Me and Rowing

The other day a young lady I didn’t know came up to me at my rowing club (Putney Town), and asked: “So, in rowing, other than your one course record in a pair… what have you done?”

Surprised by the directness, my response went something like this:

“Well, I started rowing … 35 years ago at Brooks School in the USA.  We won the ISL (the New England ‘Independent School League’), but this was a squad thing…my boat still lost a couple of races, but I loved it.  I became an enthusiast…

Later at Durham University we won lots of northern headraces, but were crushed by Imperial College whenever we ventured south.  We were runners up at BUSA, and I have the medal in a drawer somewhere to prove it.

I lost in the first round of Henley Royal Regatta a few times, nothing serious really … oh other than the event record in the pair at Metropolitan Regatta, but we didn’t even know we had set that until Leander broke the record three years later.  But that was a very long time ago…..”.  Thoughtful silence.

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Me in June 2016 at Quinze Beau Rivage 

Instead of rambling through this ancient history, I realised later, I should have started with my car-crash in April 1999, when I wrapped my Saab 9000 (and myself) around a Nottinghamshire lamppost.  Lots of broken bones and a damaged lung had the doctor at the hospital telling me that I would now never be a necklace model and would not be able to row competitively again.

Upset at this news, I got in touch with my pairs partner who came to visit me in hospital.  When told that I would not be able to row seriously he immediately replied: “Not to worry, we’ve all taken up sculling now!”.

A new situation called for a new approach. Clearly, I wouldn’t be able to rely purely on strength and fitness to win races.  Instead, I would have to concentrate on technique.

So that was what I did. And together with some great crews, I went on to win the Veteran’s Eights Head; The Veteran’s Fours Head; the fastest master’s crew in The Pairs Head; and the British Masters Championships in a single, a double and a quad.  Another gold at the World Masters in 2013 at Lake Varese in Italy, my only visit to this event so far. And in 2015 I won the Nordic Masters Single in Copenhagen (and enjoyed being able to say “Nordic Masters Champion”)

But taking the overall view, what have I really done in rowing?

Well, my own wins pale into insignificance next to one particular team effort, in which I have to thank both the pupils involved and the people who came on board to help.  In 2001 I took over the state-funded rowing programme at the  London Oratory School, where I was teaching Geography.

The previous year they had come resoundingly last in the few head races they had entered.  I had been told that they had never won a race.  “Hard to get any worse”, friends joked. “Room for improvement”, I thought.

From this modest start came a string of minor wins, progressively more impressive. Self confidence began to grow. We eventually won a division for fours in the National Schools Head, and then after a decade of struggling with paperwork I was able to hand over the admin to the efficient Gerald Elphicke; then as I left, I managed to get the wonderful Nick Wilde appointed to the head coaching role.  I had help from Richard Adams, a parent-governor, and Jackie Darling who worked in the school Administration and helped with the membership and paperwork.

The last school squad I coached went on to win the 1st eights at the 2016 National Schools Regatta … congratulations to Gerald and Nick, and everyone else involved!  Beating Eton and Hampton in J16 Championship 8’s in the Schools Head two years earlier was particularly satisfying result as we were in a used boat bought off a girl’s school (yes, it was a really good boat, but this sounds good!).  Three of the nine in this formidable crew have already been to Bergerac and have done some useful training as well as helping in the garden.  I expect to see them join their university crews before long. And I hope the others soon follow for some more sculling and training and cycling in this wonderful part of France!

Next event for me? I hope to race at the World Masters in Bled in 2017…  Watch this space.

Edward (Ali) Boileau    15 Allée Beau Rivage, Bergerac