Dylan Whitaker

Club: CUBC

Height: 173cm

School: Dr Challoner’s Grammar School

International rowing record: n/a

Year you first started rowing: 2016

How have you coped this year?

By taking Sunday evening to cook a big dinner and unwind. My housemates and I try to work out to what extent any food can be deep fried! Also, my teammates have been awesome. Sometimes it’s been tricky explaining to people outside of the squad what it’s like keeping up crew morale and team culture when we are all separated out, but teammates instantly understand because they are going through the same experience.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

It’s been a struggle, usually a lot of those experiences and friendships that build the squad culture happen on the water or around training. The fact of being able to go for a run with one person but not two was a real limit on how often we would be able to interact and check in properly with each other. However, the coached ergs and cross training with one other person has allowed us to try and build up those experiences and memories.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

Being able to very easily see people’s erg technique and take video week on week was a big plus in terms of striving for improvement. Tech issues often came up with videos cutting out or internet slowing but that’s just part of the virtual world nowadays. It’s always a plus being able to attend virtual sessions from the sofa but I have missed just being in Goldie and the atmosphere it brings.

What was your lockdown training set up?

Not having to erg meant that it was the sofa or the dining room table for me. I spent a lot of time pounding the pavements of Cambridge to keep fit and make sure I was getting some fresh air.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

I just try to stay as chilled as possible, nerves are inevitable, but I try my best to enjoy the moment. The one regret I have from previous races and intense training blocks is that I never truly appreciated how lucky I was or how much I loved the racing. I hope that come April 4th we will be feeling ready and we can just spend the day smiling and enjoying the first bit of racing for a very long time. Also, a pre-race chocolate twist and some tea cakes go down a treat.

The biggest challenge?

Working Covid ICU nightshifts. Finishing a 12-hour shift at 7am to then get 4 hours sleep before coxing an erg over Zoom. I found it really hard to get excited to race and really double down on what was already a tough and isolating period of training when I had seen first-hand the impact of the pandemic only hours before. I’ve always thought that preparing for the Boat Race is one of the most intense and testing experiences anyone can go through, but now I am really in awe of the healthcare staff who have worked through the pandemic.

The toughest session?

Coxing racing pieces over Zoom was tricky for me. Coxing is usually pretty one sided on the water as I’m doing 90% of the talking but trying to cox a race piece to a webcam in an empty room is totally different. All the usual cues of boat feel, watching the blades, rate and split are gone. However, for me it was not being with the athletes. It’s really tricky to gauge how they are feeling or doing over just a small square of jittery low-quality video.

The best day, so far?

Trial VIIIs. It had been so long since we last raced that any of the usual race nerves had been overtaken by the sheer excitement to get some sideby-side racing. Whilst being a big date in the Boat Race calendar with a lot riding on it being successful, everyone felt lucky to get out and race with each other that none of that mattered. We just had no worries – Hakuna Matata.

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

Gutting. The Cambridge women’s side has always been very well integrated with each other. We have always used each other to push ourselves on to be faster. Battle paddles three eights across are some of the best moments from previous seasons. Whilst we can’t see the rest of the squad at Ely we all know that without them we wouldn’t be where we are today or have the opportunity. It’s the right choice, given the current situation, but it just sucks to not see our teammates.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

It feels eerily quiet. I know the eight and the four will be able to work together and try push ourselves to be faster but there is something very specific about lining up against another eight of your own teammates knowing that you love them but will do anything to beat them because that’s what’s going to make us all faster.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

I was very aware of how lucky and privileged we were to get back on the water and row. We carried the weight of knowing how much people had done to get us in this position and how many people who had supported us up to this point but were not able to join us on the water. I hope we can do them all proud in the next few weeks and on April 4th.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

We don’t tend to spend much time thinking about Oxford really. Our goal is and always has been that on April 4th we are going to row our best race and if that’s enough to put our bow ball ahead at the finish line then that’s a great bonus. I’m not here to beat Oxford, I’m here to train and race with an incredible group of athletes and I’m proud be part of a squad of amazing women.

“The biggest challenge? Working Covid ICU nightshifts. Finishing a 12-hour shift at 7am to then get 4 hours sleep before coxing an erg over Zoom.”