Freya Willis |
4 mins

Freya Willis





School/High School

Methodist Ladies’ College Kew




Previous University

Australian National University

Undergraduate course


Graduate course 

MPhil History

What is your Oxford College?


Why are you studying your course?

The more I learnt about history, and specifically women’s history, the more I realised that women today are waging many of the same battles as their historical predecessors. I wanted to understand more about how and why social and economic structures have developed to privilege men, why women still shoulder the disproportionate share of domestic and caring labour, and how change has occurred in the past and may again, so I chose to research the growth of lowpaid, feminised caring industries.

What is the most interesting part of your course?

As a part of my Masters dissertation, I have had the privilege of interviewing several carers and care workers about their experiences taking care of older people. I was moved to learn about the bonds of affection, comfort, and trust that develop between carers and the people they look after, but also saddened to learn about the exploitation and undervaluing of care workers and the difficult working conditions in which they labour.

Year you first started rowing?


First rowing club?

Methodist Ladies’ College

Why/How did you get into rowing?

It was the ‘it’ sport at my high school. I was 14 and all my friends signed up, so I did too.

Who is your rowing idol?

Kim Brennan

How do you balance rowing and academic life?

I find the two very complementary; my time rowing helps me to refresh my academic brain and vice versa. I am genuinely passionate about both my research and my rowing, which helps me to stay motivated. I am fortunate that my course does not have many face-to-face hours, so my schedule is flexible. However, by the same token, I have to be disciplined and work consistently with the free time I do have.

Who would be your dream team eight to row with from everyone in the history of rowing?

Kim Brennan, Lucy Stephan, Annabelle McIntyre, Jessica Morrison, Rosemary Popa, James Tomkins, Drew Ginn, Josh Dunkley-Smith.

What’s your rowing history, and what has been your biggest achievement so far?

High School rowing at Methodist Ladies’ College, Kew (2011-2013); competed at Australian National Schools championship, 2013; Magdalen College Boat Club (2021-); City of Oxford Rowing Club (2021-2022); qualified for Henley Women’s.

Have you raced in the Boat Race before? If yes, when?


Have you ever been at school/ university/on a team with anyone at ‘the other place’?


What is the best place you have ever rowed?

Derwent Water, Lake District

Obviously, it’s long hours and hard work – what inspires you to keep rowing?

I like the challenge of chasing perfection (even if I know you can never achieve it). There will always be something more to work on, a new problem to solve, or new target to work towards. It is as much an intellectual and mental game as it is physical.

What do you feel is your greatest achievement through rowing, be it accolades or something more?

I am most proud of all the friendships and relationships I have built through rowing.

What has been your most embarrassing/funny rowing moment?

The Magdalen College “Australian Eight”, which I was part of, sunk the boat in the middle of the freezing waters of Derwent Water in January and had to be towed to shore.

How would you describe the sport to a non-rower?

I would say that it is a sport of millimetres; the aim is to get all the people in the boat to take a stroke in as closely similar a manner as possible and at as close as the exact same time as possible.

What is your favourite sports quote?

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

What is your favourite movie about sports? Why?

Bend It Like Beckham. Growing up, it was one of the only movies that featured women playing sport.

How does being an athlete make you a better person?

It teaches you a lot of skills that are broadly applicable to all areas of life: teamwork, discipline, determination, resilience. Sport has helped me to grow my confidence and self-esteem and to challenge myself to do things I would have never thought possible.

Why do you think someone outside of the sport can relate to your career as an athlete so far?

My sporting career is, in many ways, incredibly ordinary. I was never a star athlete; I haven’t been doing the same sport since a young age. I just kept working at it and trying new things until I found something I really liked, and anybody can do that.

What are your strengths, as a person and as an athlete?

I think I am quite emotionally intelligent, which is an asset in a team environment. I care about my teammates and try to be encouraging and empathetic to ensure that everyone can reach their potential. I don’t get worried or upset easily and can help to resolve conflict.

What do your friends think of your athletic success? How do you handle missing out on activities with friends because of your athletic schedule?

They have stopped trying to understand how and why I live this way, but they are very supportive. It is a balancing act. My friends are very generous and understanding of my rowing commitments, but I also make sure I make time in my week for socialising and for non-rowing related activities. Rowing also brings new opportunities to make friends and some of my closest friends were/ are my crew mates, so it is not all sacrifice.

Any hobbies, other interests outside rowing?

Australian Rules Football

This article appears in The Boat Race – Athlete Programme 2023

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