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Deborah (Debs) Oakley

Club CUBC Women

Year of Birth 1991

Hometown Bedlington, Northumberland

Nationality British

College Kings

Undergrad/Graduate PhD

Year 2019 to 2023

What are you studying? Neuroscience and healthy ageing

What is the most interesting part of your course? Do you have any professional or academic plans after? I am studying how heart health and physical exercise may protect us against the detrimental effects of ageing and help us to maintain high memory and cognitive performance into old age. I’m interested specifically in whether different aspects of heart health may each affect the brain’s structure and function in unique ways. I have the privilege of working with a rich dataset of cognitive tests and many types of brain scans. Identifying what exactly causes the brain to change and shrink with age could inform approaches to prevent this decline and to ultimately maintain the health and independence of the world’s rapidly expanding population of older individuals.

Future ambitions? After my PhD, I aim to work towards leading my own research group in investigating pressing issues in neuroscience and health. I would also like to write a book and become a fell runner with a ginger collie dog.

How do you balance rowing and academic life? Balancing rowing and my research is fairly straightforward because I am immensely motivated to do both. But it does not leave much free time for other interests. I day dream of free time and days off.

When did you start rowing, and why? During Freshers Week I saw posters for the rowing club and agreed to try it out with one of my new friends. In the back of my mind, I planned to row simply to strengthen my glutes and avoid recurring injuries in running, the sport that I first loved. Ten years later and I am still rowing. I have met some of my best friends and fiancé through this sport, and created some brilliant memories. Hopefully we’ll make some more in April.

What was your first club? Lancaster Uni Boat Club - LUBC.

What is your favourite part of rowing for Cambridge? The mornings with clear skies and mist hanging low over the water, when it feels like the sun is rising just for us in this moment. Also being surrounded by people who bring such energy, spark and joy to what we do every day.

What’s your rowing history, and what has been your biggest achievement so far? The highlights are winning the Lightweight Boat Race against Oxford during a brutal storm in 2018, picking up medals at regattas such as MET and racing the single scull.

Have you raced in the Boat Race before? If yes, when? Lightweight Boat Race 2018.

Your favourite race so far? Racing the lightweight single scull at Henley Women’s Regatta. I got ahead on the start then we went stroke for stroke all the way down the track with crowds cheering. I lost but it was absolutely brilliant. Exactly how racing should be.

Do you have any race day habits or superstitions? I used to have a Baby Groot mascot (Guardians of the Galaxy), inspired by an eccentric crew mate.

Your sporting idol? Paula Radcliffe.

If you could have any sportsperson in your crew, who would it be? James Corden.

What gets you through a tough session? Do you have a mantra, rituals? I try to keep it simple and think of one thing at a time. It helps when we support each other with calls and cheering.

Any hobbies, other interests outside rowing? I LOVE running up mountains and I’m very excited to do some fell races when I hang up my oars.

How do you motivate yourself and your teammates, especially with Covid restrictions? In terms of motivation, Covid has changed a lot and nothing at all. I miss hugging my teammates and seeing their faces not hidden by masks. On the other hand, the challenge and reward of pushing yourself every day remains the same and the feeling of the boat running well is always worth working for.


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