James Bernard

Club: CUBC

Height: 196cm

School: Ann Arbor Huron High School

International rowing record: US M8+ 4th at the 2017 U23 World Championships

Year you first started rowing: 2012

How have you coped this year?

As a squad, we tried all year to keep going one day and one session at a time, focusing on the task at hand. For me, this has been the most challenging time of my athletic career, trying to come back from an injury and surgery at the beginning of the campaign. I have coped by looking to my teammates for inspiration and focusing on one phase of my recovery at a time, always having faith that I could get to back to form. This has been harder than ever because of the compromised training and constant Covid uncertainty.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

We were able to keep up the team culture because we have such a strong base from previous years and that spirit of buy-in and commitment has carried over. It is obviously harder to communicate and bond over Zoom, but we have consistent team meetings and some virtual social activities which help. We have a squad full of really good guys.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

It was a lot harder because I had to work to catch up to the team during my recovery in the fall and start of the winter. I came back from the holidays looking forward to rowing again just when the third lockdown hit. I took a lot of inspiration from the guys who had already trained on the erg all of November and I was able to build back up to a good ergo volume. I’m pretty used to a long winter of land training, but solo training is just so different, you have to rely much more on internal discipline and motivation each session. I had gotten pretty used to it, but by the end of the February it was starting to feel pretty lonely.

What was your lockdown training set up?

I was pretty lucky in terms of space and wasn’t confined to my college room as some of my teammates. I was able to build a good setup with my erg outside on a balcony and my turbo trainer in a spare room. There were some very cold ergo sessions though and I missed the view of the Cam from Goldie. I won’t take that for granted again.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

It is all about preparation and routine. If you have done all you can to get your body and your mind right then you can relax on race day knowing you are ready to go. This year it will be challenging to build those routines with little prep time and no fixtures before the race.

The biggest challenge?

For me this is an easy question, I had knee surgery in September for an injury sustained during last year’s campaign. I had to manage my rehab throughout the fall and winter and didn’t get to be with the squad. When I was ready to get back on the water lockdown 3.0 hit and I was forced to keep training alone. The last time I was in a boat was the day the race was cancelled last year. So, for me that’s been the biggest hurdle even while dealing with the anxiety of the pandemic and all the uncertainty this year has brought.

The toughest session?

I think for me it was some of the sessions when I first got back on the ergo. Even though I wasn’t going hard at all they were really challenging physically, trying to get comfortable, and mentally feeling like I had so far to go.

The best day, so far?

These first few sessions back on the water have certainly been the best so far. it felt like I was finally back where I wanted to be.

Only the Blue Boat races on the 4th April 2021: What’s it like splitting the squad?

It was very brutal. My heart goes out to the guys who missed out on a race last year and now have to wait even longer and with more uncertainty for their 2021 race. The day that we were told of the decision felt far too much like the day the race was cancelled last year. But the squad stayed together, and I know we are all supporting each other. The guys who are able to train are putting in that little extra for all of our squad who weren’t allowed back on the water.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

Yes, usually the two crews can really feed off each other and use the other boat to get better. While we don’t have that this year, the spirit is still there, and I know the 12 of us who are back in the boats are still pushing each other to be best we can on the day.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

For me it was really surreal, it has been nearly a full year, because all that I have been through this campaign. I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks but I’m finally rowing again so I’m really happy about that.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

My motivations have changed a bit this year. Now I am motivated by two things, first the unfinished business of last year’s campaign and the guys from the boat who don’t get another chance. And second, the inspiration I’ve drawn from the team this year – seeing their persistence in training through the hard circumstances while I was working to catch up.