Abigail Parker

Club: CUBC

Height: 173cm

School: The Winsor School (Boston, MA)

International rowing record: n/a

Year you first started rowing: 2010

How have you coped this year?

Over the long haul of the pandemic – starting this time last year! – having the goal of this Boat Race season gave me focus and tangible goals to work towards. I was able to do a lot of training alone over the summer, which I really enjoyed, and which meant I started this season in much better shape than previous years, when I was away over the summers doing fieldwork collecting fossils. The continual cancellation of races has taught me to be adaptable in my goals. I have been constantly motivated by the idea of being as fast as possible whenever we do race again, especially as this is my 4th and final year with the squad. It’s a simple goal, and the varied steps I can take toward it bring me clarity every day.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

Yes, I think we’ve done a good job of staying connected. It’s not as good an atmosphere as seeing each other in person, but we’ve had lots of messages and calls, including with some of our amazing alumni who have given us more inspiration and support.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

A lot of the time, better. I think I knew what to expect because before I came to Cambridge, I spent all my winters rowing in Boston where erg season is part of life. The circumstances of living through Covid lockdowns are very different from waiting for the river to melt, but the reality of getting on the erg every day ready to train hard and race my teammates is the same, so thanks to Radcliffe Crew for teaching me that skill!

What was your lockdown training set up?

I live with Caoimhe so we have been able to do our training together. Our house has a strong tradition of Cambridge rowers living here, over a decade running. However, I don’t think any of them spent as much time as we have in the back garden – it’s about a 4x4m square, perfect for 2 ergs, and we’ve done all our training there. We’ve broken a good number of the paving stones on the ground with our weights but made good use of an old housemate’s textbook “Property Law 2009-2010” to prop up one side of the erg since the ground isn’t flat. Apologies to our neighbours for the persistent Saturday morning hype music.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

Usually, I am mostly very excited to race. I take some time to be calm and be quiet and do a very thorough warmup.

The biggest challenge?

Very limited time and racing on the water with this year’s squad is of course a big challenge. Normally we get to the Boat Race feeling more prepared for it than you’ve ever been for anything, but this year we’ve had to do that preparation often apart and without as many shared racing experiences to build on. However, I think we made the most of our training in lockdown not just in terms of building fitness but also technique over our Zoom sessions. I think about all my previous seasons, especially last year when we didn’t get to race, as extended preparation for race day this year, and that makes me feel very prepared.

The toughest session?

It’s not the workout itself, but more the training load around it that makes a session tough. On days when the volume catches up with me, my legs feel empty, and it makes it a lot harder to achieve the same performance.

The best day, so far?

Honourable mention to day 59 of lockdown 3.0 when my headphones died 10 strokes into a long erg piece – but hands down, it’s Trial VIIIs. My crew was the perfect combination of calm and excited and we came away winning a great race.

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

It’s sad not to experience the crescendo of the end of the season with the whole squad, though that probably would have been very different anyway because we are racing in Ely rather than constantly travelling to London in the lead-up to the race. Training apart from the rest of our squad is the latest in a series of changes now too long to count. Every season has its unique challenges, but this one will definitely stand out looking back.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

Yes. Especially in comparison to the last two years when we’ve trained with Blondie as well as the lightweight men and women, and all the spares. The training group we have now feels tiny. Now we know we’re rowing for all of them too. We don’t have to be together to feel the support of the whole team, and we’ll be cheering so hard for all the rest of CUBC when their races do get scheduled.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

It was a great day. Just like any day with a good row in it.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

I want to beat Oxford to show the strength of our team and contribute to our tradition of excellence. I want to beat Oxford because I race to win any race I’m in, and the rivalry makes training for the Boat Race much more fun and motivational.