As I approached my third and final year in the 1st VIII I hoped that it was to be my most successful year, especially as I was Captain. As it turned out this was not going to be the case. Many factors contributed to this including injuries and a very young and inexperienced squad (in the end there were only two 6th form rowers in the crew!!).
Whilst I was in Lower 6th I had entered national trials and throughout the year I had picked up some encouraging results. I had to qualify for the final trials, and did, but injury to my back forced me to pull out. This was a bitter disappointment and affected my confidence, so I was not too keen to go to trials again in my final year. I was also not in as good shape as I had been the previous year because of a rugby injury which needed an operation.
As the year went on I struggled more and more with the lack of success in school crews. This was hard as the previous year had been so good, when we picked up a bronze medal at National Schools. It was also Mr Coningtonīs and my last year at Monkton. I still believed I had it in me to have success in the national trials and I longed to achieve a place in the national team, not least because Mr Conington had invested many hours in supporting me over the years. So after an encouraging ergo score in the summer term I re-opened the book to write a new chapter.
I was paired up with an Etonian for the final trials who, as was the case with my partner last year, was considerably smaller than me. Happily we really clicked as a pair and felt a huge improvement over the two days training we had together before going to Nottingham. In the preliminary trials we had to come in the top three out of seventeen to go straight into the finals. The qualifying race was an absolute dream. We went off hard but staying in the group, found a rhythm and managed to pull away from everyone with each stroke. We won our heat by at least 2Ã lengths and later found out we had been overall winners of the qualifiers and the second quickest pair out of everyone who had pre-qualified as well! I was so surprised and my confidence soared. However the remainder of the trials were disappointing as I lost my only three seat races. As I look back now I am not massively surprised as I went to the trials having only been to one proper regatta in the season, and at trials I was doing nine races a day. So I found myself just on the wrong side of the cut and joined eight others to represent England, rather than being, as I hoped, in one of the GB crews.
But as soon as we got into the boat for the first training session at Bedford it reminded me why I row. I was now rowing in a very, very good crew. I could feel a power that I had not felt before, partly due to the strength of those in the boat, but also the aggression people had to release after not quite making the GB team. We were all trying to prove that we should have been in one of the higher crews! After a few days of training at Bedford and a few rest days it was time to go to Cork where the Home International was being held. We were all raring to go, and as soon as we got on the water it all clicked. We seemed to be going ten times faster. One thing I had learned during training was how to do a good start. Previously I had been used to going off hard and then settling, but now I had to adopt the philosophy that you go off hard and get harder.
When it came to the race itself we led until half way after a very fast start but were rowed down by a fast Irish crew in the second half. It was a disappointing end but a great and challenging experience. This was not the first time I had been close but not close enough, so my desire to win is even stronger than before. Imperial College boat club here I come!
I have learnt so much from going to National Trials and I do hope new oarsmen and women from Monkton will also give it a go. But for them to gain real success Monkton will have to begin to take rowing more seriously. This will involve real commitment, more time on the water and more concentration on building up skills of the juniors, not just at 1st VIII level. In my eyes rowing is surely one of Monkton's potential strengths, but it will require a new attitude for Monkton to produce successful crews like the school have been known to in the past. Good luck to the new Director.