My conceptualization of time has changed in the last year. The days feel long and the weeks feel short. Whilst trialling I remember the days feeling short with too much packed in – the season, in comparison, felt long. I can imagine for this year’s Boat Race competitors, time feels uncertain: both frozen and running out. For a sport that relies so heavily on moving in unison, on feeling the run of the boat through the water, rowing has had to reimagine itself in the last year.
Of course, a lot about our daily lives has been reimagined. But the Boat Race has never been static. In 2015 it was sunny and relatively calm. It was a historic year for the women. In 2016 the weather was volatile and unpredictable. We nearly sank. In 2018 it was overcast. Cambridge had a clean sweep. Each time I competed in a Boat Race, it was different: the weather, the crews, the final margins – nothing is ever the same. That is the beauty of the Boat Race: it is unpredictable.
The unpredictability of the Boat Race taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life thus far: prepare for anything. Throughout the season, rowers run through the gambit of race day possibilities: What if I catch a crab? What if the water pumps fail and the boat begins to fill up? What if the coxswain’s microphone stops working? We are able to undertake such thorough preparation because we can conceptualize time in multiple ways at once. Each day of trialling, you think about that moment in the future when it is finally race day and work towards it. At the same time, you try and focus on staying present in the moment – homed in on each stroke in the boat or every minute on the erg. And you do this while learning about and watching past Boat Races in which the weather, the crews, the final margins, were all different.
“For me, the Boat Race giveth and taketh away. Rowing took time away from my family and friends, it certainly took time away from sleep and sometimes almost took my sanity.”
After injury forced me to retire in 2018 (a reality that, to my dismay, I had to accept) I initially felt lost. Rowing had come to define every facet of my being. Who was I without it? I soon learned, however, that even though I had walked away from the boat, rowing had not and would not ever walk away from me. In this way, rowing is timeless. It stays with us, even when we no longer find ourselves on the water each morning.
For me, the Boat Race giveth and taketh away. Rowing took time away from my family and friends, it certainly took time away from sleep and sometimes almost took my sanity. In return, however, it gave me so much. It gave me lifelong friendships, a loving partner, time-management, strength (both mental and physical), and discipline.
It is my hope that for this year’s Boat Race competitors, this beautiful, illogical race has given something of value to you in a time when much else has been taken from us.
2018 Won Blondie and President