 1998 – a life-changing year. I met Babou, my partner of almost 20 years, in June of that year, and the 1998 Amsterdam Gay Games were our first “outing.”
Paris 2018 will be our sixth Gay Games together, our 20th anniversary and our fifth wedding anniversary – what a year to celebrate!
We wanted to make something special out of this momentous year at the Gay Games, so we pulled together a team of women to go to the big event in Paris. I started sailing five years ago, and often in the mornings there’s no wind on the lake, so I’d take out a row boat while I was waiting for the wind to come up.
I fell in love with the sport of rowing, and it seemed natural to introduce other women to it. Today we are a group of 13 novice rowers in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and 23 participants in a variety of other sports, called Arc’En’CEL. The name is a play on words with the name of the Lesbian-Feminist association in Marseille that we all belong to (CEL - Centre Evolutif Lilith) and the French word for rainbow – arc en ciel.
It’s been a fantastic journey so far, but not without its challenges.
After deciding we were going to take a team of rowers to Paris, we had to find a club to train. It was not easy presenting the above profile to a rowing club. But we found one – Aviron Club de Manosque, a small, friendly club with a coach worth his weight in gold for believing in us. He has taken us into his junior training program, includes us in all his training workshops and weekends, enters us in all the regattas there are no qualifications for, and takes all the stick from the other “elite” clubs who present only their best each time. “Chapeau Fred!” as the French say.
We are a year into our training, and we struggle to find time to come to the club to row as we are from all over the south of France. Some of us have to travel up to three hours to get to the club. We meet officially once a month – you’re right, it’s not a lot, but it’s all we can manage together – and train alone on the lake, on the ergs, in the gym, on bikes and we run up hills when we can.
We have a training program, a regatta agenda, a newsletter, a financial plan, a name and a logo. We are sporty, not-so-sporty, tall, short, thin, not-so-thin, greying, and each have our life’s battle scars. We are what all women are – resilient, motivated, tired sometimes, full of beauty and strength.
And all 13 of us will be in Paris at the 10th Gay Games in our ACM rowing spandex!
I can’t think of a better way, or a better place, to celebrate everything we have to be thankful for in 2018.