Posted: 20 June 2020

This weekend should have seen the return of Henley Women’s Regatta featuring more than 1,500 rowers from across the UK and around the world.  In recent years, this has become an increasingly popular competition for Scottish clubs, with rowers enjoying the opportunity to compete on the world-famous regatta course and test themselves against the best in the country.

For the last two years, Scottish Rowing has worked with our clubs to facilitate opportunities for junior rowers from across Scotland to come together and enjoy the ‘Henley experience’.  Whilst some of our clubs have sufficient numbers and depth to field their own crews, for many junior programmes in Scotland this opportunity isn’t always possible, and these projects have been crucial for bringing people together.

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This togetherness embodies everything that is great about the Scottish Rowing community.  ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ reflects the collective value that we see when we collaborate and this allows us to compete on a more level playing field with our competition, many of whom operate with significantly greater depth and resources than available to our clubs.

Of course, whilst people may expect there to be a performance motive, the Henley Women’s Regatta project has been about much more than that.  It has been about building confidence and self-belief, teamwork and respect, and seeing the bigger picture.  Rowing, like sport as a whole, has the opportunity to change and improve lives and this can be attributed to the positive values that you develop as you make progression and learn new skills.

I have many happy memories of our time in Henley over the past two years and seeing many of these young athletes grow and develop during and since the competition.  21 athletes representing 10 clubs have travelled with Scottish Rowing, supported during this period by 6 coaches and chaperones, and there have been many competitive performances, lots of laughter and some tears.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge some of the excellent achievements of this group.  Anna Buchanan became the first Scottish athlete to win the Di Ellis Trophy when she won the junior women’s single scull title last year.  Whilst the junior coxed four of Natalie, Alice, Katie, Eve and Izzy stood toe-to-toe with an outstanding crew from Henley Rowing Club, losing out by just one length in an extremely competitive final.

Due to the crew composition, the junior women’s coxless four of Abigail, Megan, Laura and Heather was required to ‘row up’ in the Aspirational Club category however this did not daunt them as they produced a series of mature rows to progress to the semi-final stage.  Abigail and Megan subsequently went on to represent Great Britain at the World Rowing Junior Championships and I’m certain that the quality of racing that they enjoyed at Henley Women’s Regatta will have supported them on this journey.

Other memories that stick with me include the smiles on the faces of Emma, Lily, Olivia and Eilidh when they found out that they had qualified for the junior quad sculls event having misjudged the finish line and thinking that their regatta was over.  Emma and Lily had been part of the J16 quad with Alice and Katie the previous year and the crew stuck together after the Henley Women’s project and had gone on to win a bronze medal at the British Rowing Junior Championships.

Rowing, like all parts of society, has come to a standstill during this pandemic as we all do our bit to protect the most vulnerable and help suppress the virus.  I’m conscious that the lockdown has cruelly taken away opportunities from junior rowers across the country, many of whom will have been training hard over the winter months to prove themselves on the water.  Whilst we cannot replace what has been taken away, I wanted to reassure our athletes that Scottish Rowing has not forgotten about you.

I have been encouraged from conversations with coaches that our rowers remain in good spirits and have been training well although I recognise that everyone will have good days and bad.  Over the coming weeks, as government restrictions are relaxed, we will start to be able to return to the water although the sport will invariably look different for some time before we get back to what might be regarded as ‘normality’.

One of the opportunities presented during the lockdown period has been for rowers to look at new ways to seek out challenges and support progression.  Ergometer training may or may not be possible, but even where it isn’t an option it has been a great time to mix-up our training and I know many of you have enjoyed getting out on your bikes or putting your trainers on for a walk or run.  A variety of cross training modalities will support a more complete ‘athlete’, reduce injury risk and increase enjoyment of the sport.  This should not be lost going forward!

However, it is not just in our training that we can seek out opportunities for improvement.  We will put ourselves in a much better position for a full return to rowing if we aspire towards ‘gold standards’ across a range a lifestyle areas.  Are we developing good behaviours in our nutrition, sleep patterns and recovery methods?  Are we being inquisitive in our learning related to the sport and taking advantage of the many online resources that have become available in recent months?

Of course, we cannot be perfect in everything that we do.  But small changes and a regular commitment to personal development will ensure that we come out stronger on the other side.  I look forward to seeing you there.