The last few days have been a rush of social events and final race preparations for the two Bowdoin crews as we gear up for the start of racing tomorrow. After a relaxing off day on Sunday, we’ve had practices each of the last four days, moving into the race venue on Tuesday.
Our two big social events before the racing begins were a great opportunity for us to experience the British style of rowing, which includes far more scones and tea than we are used to, to say the least. We attended a lunch reception with the Oxford University Women’s crew team at their boat house, and an evening gathering with the Cambridge University Women at the Leander club in Henley-on-Thames. The Oxford and Cambridge crew teams, notorious rivals, hold a huge regatta in late March simply called “The Boat Race.” While the men’s race has been prominent for years, with some 400,000 spectators over the course and 9 million watching on live television, the women’s equivalent race has been greatly underfunded and practically unknown by the British public. Next year, however, women will be allowed to row on the Tideway course just before the men’s race, a turnaround that will allow for an even more competitive women’s race and greater publicity for these incredible athletes.
In anticipation of this historic change in British sporting, both the Cambridge and Oxford boat clubs held events for overseas crews in an effort to spark conversation about female athletics (as well as to recruit interested international rowers to their squads). Maddy loved the chance it gave the group to dress up, saying, “It was very exciting to meet all of the other international crews and compliment each other on our blazers.” Audrey appreciated a different aspect of the receptions, noting that “It was great to see that rowing after Bowdoin is an option for all of us.” Getting a chance to talk over racing strategies and compare favorite rowing memories with members of the Oxford Blue boat, which won the Boat Race this last spring and recently defeated the British national team in a duel race, was an especially incredible opportunity for us. Erica commented, “Although I was incredibly star-struck by the caliber of rowers we met, they were all very sweet and humble.”
Cambridge’s reception at the Leander club was an even more impressive event than the small gathering at Oxford’s boathouse. The club has an incredibly exclusive membership (among its members are 112 Olympic medalists, the greatest number of any one club in the world) and it acts as the training grounds for about 3/4 of the members of the British national team. MB recalls, “Yesterday, when we went to the Leander Club, I wanted to put a little clotted cream on my scone. The guy working the table, refilling the drinks and clotted cream bowl, started making conversation. Turns out he’s a rower for Leander Club, (he won all the seat races this spring), and he won the U23 world championships! And I talked to him for maybe 15 minutes! I looked him up on Youtube last night and watched his race. Also he’s a model.”
Besides hobnobbing with prominent rowers (some of whom were dressed as waiters), we have continued to train alongside high schoolers, women in our races, and members of various European national teams. With Doug’s arrival on Wednesday, we’ve had the chance to see Henley once again through fresh eyes. Walking back from practice today, Doug commented that, being a rower in this town, “It’s such a pilgrimage. There is something indescribable when you see 80-year-old Olympians rowing 2000m pieces down the course.”
A short story about rowing at Henley from our very own Liza Tarbell: “Today, I went out for the last jaunt in the single. I was rowing along, dodging the motor boats, the fours and the super speedy eights. Passing the start line down toward the lock, I saw a fellow single heading my way. ‘HORRAY!’ I exclaimed, another small boat trying to fend off the giants. However, as I began to turn back toward the start line, I was busy marveling at a quad when BOOM! The older gent in the single came barreling toward me and we got caught in a squall of oars and boats. We sorted it out and then he promptly ran into the bank. I giggled.”
This week, Emily’s primary concern has been that all of us “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate” – she has dedicated herself fully to running around and forcibly throwing water bottles into people’s hands. Katie Ross’ perspective on the last few days has been very similar, commenting “It has been all about preparation. Between all of the social events where we met amazing hosts and competitors, ate delicious dinners prepared by Edie, and more practice time on the official racecourse, we’re all feeling fired up and ready to let the dogs off the leash on Friday.”
Nora summed it up best of all, noting, “We’ve seen a lot of action in the last few days – we’ve mingled with former olympians and world champions, been courted by some of the world’s most prestigious collegiate programs, and seen traffic on the Thames start to fill up with some seriously beastly women. I think it’s been a reminder for all of us that we belong here amongst the best in the world. All of this excitement, along with the arrival of Doug, is making this race finally seem really, well, real. I’m finally feeling ready to get out there and do it!”
Tomorrow marks the first day of racing for the Henley Women’s Regatta, and in the words of Coachie, “We are totally ready.” The Gibbons crew will be racing at 4:06 pm GMT against Thames RC, and the Brown crew will race at 4:54 pm GMT against Henley RC. Please keep your fingers crossed for us and click here to watch us online (tuning in a few minutes early might be wise). Thank you all so much for your support, and LET’S GO BLACK!