Sophie Paine

Club: CUBC

Height: 180cm

School: Lucaya International School (Freeport, Bahamas)

International rowing record: Silver medal in women’s 8+ at 2019 U23 World Championships

Year you first started rowing: 2015

How have you coped this year?

It hasn’t been easy at all. I think the original race relocation to Ely was encouraging as we knew it meant there was a greater chance of us racing. The motto for us has really been to take it one day at a time and control the things that are in our control. We’ve spent so much time on the ergo so have all been able to gain massive confidence in those numbers, which is something we wouldn’t necessarily have been able to do in a normal year.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

I’m closer to the team this year than in any other year I’ve been rowing. It’s ironic because we’ve spent so little time together, but I think we all realize the importance of staying in touch and supporting each other in such unprecedented circumstances. As well as training together over Zoom, we do end up seeing each other almost every day, whether it be on our “writing club” where we do work together, through talking to alumni, playing virtual games, or attending workshops with our sports psychologist. We’ve had to be really creative about ways to stay in touch, but I think this is something that we’ve done immensely well considering the year we’ve had.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

Isolated land training for me was always so variable. There were days when I would get up and happily hop on the ergo, and other days when it was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. This was when I realized how much I rely on being in a team environment for motivation. Although it certainly had its physiological benefits, I hope isolated training is something I’ll never have to endure again.

What was your lockdown training set up?

I was lucky enough to be at home in The Bahamas for most of the third lockdown. Although training in the sun was idyllic, the heat was absolutely unbearable at times. I had my ergo set up in my bedroom and would need to set down two towels to absorb all the sweat. For cross training, I’d either cycle or run along the beaches. Returning to Cambridge was a treat in a way because I never had to worry about overheating. I had my ergo in my garden, which was great sometimes but equally unpleasant when being rained on in the middle of a workout.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

Admittedly, I do get very nervous on race day. I haven’t quite found a way to suppress my nerves – I’m learning to slowly accept them as they come. I think I will probably be the most nervous I have ever been in my entire life on Boat Race day as there’s so much at stake. None of us have raced in almost a year, so I think we’ve all forgotten what those nerves feel like. I’m sure they will come as a shock but are definitely to be expected.

The biggest challenge?

This year has been so unique in that the challenges that we normally face – being tough, training hard, managing our studies, getting enough sleep, are compounded by the additional challenges posed by Covid. As well as all of these things, we had the added challenge of training alone, which is so contrary to why any of us do this sport. For me, the training alone part, combined with the fact that this training wasn’t even in a boat, made me feel like I was doing an entirely different sport at times. But I continued to train because I knew that someday, all the hours and miles spent alone would be worth it.

The toughest session?

That would be giving away a secret. The toughest sessions are always the ones where you build up the most lactic acid – the lung burners. We’ve had quite a few of those, as well as more 5ks on the ergo than I can keep track of.

The best day, so far?

There was a day back in October when it was absolutely miserable weather. It was raining cats and dogs and the wind was something out of another world. We went out anyway, and our 8 decided to make it a good day. It was the definition of Type 2 fun. We got off the water, put the boat away, and all jumped in the river. It was at that moment that I realized how special the team is. In the face of adversity, we always find a way to make the most of it.

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

Receiving the news that only 12 of us would be allowed back on the water was one of the toughest days of the campaign as it felt like there was a wedge being driven between those of us that could row and those of us that couldn’t. It feels strange to be back training and not having the rest of the team with us. I think we’re all extremely grateful to be back in some form, but sad that it didn’t happen in the way we had hoped for. Even though only 8 of us will be selected for the Blue Boat, I think there is a real emphasis on the fact that it is going to take all 12 of us to win the race. I’m really looking forward to being back as an entire squad.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

Yes – it’s definitely strange not to have another eight to train next to. In the past, we’ve imagined that Blondie is Oxford, and so there’s an element of competition, or at least training side by side. We won’t get to have much of that this year, so it will feel quite strange to get to the start line on the 4th of April having barely rowed alongside another crew.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

The energy was palpable and focused. I think we all felt honoured to be back, but also recognized that we have a job to do, and it’s really the only thing that matters between now and the 4th of April. Everyone is showing up to every session with 100% commitment, and it’s really exciting to see the rowing get better and better each time we train. We’ve acknowledged the fact that we won’t be perfect when we race, and so we’re heading into each training session with simple and tangible goals that we can use to help us get one step closer to where we need to be. This four week period is so unique and unlike any other period of training I’ve ever done or think I will ever do again. Every stroke counts.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

Many of us have been training for this race for nearly two years. It feels like the pinnacle of our rowing careers. Every single time I have put the boat in the water since September of 2019, I have thought about lining up against Oxford. I think it’s the realization that I’m finally going to have a chance to do that. Regardless of whether we win or lose, I know it will be a surreal experience.