School: Upton Court Grammar School, then Duke University
International rowing record: n/a
Year started rowing: 2008
How have you coped this year?
I’ve coped with the adversities of this year thanks to a lot of support from my family and friends. My family have been there for my whole rowing career, cheering me on from the riverbank, so they know how important this is to me. They have been great at reminding me why I am trialling for the Boat Race, and how much I love rowing, whenever I have had a difficult day of training. I have also been fortunate to be able to continue my medical degree, and seeing the challenges faced by NHS staff first-hand has helped to keep things in perspective; whilst this year has been challenging, I am fortunate that my friends and family are in good health, and I can continue to train and do the sport I love.
Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?
We’ve done a good job of staying connected to one another through group chats and Zoom calls, and those of us still in Oxford could meet up for exercise under the government guidelines, meaning plenty of walks. We were also able to continue our team nutrition and psychology talks over Zoom, which have helped to really strengthen our team culture despite training apart.
Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?
I’m sure athletes at both universities have had good and bad days with the land training. Training in isolation definitely challenged me as an athlete, as I had to find ways to stay motivated when the end goal felt less tangible due to the uncertainty. But it is amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it, and my teammates really got me through some of the harder days. I wish I could list the many wonderful things my teammates have done that have made this period of uncertainty and isolation that little bit easier. It truly illustrates the team culture we have built this year.
What was your lockdown training set up?
I set up my erg in the kitchen, with a great view of the fridge. It will look strange when the erg has to go back to the gym since it takes up so much space. I have a huge mirror and plenty of space in my room, so that was a logical place to do weights so I could check my form. My housemates have been so great letting me take up so much space with training equipment, and they were so accommodating of my training schedule. None of them demanded to make their dinner whilst I was finishing my steady ergs and they were so respectful of times when we were testing as a squad over Zoom, so I couldn’t have asked for a better home training environment.
How do you cope with race day nerves?
My mum, who is a sports psychologist, taught me and my crew a technique when I was a junior, which involved singing part of the Popeye theme song. It is a bit ridiculous and would always make us laugh so instantly dispelled any nerves. At the end of the song, you were meant to do two big exhales to help you relax. Nowadays I don’t sing the song, but when I’m sitting at the start line and the adrenaline is building, I will do the two exhales to just centre myself in the present and thinking about the silly song always makes me smile.
The biggest challenge?
For me personally, it has been the lack of external racing opportunities and fixtures. This is partly just as I love racing, and it is helpful to use races as short-term goals as part of the longterm goal of winning the Boat Race. I love getting the chance to test what I am capable of, and races can be a good measure of progress as a squad. They also help build confidence within crews in the lead up to the race. On the other hand, it will make for a very exciting race as both crews are lining up against opposition they know less about compared to previous years, and we were able to recreate much of the external racing experience in our squad training.
The toughest session?
A couple of times this year we have done 90 seconds on, 90 seconds off flat out, as many as you can do before you drop off the split too much. It a tough one physically as you are repeatedly taking yourself to your limit. But you also learn so much about how far you can push yourself beyond what you thought your limit was. It’s a good session to remember for some added confidence, and I’ll be keeping it in my back pocket for the Boat Race in case I need a reminder of what I am capable of.
The best day, so far?
Having trained all of last season only for the race to get cancelled two weeks before, and then training this season not knowing if we would actually get a race, getting the call from Andy that British Rowing had cleared us to row again was a pretty great day. Before that, I hadn’t let myself get too excited about the race as there was still so much uncertainty around it all, but now I feel like I can really get excited to race Cambridge, and on their home water too.
Only the Blue Boat races on the 4th April 2021: What’s it like splitting the squad?
It’s pretty rubbish. It feels like there is a part of us missing. Everyone in OUW has played a role in getting the team to where it is now, and it’s sad to not have everyone be able to finish this part of the season together. Hopefully, the Covid situation will continue to improve so we will be able to have a reserve race, and have some racing experiences as a squad this summer.
Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?
I guess it is strange not having a second eight to train with, but then again nothing has been normal about this year’s Boat Race campaign. It’s a shame that the season is not going to end exactly the way we visualised it in September, with both OUW crews winning their respective races and being able to celebrate our success together on the banks of the Tideway. However, the focus is still forming the best possible crews to line up against Cambridge in April, and again when the Osiris-Blondie race is able to happen. And hopefully we can celebrate what has been an extraordinary season at some point in the not too distant future.
How did it feel getting back on the water?
It felt like we had never left. It was about this time last year that the race was cancelled due to Covid, and it kind of feels like we have picked up the season where we left it in 2019, almost like the whole year we have been on pause. It is pretty surreal to be back in boats together after such a long period of training via Zoom in our kitchens, and I think everyone involved is just grateful to be back on the water to prepare for a race.
Why do you want to beat Cambridge?
Winning the Boat Race this year would feel like the hard work of both this year’s and last year’s Boat Race squads has paid off. We had a really special crew last year, and it was truly unfortunate to not get the opportunity to show off what we were made of. Then this year’s squad has had to deal with all the Covid uncertainty, training at home and on the erg for most of the year, and missing out on the whole experience of a Boat Race campaign. Beating Cambridge is definitely what has gotten me through the tough sessions and been the unifying goal for all of us whilst we had to train apart.