Monday, 20 September 2021

Learning to row is more than messing about on the river

FRIENDSHIP and a competitive atmosphere help them succeed, according to young members of Henley Rowing Club.

FRIENDSHIP and a competitive atmosphere help them succeed, according to young members of Henley Rowing Club.

The junior section has enjoyed significant success and has topped the medal tables at the annual National Schools Regatta in Nottingham for two years running.

Grace Johnson, 15, of Courtney Drive, Emmer Green, joined the club in September and took some time before she began enjoying it.

She says: “My mum brought me for a week’s session in the summer with a friend. It was quite scary because it was so serious.

“We had a week in a single with a bit of rope tied to it which they use to drag you along so you learn how to hold the blades and to move the boat.



“I thought I was probably not going to make it but my friend, who already rowed here, said it was really great and that I should keep at it.”

Grace already enjoyed playing hockey, sailing and canoeing at the Eyot Centre in Henley.

But she says: “Rowing was different from everything I had ever done before and it was hard to pick up.

“At first you scull with two blades. That is because it is easier to learn the motion and about balance.” In the winter she trained with the rest of the juniors in the gym three times a week. This included lifting weights of about 25kg and circuit training, which involves squats and sit-ups.

Grace has raced 21 times in her first season and took part in her first National Schools Regatta in May. Her composite coxed crew had only come together two weeks before the event and were up against older crews.

In the final they challenged for the third place before finishing fifth, four seconds behind the second-placed crew.

Grace says the experience did her good, adding: “I have definitely improved and have caught up with the rest of WJ15 group.”

Florence Wiggins, 16, from Kingwood, was inspired to take up rowing by her brother Luke, 19, who won the Princess Elizabeth Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in 2013.

She says: “I thought I would give it a go. I did the same summer school as Grace but the year before.

“I had a bit more of an idea about what to expect as we knew people at the club. It was really hard to start with. It was like learning to ride a bike but worse. It took a while for me to catch up technically. Keeping fit in the gym was more straightforward.”

Florence enjoys the coaching, explaining: “I have always played sport and enjoyed sport but I have never been coached to the same standard as here. It is phenomenal — they pick up on everything.

“The atmosphere here is competitive and we drive each other on and push each other to go harder and do more.”

Florence continues to impress. Her WJ16 eight took gold at the schools regatta with a winning margin of 3.8 seconds over Marlow.

She also picked up gold in the WJ16 quad, finishing eight seconds ahead of placed Headington in second and Marlow in third.

Florence says: “We have developed quite a good friendship within our crews and it is nice to have that momentum to work for each other.”

In total, she has raced 31 times this season and qualified for the J16 GB-France match in the quad.  She narrowly missed out on the J16 quad in the final of Henley Woman’s Regatta this year but will be racing in the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta against older crews.

Lottie Orr, 15, from Checkendon, is following in the footsteps of her 17-year-old twin sisters Maddie and Hattie.

She says: “They both started rowing before I did so I thought I would have a go as well. I started on the summer course when I was 12 in the J13. I came on the summer course and was invited back. I have done lots of other sports but rowing was different. It was fun because I was with friends.

“When you’re learning to scull in a single it is so hard but when you get into crew boats it is much easier because you are with more people. Each year you get better.

“We didn’t do many big competitions to begin with because we were learning to row and getting used to it but last year we had a really good season.”

This year her WJ15 eight destroyed their rivals at the national schools regatta. In the semi-final they finished 19 seconds clear of the second-placed boat, shaving 2.5 seconds off the championship record, set by Henley RC last year.

In the final they dominated from the start and comfortably beat Lady Eleanor Holles School.

Lottie has competed in 24 races this season. She was in the winning WJ16 coxed four at Henley Women’s Regatta and is a member of the Henley coxless four selected to represent GB in the annual GB-France match for J16s.

Bruce Turnell, 15, of Gillotts Lane, Henley, says rowing gave him the opportunity to enjoy sport.

He says: “I stopped playing contact sports because I just used to get battered. I tried all the sports — football and rugby — but I wasn’t growing much while everyone was much bigger.”

Bruce was 12 when he was encouraged to take up rowing by his mother, who used to compete.

He says: “I started straight away and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t put in the top boat because I am a lot smaller than the others but I have now grown by about 6in.

“Everyone develops differently and there are still opportunities to progress and that’s the point. I want to keep on rowing because I really enjoy it.”

Bruce has raced 20 times this season. He was part of the crew that finished seventh in a field of 39 at the Junior Sculling Head in March. 

Since then he has finished second at the Junior Inter-regional Regatta in a coxed four, won bronze at the National Schools regatta in the coxed four and qualified for the final of the J15 quad at the same event. He was one of only three J16 boys to qualify for finals in both sweep and sculling events.



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