The Season So Far

Alex Bebb

President / OUBC

‘Our approach has been to crack on as if everything were going to happen and adjust things when necessary. When the Hammersmith Bridge closure was announced, for a while it looked as if we wouldn’t have a space to race. So we said, let’s act as if there’s going to be a race. Go from day to day, and not worry too much about the future.

I’ve been amazed by everyone’s resilience. Not least that they’re willing to sacrifice so much. Some people can’t go home for the holidays. I’m from Canada and can’t go because I’d risk quarantine, and I’m just one example - there’s another Canadian and guys with family in France or Belgium. I’ve been away from home for almost a year now.

The second lockdown was really tough. We took a truck around and delivered ergs so everyone could train at home. We got back to the water yesterday (10 December). It was funny - it was a cold rainy day in the middle of winter and it seemed like the best thing in the world.

During the second lockdown, the connection to Old Blues like Stan (Constantine Louloudis, who rowed the Boat Race in 2013/14) and Storm (Storm Uru who also rowed in 2014) really helped. They did a Teams call with us and shared their experiences. For most of us, rowing is the one thing that’s offered a sense of normality. You get in a boat with your eight or nine best friends, and it’s the best part of the day.’

Callum Sullivan

President / CUBC Men

‘To be honest I’ve been giving a lot of the same advice that I did before the pandemic. I ask the team to focus on enjoying the sport. We are extremely lucky to have a chance to do this at the moment. In order to promote wellbeing I make sure people are keeping lines of communication open. Especially students who are living alone. We organise online events, so for example on Wednesdays we have poker night online.

For training we’ve had to adapt. Normally we have 25 ergs in our main room, now it’s more like 12. When it comes to physiological training we are very restricted. Usually, earlier in the season, we do a mixture of weights for building strength and really intense circuits. Now we all have to stay in our space. This means that the purpose has shifted to focusing on preventing injury. Developing core strength and muscle conditioning. We haven’t had any positive cases of Covid on our team. Occasionally we’ve had people isolating.

The first time we went into lockdown people were training separately, focusing on erg training and logging their counts on the spreadsheet. During the November lockdown the focus was more on maintaining momentum and keeping a team atmosphere. I’m looking forward to the race. It’s a shame that we don’t get to take the crew down the Tideway, but I also relish the chance that we’ve got. It’s nice to see another twist in the tale of the race’s history.’

Kaitlyn Dennis

President / OUWBC

‘I’ve been trying to focus on using training as a positive aspect of life during Covid. Rowing has helped a lot of squad members mentally as well as physically. Our mantra this year has been “positive no matter what”. When we were faced with a second lockdown - which meant erging for four weeks - we decided to make it an exercise in improving our physiology. We’ve also focused on staying healthy through socially distancing when studying. We don’t know what the long-term effects are on athletic performance for people who get Covid. So far only two people on the team have had it, and they weren’t badly ill. We’re holding everyone to a very high standard of safe behaviour.

Obviously there are significant restrictions now. We can’t have the whole squad in the same place at once. So we’ve broken the rowers down into an A group and a B group. Within those groups we’ve done some small boat work, and ergs inside and outside the gym. One clear benefit is that with more one-on-one coaching, rowers have been improving technically much quicker than they have in the past.

We’re very keen on going to Ely, not least because it increases the chance that the race will actually happen. During these times I’ve become closer to my teammates than I would in normal years. It’s been really rewarding. I would recommend in future that squads get to know each other at that level, not least because it will translate to speed on the water.’

Sophie Paine

President / CUBC Women

‘More than anything this year it’s been about the team. Going through lock-down training alone was a huge mental challenge for a lot of us, and we all had periods of feeling motivated and feeling unmotivated. As a president my advice has been that we’re doing this for each other. Having a sense of structure in such a strange and important period of time is what’s holding us together.

We haven’t had any cases of Covid. We’re super cautious outside our training. That extends to wearing a mask till the last possible moment when we get on the water. In terms of team bonding normally we’d have a team Christmas dinner, but obviously that’s not possible this year. We’ve done things like Zoom quizzes with the men’s team, as well as Zoom speed dating.

“When we finally got back onto the water after the second lockdown, the energy was tangible.”

When we finally got back onto the water together after the second lockdown, the energy was tangible. During the first lockdown it was unclear how long it was going to go on for. This time it’s really helpful to have a goal to aim for. I’m excited that the race is going to be in Ely. Obviously it changes the way you think about it - you have a line that you’re going to race on a particular course, and you visualise that race. Mentally Cambridge might appear to have an advantage because it’s where we train. But we’re not comfortable. There’s so much to overcome logistically: the important thing is to stay mentally, physically and technically really strong.’