Bronya Sykes

Club: CUBC

Height: 180cm

School: Withington Girls’ School

International rowing record: n/a

Year you first started rowing: 2011

How have you coped this year?

There’s been a lot of talk about enjoying the process and I really have, even though it has also been a tough season. I’ve tried not to expect this year to follow the normal pattern, such as expecting to go on training camp, and I think that has helped me to just enjoy what we have been able to do. Although we have only rowed at Ely this year, and only with each other, we’ve been able to make some days feel like events. For example, just before the November lockdown we raced each other in eights and there was such a good atmosphere, it didn’t just feel the same as another day of training. I think there have been some really special days, and this has made up for any uncertainty, because I don’t feel like we have missed out.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

I think we have been able to build a strong team culture by not only catching up regularly but by doing lots of different activities. BDell set up a virtual writing group to help everybody get their degrees done, which has been really good because there seems to always be someone online to work with. The Freshers also ran a really fun quiz, and the social secs have organised a virtual film night, virtual crosswords, etc. And Sophie has been organising for alumni to chat with us which has been really nice as well. I think we’re pretty close as a squad, we’ve stayed connected outside of training.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

I used to train a lot on my own so going into lockdown I thought I’d be fine. But we were on such a high during the couple of weeks that we got on the water in the lead up to Trial VIIIs, so I found it quite hard to go back to training alone again. In the end it has just been a case of getting through the training the best I could on each day.

What was your lockdown training set up?

At home my rowing machine and some weights are squished in the garage. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze with all the other clutter, but it works. I tried to keep changing the scene by flipping the erg around to face a different wall, or when the weather was nice I’d take it outside (although we got a lot of snow so this didn’t happen that often). There’s a weights bar and some discs that live under the erg, so whenever it was time for S&C I had to do a bit of reconfiguring to create enough room to be able to lift. It was nice to get out for a cycle or a run every now and then to get away from being stuck training in one room.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

I tend to try to distract myself, find other things to think about, or do something else relaxing in the morning if the race is later in the day. I go into race mode for the pre-paddle but around this I don’t want to overthink the race too much. And then a bit before we boat for the race I’ll start to focus, but I’ll try to make sure I’m not thinking about nerves, instead concentrating on things that give me confidence.

The biggest challenge?

During January and February, I found it hard to keep a routine. We had coached ergs which helped to give some structure, but a chunk of the training I could do at any time and a lot of the work for my degree wasn’t scheduled either. I had to try hard to make sure I had a routine so that I could designate time for rowing, time for work and time for relaxing.

The toughest session?

It’s not what people think of as a tough session, but I find circuits hard. Normally it is not a problem, but because we can’t go to the gym to lift weights at the moment there has suddenly been a lot of bodyweight conditioning circuits. After doing all the jumping around, by the time the core exercises start, I’m tempted to just lie on the floor.

The best day, so far?

Despite the limited time on the water there have been a lot. Before Christmas there were some absolutely gorgeous days, perfectly still and sunny with just a little fog, that made rowing the dream.

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

It was tough when we got told. Those of us who could row were excited, but we just felt terrible for the remainder of the squad who couldn’t. But I’ve had some lovely messages from the other squad members saying to enjoy being back on the water, and it means a lot to have their support. I think it will be hard again when the 12+2 get cut down to 8+1, because no-one wants to be one of the ones who misses out, especially with no reserve race on the 4th.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

Yes, it’s odd not to have the whole squad around, especially given how much we bounce off each other. And it’s strange not to have the lightweights around either; Ely feels pretty empty. But we’ve been able to knuckle down and get some really good sessions in.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

It’s really good, particularly because of lockdown, to be able to go somewhere and see people was so nice and I feel very lucky.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

I’ve been following the Boat Race for years since I started rowing as a junior, and always dreamed of taking part. It has felt like a long time coming, particularly having missed out last year, and I feel like I’ve made a big step this year so I want to show what I can do. Also, the support that we’ve had from the rest of the squad, the lightweights and the alumni makes me want to win for them.

“It’s odd not to have the whole squad around, especially given how much we bounce off each other. And it’s strange not to have the lightweights around either; Ely feels pretty empty.”