Caoimhe Dempsey

Club: CUBC

Height: 180cm

School: St Joseph of Cluny, Killiney. Trinity College Dublin undergrad.

International rowing record: Represented Ireland at European U23s 2017 in the 8+, Home International Regatta 2016 and 2017

Year you first started rowing: 2015

How have you coped this year?

By focusing on the controllable – making improvements in myself as an athlete on a daily basis. Remembering that what is important is the process and the training day in and day out, and not worrying about anything outside of that. By leaning on my teammates when things are difficult and knowing I am part of a club of resilient and supportive teammates who I want to succeed for and with.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

Yes – it helped that from the outset we decided to be a very open and honest squad and to share everything with each other, both good times and bad. We were able to carry on this culture while training virtually, because it had been established in our first few weeks together. What helped was the importance we all placed on checking in with each other, recognising our emotions, and learning how the energy you can bring to a session can really support someone else who needs it, even if it is via Zoom. We had a lot of athlete to athlete communication and a lot of athlete to coach communication, both rowing specific but also generally around wellbeing and simply spending time together. What hindered this was how everyone was in slightly different situations, be it at home with their family, in shared accommodation, or in a college room. Sometimes that made it harder to share the experience and support each other, as it could be quite an individualised experience depending on the person’s situation and surroundings.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

It was not as bad as I would have expected, if you had told me in September exactly what I was in for I might have turned and ran. You adapt to the situation, what seems hard becomes manageable once you do it a few times. There were some benefits to the training – more sleep, variety in cross training, more time for emphasis on things like yoga and new dinner recipes! Of course, it was not as fun as normal training, but we remembered the mission and set new goals to work towards in the meantime. It was motivating to see the physiological benefits of spending so much time on the erg. You get to know yourself as an athlete so well, what helps and hinders you, because there aren’t 30 other girls dragging you through every session to get swept up within. There was a lot more time just you and your thoughts, and the outcome of that is a group of athletes that are very self-aware, who have been put through a lot of challenges, come out the other side and are more resilient because of it.

What was your lockdown training set up?

I was lucky enough to have another girl on the team with me, and a past team mate also in the house for moral support. We did all our training outside in our very small patio/garden. We spent the first few months with the erg and rp3 stored in the centre of the hall and stairway, climbing around them multiple times a day, until we realised we could just about fit them into the “shed” in the garden with some tight manoeuvres.

We had an extremely elaborate technology set up to do at the start of every session, between multiple laptops and earphones for coached ergs, speakers for music out loud (apologies to our neighbours), a temperamental rp3 screen and a combination of hotspots and Wi-Fi that didn’t quite reach out to the garden. Something on that list invariably ran out of battery or malfunctioned. Our garden is on a slight sideways tilt, so we had to get inventive with propping the erg and rp3 up on books and pieces of wood to get things level.

We acquired a tent for rainy sessions and learnt that erging in the wind and rain is just as cold and requires just as many layers as rowing in the wind and rain. We had a very glamourous view of our slightly falling down garden fence, and the support of housemates shouting through the windows. We learnt the importance of good flooring for a weights room – quite a few of the patio tiles now being broken up from doing cleans and deadlifts. We learnt that the platform of the floor above the stairs is a pretty good substitute for a pull up and chin up bar, just a bit more of an adventure to get up and down from.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

Deep breaths, letting it wash over me, remembering the nerves are a good thing and the adrenaline is free speed. Listening to music and thinking about how the boat feels when its running well, letting that bring me confidence.

The biggest challenge?

The uncertainty, not knowing when we will get back on the water or how long we will get to train together.

The toughest session?

Any of the 10-15 odd 5ks we’ve done on the erg this season. If you’re having a bad day, you’ll know immediately.

The best day, so far?

Getting back on the water after this most recent lockdown. I was so happy to be back rowing, I was filled with thoughts about everything I love about the sport and how grateful I was to be able to train and race. Everyone was so positive and happy; the atmosphere was great.

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

It has made the experience bittersweet, it’s not what any of us wanted and it’s really hard to see the girls still training at home. It’s simply not the same without them. It’s filled me with more motivation to do it for them, for everyone that is not allowed on the water right now, that we have a duty to do everything we can to be as ready as possible come the 4th.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

It is very strange. It’s not the same and we wish every day that they could be out with us. They contribute hugely to the atmosphere and team culture, and simply having a boat to train alongside. The entire Boat Race experience is very different without them.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

The best thing ever! We were all so happy, so positive, so excited and grateful to be back. The energy levels were sky high. Feeling the boat running, having the sun on your face, moving with everyone – all the things I love about rowing came flooding back to me. I realised just how much I had gotten used to not having during the land training periods.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

To give back to this team, to be a part of the legacy of CUBC. I am so grateful to be a part of this club and have the support of everyone that came before me, who believe in us as the 2021 campaign, and I want to win for all of those that have enabled us to have this season. I want to win for the future years of CUBC too – to be a part of the positive, encouraging and powerful energy that propels every new group of athletes forward.