Gemma King

Club: CUBC

Height: 174cm

School: Lady Eleanor Holles

International rowing record:

2016: Won in GB vs France match in the J16 Women’s 8+, representing Great Britain 

2017: Won JW2-at Home International Regatta, representing England

2018: Won JW2-and JW8+ at Home International Regatta, representing England

2019: Won WLwt2-and raced in W8+ at Home International Regatta, representing England

2019: Bronze at EUSA in W2-, representing Great Britain

Year you first started rowing: 2012

How have you coped this year?

I always try and take things day by day because since last year when the race was cancelled, nothing has really been certain. What with several lockdowns, someone in my accommodation getting coronavirus, and uncertainty over whether/when the race would happen, I’ve become pretty used to not knowing what is happening day to day. I’ve been at home for quite a lot of time this year, and my family have been really supportive and helped take some of the pressure off me. My Mum’s cooking has definitely helped!

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

Obviously, things were very different this year, with us having far less time on the water than normal. However, everyone in the squad has been really supportive of each other. Despite the fact that we have had less time together than normal, I think that we are as strong a squad as ever, if not stronger. We’ve had lots of coached ergs on Zoom and have tried to simulate some of our normal sessions by doing coxed ergs too. I think the situation has made everyone reach out to each other more, and I’ve formed some really strong friendships.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

I think in the first lockdown I found it quite hard doing the ergs by myself, especially when doing pieces. Over time, I got more used to erging so it became a bit easier, and at the end of the day, being able to train on the erg was a lot better than nothing. When I went home I was able to train with my twin sister which definitely helped some of the time, although we’re very competitive so occasionally we had to find ways to erg separately! Erging with others over Zoom also made training more interesting – it’s definitely not the same as being with everyone, but it provided a different sort of training environment (and some of the music selections were great).

What was your lockdown training set up?

When I was in Cambridge (during the first 2 lockdowns) I had to erg in my room, which luckily is large enough to fit an erg and has a big window so is well ventilated. Occasionally, for pieces, I would take my erg up onto the roof of the student accommodation. One of the other rowers in the squad at my college also did the same, and so although we were far away from each other, we could at least do the pieces ‘together’ in a sense. The only downside was the Wi-Fi on the roof was terrible. At home, I did my ergs in the living room with my sister. We also have a few weights in the garage, so we were able to use them, but we had to bring them inside when it was freezing cold.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

I think it is inevitable that everyone will get nervous on race day. For me, I try to look back at all the training and races that I’ve done and take confidence from that. I try not to overthink things too much and keep my mind off the race as much as possible.

The biggest challenge?

Not knowing when we were going to be allowed back for training was quite a challenge, as I much prefer rowing on the water to ergs, so having a date to aim for helped me during the first two lockdowns. I found doing all of the hard ergs by myself challenging and would often think ‘if only we could do this on the water, it would be much more fun!’ I always trusted that when we got back on the water, everyone would be determined and committed to rowing as best as we possibly could, but not having a date for returning I found hard.

The toughest session?

My least favourite erg will always be a 5k test. We have done so many this year, and I hate them a lot less now than I used to, but they are still very physically and mentally demanding.

The best day, so far?

I couldn’t pinpoint a particular day exactly, but some of the days where we did pieces on the water earlier in the year were really enjoyable. When everyone comes off the water and the session has gone really well, it’s a great feeling.

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

I think that having only 12 rowers and 2 coxes in Ely has felt strange, as we are missing some crucial members of the squad who are truly part of the team. I feel very honoured that Cambridge and Oxford have been given this exemption to row in order that the Boat Race can go ahead and understand why the numbers have had to be cut down, but I think it has been hard for those who aren’t rowing at the moment. Those who are rowing in the squad have tried to be supportive of them and we are all looking forward to them returning when they are allowed.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

It seems strange not to be able to have two eights on the water, as normally a large amount of training at this stage of the year would be in side by side in our crews. However, I think that everyone knows what needs to be done each session, so it hasn’t really affected training so far.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

Honestly, it felt great. I was worried coming back that I might have ‘forgotten’ how to row, or that the crews might not go as well as they had before, but I have loved every session so far in every crew that I’ve been in. I think that everyone has returned with such a drive to make the boat go as fast as possible on the 4th April, and the commitment to every session has been exciting to see. The training programme that we’ve been doing has meant that we have all returned in great shape, and the benefits of all the land training seem to be paying off.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

We have all trained so hard during the pandemic, despite all of the uncertainty. The Boat Race means so much to everyone in the squad, and we have all sacrificed a lot for rowing (including sleep!). Everyone is driven to making the Blue Boat as fast as possible, so to beat Oxford would make all of the hours of training worthwhile. I think that this year especially, since every other race has been cancelled, the sole focus of all of our training has pretty much been for the Boat Race, and so to win it would be incredible.