What a season of excitement, cliff hangers, of tension and last-minute triumphs! And then - there was the rowing!
As usual, our year kicked off with a small boats´ term - with more students than ever opting to do this for the right reason, i.e. I want to row´ rather than I hate rugby´! And more than ever, it became clear that those who rowed that first term really made strides in their technique that resonated throughout the year. Work on the water was punctuated by floods and land-training.
Come the Lent term, and a really inspiring group of athletes reported for duty, and duly fired by coach's rundown of the potential season ahead, they started to train. It became clear that we had a potential and relatively homogeneous J 15 Eight - and J16 Four with slightly less gel´. First outing as a squad rowing in anger was Avon County Head, at
Saltford. There was evidence of plenty of goodwill and effort, with some work to do in synchronisation in particular, and technique in general.
At this point, some of our larger athletes began to succumb to physical failure, especially in the back department, a feature that was to dog our season and undermine our success; maybe it's a comment on our lack of training time and fitness sessions. Thanks to JMB and Oxford Brookes Boat Club, our half term training camp at Goring was a terrific success - fantastic sunny weather, and more hours of useful work on the water in two days than we had had in total throughout the whole term. We were so grateful to James Alford and Simon Stevens for stepping in as ringers to make up the numbers, so we couldrow a full Four and Eight. Happy memories!
Action at Wycliffe Head Races was followed by the Schools Head at Putney where, considering our lack of training time, lack of fitness and the ravages of sickness, the crew did remarkably well, coming in on the lower rung of our class. Why the J15B crews should row the long course, I don't know!
A relatively short Summer Term meant National Schools was on us very quickly, and it was decided to take the stern four of the Eight, and to fake it´, pretending that we had trained together and had been a crew
for years. Actually thanks to exams, illness and lack of outings, the crew had been together just twice before boating on Holme Pierrepont Lake.
Many thanks to Alex Steeper for his loyalty and hard work, that made him the only replacement possible for Barnie Askew-Page, who was knocked out at the last minute by infected sinuses; and also, to Georgia Hall, whose experienced coxing replaced that of Jessie Dewes, as she was at a wedding in Scotland!
As it was, the crew's races became the absolute high spot of the season. Our initial aim of getting into the Semi´s was achieved with a solid row after a poor start; the crew went on to provide one of the best races of the day, failing to qualify for the final by 0.4 of a second. Top six in the country! And what a glorious, inspiring race it was; for with huge tenacity and grit, they fought their way steadily into contention over the two kilometre course. How I wish I had a video of it - we all lost our voices - what a crew!
The other high spot of the season was definitely our invitation trip to the Oratory School at Woodcote, where, thanks to that school´s kindness, many of our squad who had barely raced during the season had a real regatta. We raced in eights, in fours, in quads, in doubles and in singles - and boy, there were some stirring races! Cristian O´Brien, having stroked the B Four to victory, went out immediately in a scull, and, having been sick in the water, won his sculling race, the verdict, easily! Well done! There were many other individual stories of courage, success and disaster. What a fantastic day - burning sun, great barbecue, great racing, fine medals - the best!
David Meryon has been a real stroke, twice as reliable since he discovered Lucozade! Inspiring grit! Barnie Askew-Page fought a valiant battle with backs and illness; Tom Quayle is strong and silent, with huge, powerful stroke. Lucas Squire is a 100HP dynamo - irrepressibly cheerful, full of ideas, jokes and strength! Alex Steeper came on so far during the year, overcoming a late catch and becoming utterly reliable and even-tempered. David Quinn was strong and willing with an interesting twitch´; Niall Brown would have been a top performer if he hadn't broken both arms pretending to be Superman; Matt Colborn deserved the top award for perseverance, working through his technical frustrations. Cristian O´Brien is massively strong and tenacious, quietly facing the difficulties of being over age´, ready to row any time, anywhere. Sam Ma claims the Oscar award for Drama on the water - never a row without trauma, but he´s so strong! His award winning performance was without doubt his capsize at Oratory, while winning by three lengths in his sculling race! Ambrose Fung did sterling work when he turned up - and Kiweewa Jjunju takes the cup for the greatest technical advance of the year!
And last but not least, Jessie Dewes has been a star of a Cox - intelligent, perceptive, helpful, loud enough, quick witted, eagle-eyed - and good fun! What a squad - and what potential for the future! Good luck!