With the 2021 Boat Race campaign wrapped up, our squad moved on into regatta season, kicking everything off with a storming performance at BUCS Regatta in Nottingham.
OUWLRC athletes competed across a range of categories, with an impressive set of results! Hazel Wake claimed a bronze medal in the Intermediate Lightweight 1x, and we saw gutsy performances from the Championship Lightweight Quad (Hazel Wake, Katie Wellstead, Katherine Ferris and Rosie Thorogood) who raced to 5th in the A final, as well as one of our three Championship Lightweight doubles (Laurel Kaye and Amanda Thomas) who raced to 6th in their A Final.
Our Intermediate 4+ (Amanda Thomas, Harriet Thomas, Helena Pickford and Laurel Kaye; cox- Emily Watson) placed an impressive 5th in the A final of the open weight event, and our Intermediate 8+ (Katie Wellstead, Laurel Kaye, Amanda Thomas, Kate Dicker, Helena Pickford, Harriet Thomas, Katherine Ferris and Rosie Thorogood; cox- Emily Watson) marginally missed out on the A Final by just over one second in the open weight category.
With some of our athletes packing in over 10 races in the three day event, BUCS 2021 was filled with all the highs and lows of the regatta season we’d missed so far! It was now time to move on to our next challenge: Henley Women’s Regatta.
Three scullers (Hazel Wake, Katie Wellstead & Rosie Thorogood) competed in the lightweight intermediate 1x at HWR. All three athletes began their campaigns on the Friday Time Trials, with Hazel Wake and Katie Wellstead making it through to the heats.
After a tough match Katie was knocked out in her Friday afternoon heat, but Hazel progressed to the Saturday.
Unfortunately Hazel missed out on progressing to Sunday’s final after a loss against the eventual champion from Surrey University. We’ve no doubt Hazel will be back in the future, chasing down the victory, and her true speed was shown when time trial results revealed she had been the fastest intermediate lightweight 1x time-triallist.
On the 18th of May 2021, the 38th Women’s Lightweight Boat Race was held on the River Ouse in Ely, Cambridgeshire.
It was safe to say, the run up to the race had been unlike any previous Boat Race. The challenges of COVID had significantly limited our water preparation, but the 21 weeks of lockdown ergs had definitely brought its advantages through fitness and mental toughness.
In a year where social contact had been cut to an absolute minimum, our squad still managed to pull through and find an inner sense of community. Every single one of us, from the blue boat, the reserves, to the incredible coaches (Nic & Tina- without whom we 100% would have never made it to the start line), and the blues performance team, had put everything into the race, and this common goal really united our whole squad. The strength of the community and sheer determination to even get a race this year was overwhelming.
We arrived in Ely the day before the race, to settle at the Cambridge Boat House, and get used to the unfamiliar stretch of water. An afternoon paddle was followed by a trip to our house for the three day stay, where we could unpack and get prepped before a final evening outing. The last session on the water was almost surreal- the boat was running smooth, we were all in good spirits, and there were even some dramatic stormy skies followed by a beautiful rainbow to finish the session off.
The evening before the race, we all sat down to discuss final race preparations and open good luck cards from each other and Blue Boat Alumnae. It was so special to receive so many messages of good luck, especially from people who had sat in our very positions before. An early night followed, to get some much-needed rest before the big day!
Going into the race, we all knew what our goal was- to make sure our bow was the first to cross that finish line, and we all had our race plan etched in our minds.
We fought, and pushed; locked on, and sent, with all we had. The final 1 kilometre was when things began to unravel slightly. Coming into an almighty head wind, we were more phased than Cambridge who knew the water, knew exactly where they were and how to tackle the change in conditions. The gap was beginning to show but we weren’t going to make it easy for them. The last 500m were very tough. Going from being ahead and having the thoughts that we might actually be there, we could actually do this, to having the other crew slowly inching back on you was gut-wrenching. In the end, Cambridge knew the push points and began to ramp it up; once they got that clear water things began to shift. The final few 100ms were painful, knowing you couldn’t have given more but it might not be enough, and the final race verdict was a 2.5 Length victory to Cambridge.
Off the start we knew we had to push hard; the notorious speedy Cambridge starts were not going to phase us, and we showed this, taking the edge right off from the start line. The first half of the race was gutsy and tough. Cambridge pushed, we pushed back; we pushed, Cambridge pushed back. It was inch by inch work. Cambridge came right through us at one point, and we worked our way back right through them, seat by seat. We were determined not to give them that clear water we knew would give the mental edge.
Coming across the line we knew where we stood, and those first few thoughts really were tough to manage. It was crushing and overwhelming, but we knew we had pushed the hardest we could, and really had just rowed the race of our lives.
A real gutsy, strong race. We’d given Cambridge a real fight, and that’s something to be proud of.
After the race, we spent time with the Cambridge athletes; this became something rather special, as of all the people in the world, we suddenly realised that those nine athletes, who had raced alongside us, were the only nine who really understood exactly what we had been through to get to the start line. The uncertainty over the race date, the restricted water training; everything we had sacrificed to get to this day was common to both crews, and a real sense of the lightweight rowing community sprung up on both sides. Immediately we began talking, laughing, and chatting over our own individual experiences, and it was something quite incredible to feel so listened to and understood by your opposition!
All the hours of erging alone at home and in between our bed and desk in our college rooms, all the hours of online strength & conditioning and months of not knowing whether we would even be allowed to race culminated in one unforgettable experience. We are so thankful to Nic & Tina for their dedication to our training and the race; the squad as a whole have all gotten so close this year, and it’s a real privilege to be part of such an amazing group of athletes and young women.
We also look forward to next year and our 2022 Boat Race campaign. We know that next year we can make the victory a dark blue one.
“Another race: alone, on the erg. After racing at BRIC in December I qualified to race at the World Rowing Indoor Championships. The first day was the 2k, I had a plan. Felt pretty good from the start then settled down onto the splits I’d planned. I went through the halfway mark in 5th place but pretty close with 5m between the athlete ahead of me and behind me. I planned to step it on but didn’t manage to and the splits started coming up. About 1200m in started to drop off more and got overtaken. Went through 1500m in 6th place. 1800m in got overtaken again, tried to save it in the sprint but didn’t manage it. Finished 7th in 7:40.1, pretty disappointed but still had another race to go.
Next day, 500m. 2k is pretty different to 5k but 500m is even more different. Didn’t really pay too much attention to my position in the race this time, just bashed it along at 45. The plan was just to go hard and try not to slow down too much. Splits started rising, strokes short so tried to length out with 150 to go. Dropped the rate down to 38 for a few strokes, then back up, bashing it along again. Finished the race in 5th place, a lot happier than the day before. :)”
Hazel Wake, St. Edmund Hall
The squad absolutely loved the opportunity to get excited watching some competitive rowing from one of our own this season!
First race as OUWLRC: alone, in my bedroom, on the erg. Not ideal. On Saturday, I was racing in the LW U23 2000m. After a slightly stressful weigh in, I started warming up. Even though the vibe wasn’t the same as a normal race day as soon as the starting sequence of Attention, Row flashed on the screen it felt like racing again. I had a race plan but did get a bit caught up in the excitement of seeing the distance between me and the other rowers. I settled into a rhythm, rate 34, pretty consistent splits, little bit of drift. 4th place through 500m. 4th place though 1000m. Into the last 500m, I was still in 4th place but only 7m behind 3rd place. It was time for the sprint. Started pushing the splits back down. I could see the distance to third place getting smaller and smaller and in the last 250m I just managed to move into 3rd place. Big wind in the last 250 to hit r45 and finish in 3rd place 0.8s ahead.
Sunday afternoon I was racing in the LW U23 500m. I felt pretty unprepared having done a lot less sprints. Didn’t really have much of a race plan. Just go hard. I went off and found myself in the lead 100m in. Then over the next 400m increased the distance between me and the other rowers to finish first 20m ahead.
Overall, 3rd, 1st and a place at World Rowing Indoor Champs, pretty chuffed.
OUWLRC are delighted to announce our new coaching team for the 2020/2021 season and beyond. Nic Thomas, formerly Assistant Coach, will now take the reins as OUWLRC Head Coach. After coaching the victorious Tethys crew last year, Nic is looking forward to extending success to both boats this season. She will be supported by our new assistant coach, ex-GB U23 Lightweight Tina Thomas (no relation to Nic!). Tina brings great experience and enthusiasm to the role and is already making a strong contribution to the club through her visual interpretations of Nic’s coaching points!
OUWLRC would like to thank former Head Coach Martín Cambareri for his passion and dedication to the club over the last year. Martín will be taking up a position with Swiss Rowing, for which everyone at OUWLRC wishes him the very best of luck.
In certainly one of the most bizarre Trinity terms Oxford has seen, the UK lockdown saw the entire student body make a valiant effort to continue their studies from home. The oddity of zoom tutorials and pre-recorded lectures was one thing, what proved much more difficult was continuing some semblance of a university experience. OUWLRC’s development squad turned out to be a bit of a beacon of hope in such a monotonous and frustrating time. Ploughing ahead despite the opposition we faced in access to equipment, space and communication, they somehow managed to run an extremely comprehensive and fulfilling training programme. Not only were we given amazing advice on how to make the most out of what we had at home to stay active and make progress, but zoom circuits, nutrition, physio and s&c seminars gave us a wealth of information about all aspects of being an athlete. Bi-weekly challenges kept us accountable and competitive and the squad as a whole, girls and staff alike, provided a positive and understanding community to both support and push us over the months. I am extremely thankful for the whole experience and everyone involved. In these confusing times, I think dev squad was more valuable than anyone could have anticipated.
It was safe to say I had not expected my last term of year 13 to consist of online schooling and virtual training, but when this enabled me to join the OUWLRC Dev Squad in March, it was a brilliant opportunity to meet so many other talented female athletes and rowers and to get to know some current Oxford students! It was really inspiring to be able to train with some current OUWLRC Squad members and hear about their experiences rowing at Oxford, as well as be able to participate in proper physio and mobility sessions, S&C training and circuits sessions with the girls over zoom. I’ve loved being a member of the Dev Squad, and it’s made me very excited to finally meet everyone in person at the start of term and get out rowing on the water again!
Going into the weekend, having spent sometime discussing team names and finally settling with #notaboutspeed, we were ready to set off on our challenges! Our aim was to rack up as much mileage as possible in 48 hrs and to fundraise enough money to cover 8 bursaries for junior BAME athletes at Fulham Reach Boat Club.
Our team started strong on the Friday evening with some 40 mile rides, 20 km and 24 km ergs all in the bag before the weekend had even arrived. The cool evening weather though was definitely deceptive for what the rest of the weekend was going to bring, with some 30°C forecasts across the UK! The following morning we all began again (starting early to try beat the heat!); cycling seemed a very popular option on our team with 881 km racked up across the Saturday.
Coming into the last day, we all wanted that final push to keep the metres coming in. The Lake District Hills had been challenging my mileage so far, but I was determined to get a long run in for the team, and completed nearly 3/4s of a marathon on a mad-cap route through farmer’s fields and hills, even wading through a river at one point! With strong efforts all round again on the bikes, and another 60 km by James Forward on the ergo, taking his weekend total to 140 km, all on the erg, we finished at the top of the leaderboard. Super strong biking efforts from Tom Schwantje took his 48 hr total to 206 km and Katie Anderson totalled an impressive 183 km. By the 6pm we had a team total at 1309.0287 km, and 9 very tired (but happy) athletes, all proud of the effort they’d put in to raise money for such a great cause.
48 hours, eight rowers, one cox and as many miles as possible. This was our challenge and the goal was to raise £4000 to fund the bursaries of 4 male and 4 female junior BAME athletes to row with Fulham Reach Boat Club for the year. As soon as teams, with members from all four Oxford boat clubs were assigned, whatsapp groups formed and team name chats started (ours: Fulham to Town) you could feel the buzz of the competition begin, albeit in virtual form. We talked strategy, with mentions of 500 mi cycles, 24 h continuous rows or just adding 30 mins onto normal training. I figured I’m not the strongest, nor the fastest, so I had better keep moving for any hours I wasn’t eating or sleeping!
6pm Friday marked the starting cannon. Today, instead of walking or driving the plan was to run everywhere, even down to the 700 m from home to the gym (to erg for the first time since lockdown)! By 10pm I’d racked up 19.2 km running, a short 7.5k erg, and was considerably more tired than I’d planned to be, but was lying in 3rd which was motivation to keep going!
Saturday was 100 mile day (the distance from Oxford to Fulham) and would be the longest ride I’d ever done (160 km compared to a previous 95 km)!! Things I was successful at: having enough energy bars and dried fruit to fuel an Antarctic expedition; planning a flat route in a notoriously hilly area; my legs not falling off! Things I was less successful at; ignoring Komoots warming of ‘not suitable for cycling’ (several U turns were made); the 30°C heat when stuck in seaside traffic; technology!!!! Phones don’t last 7+ hours of navigating, which meant an unplanned stop off at a Tesco in Burnham on sea, to meet my mum who had brought her phone for me to use, navigated by the traditional route of going in and out of pubs asking for directions!
Our team were in the lead going into Sunday and wanted to keep it that way! The day was filled with more running, more cycling, more melting in the heat, more ice creams and energy bars and a final sprint to the 6pm finish line. All of this was cheered on by fab, distanced team mates (covering some insanely impressive mileage), the fingertip grip on victory and the knowledge that it was all for a fantastic cause.
So the stats at the end of 48 hours? Running: 48 km, Erging: 7.5 km, Cycling: 270 km, Swimming: 2 km. A team second place of 1298 km (just 10 km away from victory) and an individual 5th on a converted 204 km!! Safe to say a very enjoyable weekend and a job well done!
We successfully completed our pre-paddle, a little nervy here and there but that was to be expected. We met our opponents for the first time during the weigh-in, which also went smoothly because Clare, our cox, is an absolute legend. We won the coin toss (tails never fails) and chose the Surrey station – the plan was to hold Cambridge for their Middlesex advantage on the first bend and slowly walk through them in the second half of the race. We were prepared to race bow ball to bow ball for the entire length of the race. We were each willing to give absolutely everything we had for this crew.
The time between weigh-in and boating passed quickly. We went over the race plan again, had some snacks, worried about whether we should eat some more snacks, found our focus, and then it was time to go. Our race started from the land warmup, we went through the motions purposefully, just like any other session.
One final chat with Nic before we boated – we were ready.
Hands on. We put the boat on the water. I flooded my left welly (classic Tideway). Too late to fix that now, it’ll be fine. We went through our race warmup and paddled past the start to wait for Cambridge. All the ergs, all the seat racing, all the sneaky bursts had led up to this moment. Nic had prepared us for this in ways we didn’t even realise.
The lack of stake boats on the Tideway meant it took a bit of stopping and starting to get ourselves aligned on the start line. Clare’s hand was up-
We flew off the start, this was it, this was our Boat Race. We had been through the start sequence so many times that it had become second nature to us. We knew the first half of this race would be really hard – it was their bend and we had to hold them. I regained consciousness about 500m in. We were half a length up.
Head in the boat, listen to Clare, breathe.
20 sharp catches into Fulham. Their bend was running out. We were still walking through them. This was the moment all five of us thought, “we could actually win this.”
Crisp, sharp. Time to pull away from them.
The rest of the race was a blur. I remember glancing up at the Cambridge cox directly behind us, sitting in our puddles. The gap was getting larger and larger and the final sprint was here.
“Time to race with your hearts girls,” we hear through the coxbox as we approach the second lamp post from the left on Hammersmith bridge.
We crossed the finish line 12 seconds ahead of our opponents.
We didn’t hear the finish marshal tell us to stop so we kept racing for another 50 metres or so, by which point we were really hoping Clare would tell us to wind down before our bodies exploded. We finally stopped and all of the emotion could finally escape us.
“We did it guys!”
We made history. We sent it.
Thank you to everyone who fought for this race, and supported Tethys from the start. It always felt like we had an incredible team of people behind us in our coaches, Nic and Martin, the other athletes, and the alumni who took the time to send messages of support. We are also really grateful to Al Craigie and Peter Haining for volunteering to act as impartial umpires for the Reserve Races. Let’s hope we are the first and only reserve crew to ever race this course – onwards and upwards to the full Championship Course next year!
The 37th Women’s Lightweight Boat Race was the first to take place on the Championship Course in London: a wonderful milestone in the history of OUWLRC.
After a long trialling season and selection period, having faced flooding, the usual round of injuries and illness, and disruptions in match racing due to winter storms, nine of us had made it into the Blue Boat. With a lot of hard work from our coaches Martin and Nic, our Exec and student committees, and the whole squad in general, we arrived at race day feeling well prepared to face Cambridge’s challenge.
We travelled up to the Tideway on Friday 13th, giving us time for a practice outing on Friday afternoon and a chance to settle in at our host club, Putney High School. Saturday brought a new dose of adrenaline as we had our official ‘practice starts’ outing, as well as the official challenge with our Cambridge counterparts, the reserves crews and the lightweight men’s crews (and some enthusiastic photographers!). On Saturday afternoon we were delighted to see the Tethys 4+ win the Reserve Boat Race.
Then race day was here. We remembered being told in January that it would come around quickly – and here we were, getting ready for our pre-paddle, then weighing in, then lining up on the start.
We all knew that racing on the Championship Course could be decided either by the first few minutes or the last few. We were expecting a tough and close race. Charlotte encouraged us to take a breath, and prepare for what we were about to do.
Cambridge are notorious for their starts so we were mentally prepared to be slightly down initially and then use our rhythm and front end to accelerate the boat past them. To our surprise, we remained level – bow ball to bow ball by the Black Buoy. We found our race rhythm and got into the grind, with Charlotte squeezing every ounce of commitment and energy out of the rowers. Martin’s race plan, for us to go as hard as possible every stroke, seemed to be working, as we gradually inched out ahead of our opponents, enjoying it as Charlotte called the number of every seat she was level with.
Approaching Hammersmith Bridge, we were determined to capitalise on our advantage, especially given that we were just over ⅔ lengths up. Both crews were using the neutral water, looking for the famous second lamp post of Hammersmith Bridge. Cambridge was warned for steering and Charlotte saw stroke Clare’s face turn steely as she saw Cambridge approaching us. Cambridge dropped back after an eventful blade clash, but not before they had knocked Clare’s speedcoach out of its holder.
We entered Hammersmith Bridge, cheered on by the Lightweight Men’s Blue Boat on their warm up paddle, and shot through, meeting a wall of sound of people cheering us on from the bridge.
Here we found some rougher water, but we had trained in this water throughout the season, helped by the flooding at Wallingford and Martin’s command for Charlotte to never seek shelter whilst we trained on the Tideway. We wanted this water and we wanted to use our rough-water technique to gain valuable inches.
We began to tire but for a brief beautiful moment, we had a few inches of clear water. Cambridge overall recovered better than us after the blade clash, despite initially falling behind, and started to make up the distance between the two crews. We don’t remember these moments clearly – now, they are not important. What matters is that Cambridge at this moment, had the fitness and moved off together in an admirable push around the outside of Hammersmith Bend, to eventually overtake us. We were drained by the last kilometer, but proud of each other and the race we had.
We were helped in to land by our squad – their support and presence making it the best way to lose: with people you love. We regrouped together, overwhelmed by the physical and mental effort we had put in, and the emotional rollercoaster of the race.
With so many changes this season, from our coaching team to the race course and more, we are grateful that the love and support we received remained the same. We are proud to have raced for Oxford and joined the long line of women, each who have sat in our seat, and won or lost together. We remain relentless and are comforted that next year, next time, Oxford will go again!
We’d like to thank everyone who helped us get to race day: Head Coach Martin Cambareri and Assistant Coach Nic Thomas, our support team of nutritionist Beth Cragg, physio Will Bourne-Taylor, massage therapists Tamsin, Lynne, and Holly, the ever-willing-to-help Chris O’Hara, our hosts in London, Mortlake Anglian and Alpha Rowing Club and Putney High School, the OUWLRC Executive Committee, and everyone else who has supported the club this season and in the past.