Friday, 30 July 2021

Henley is so special to me, says coach of promising school eight

Henley is so special to me, says coach of promising school eight

HUGH Mackworth-Praed has high hopes for his schoolboy eight at Henley Royal Regatta, an event that will always be special for him.

Shiplake College’s first eight coach was, at age 45, one of the oldest competitors at the event last year while at the same time leading his schoolboy crew to their college’s first semi-final in 27 years.

He called it his greatest achievement as a coach but, as a rower, he was not without his fair share of success, competing at Henley a total of 13 times and rowing for his country.

He is hoping to see the college’s current eight go even further this year in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup.

The boat is one of the most feared schoolboy crews thanks to guidance from him and the school’s director of rowing Dave Currie.

Mr Mackworth-Praed, a former Great Britain lightweight and Leander Club rower, was first introduced to the sport when he was 13 and at Eton College.

He recalls: “My elder brother Richard was captain of boats at Eton, so I had no choice — I was going to be rowing!”

He enjoyed the sport but was never in the top boat, competing in the J16 B crew and the third eight, as well as enjoying sculling.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says: “The J16 B crew were actually the second fastest crew in the country — the fastest was our A crew.

“There was a great spirit, as you’re living with these guys all the time, and I had some great coaches.”

The J16 crew were coached by Jon Carley, who went on to coach at Shiplake College in 1996, and Mark Woodcock, who later coached at Pangbourne College.

Mr Mackworth-Praed decided not to row in his final year at Eton, choosing to play rugby and other sports instead.

However, he returned to rowing as soon as he arrived at Durham University to study engineering. He competed for St Cuthbert’s College, one of 13 at the university.

“That was one of the attractions of Durham,” said Mr Mackworth-Praed. “You had intercollegiate sport without having to travel to compete against other universities.

“I was captain of St Cuthbert’s Boat Club in the second year.”

It was an incident at university that would have a big influence on his rowing career.

Mr Mackworth-Praed explains: “There was a guy in the eight who was massive and I thought he wasn’t pulling his weight so they kicked me out of the eight for voicing my opinion.

“I went to race in the single scull and I quite enjoyed it.”

After university, he joined Auriol Kensington Rowing Club in Hammersmith together with a former girlfriend.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says: “We both went to the club because she liked the colour of the blades but she left after three weeks and gave up rowing and I ended up staying for 20 years!

“It’s a really nice club, one of the smaller London ones, and I was rowing for fun, very much so.

“When I joined there were about half a dozen like-minded single scullers.

“Every now and again we still put out a veterans’ crew and I still always race as Auriol Kensington.”

In 1996 he was at Cambridge University doing a postgraduate certificate in education when he had his first taste of Henley Royal Regatta.

He was in an eight with Magdalene College Boat Club that competed in the Temple Challenge Cup but they were knocked out by Nereus Rowing Club of Holland.

After Cambridge, he took his first job at Warwick School teaching maths and spent two years there.

He then spent a year sailing, delivering yachts in the Caribbean and doing the trips that the owners didn’t want to tackle.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says: “I grew up in Spain and Franco passed a law that said every yacht club had to give free sailing lessons because he wanted to win the Olympics and even though I wasn’t Spanish, we had boats so I was entitled to free sailing

In 1999 he went back into teaching, not least because he wanted to be a rowing coach.

He says: “I think I wrote to eight schools where I thought I would like to work and I then got a job at Pangbourne College, where I stayed for nine years.

“There I started doing a bit more training, realising that if I had any aspirations of doing GB stuff I had to get going pretty quickly.”

In 2000 Mr Mackworth-Praed first represented Auriol Kensington at Henley Royal Regatta, competing in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup with Pete Goodchild but losing in the heats.

He also won a bronze in the national championships that year. The following year, he won gold at the national championships and entered the Diamond Challenge Sculls and Wyfold Challenge Cup at Henley but again didn’t get past the heats.

As his Great Britain career was beginning to blossom, Pangbourne College allowed him to go part-time, working two days a week so he could train with Leander Club in Henley.

“You go into that system and the goal is to get a GB vest at the end of it,” he says.

“The next two years I was as close to being a full-time athlete as possible but I was always teaching two days a week because, ultimately, I knew that was going to be my career.”

In 2002 he represented Great Britain for the first time in a quad at Duisburg Regatta on his 30th birthday.

“I remember sweating to get down to weight!” he laughs. “I was the newest member of the squad and almost the oldest.”

He went on to race at that year’s world cups in Lucerne and Munich, taking silver and bronze respectively, and finished fourth in the world championships in Seville.

He also raced in the Queen Mother Challenge Cup at Henley with a Leander lightweight crew.

In 2003 he was in the British eight that finished sixth at the world championships in Milan. In 2004, he was in the GB quad that finished seventh at the world championships in Spain. It was the last time he represented his country.

“I wouldn’t change any of it,” says Mr Mackworth-Praed. “When I was at university I remember sitting with another guy I used to row with and we were in the pub joking, saying ‘we’ll do the double sculls for GB’ and everyone just laughed at us. He stopped rowing and I just decided to carry on.

“People at Durham saw me on TV, having not seen me for many years, and they said ‘I’d no idea you still rowed!’.

“I remember a lot of it being hard work. I used to be grumpy from March to September because I was always thinking about my weight and what I could and couldn’t eat.”

As soon as he had finished with Great Britain, his blades were painted pink and green, the colours of Auriol Kensington, instead of Leander’s cerise.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says: “I’ve always felt a loyalty to Auriol Kensington because when I started my GB career the old boys offered to buy my single scull because they knew I was a teacher. I said ‘no’ but they bought my blades.”

After calling time on his international career, he became director of rowing at Pangbourne and continued working at the college for another four years.

In his last year he was still coaching the eight but had taken a step back and was no longer running the boat club. After a five-year hiatus from Henley Royal Regatta, he re-entered in 2007 when he competed in the Diamond Challenge Sculls and did so again for the following four years.

It was in 2008 that he moved to Shiplake College after meeting former deputy headmaster Shane O’Brien the previous year at the National Schools’ Regatta.

At the time, he was living in Gravel Hill, Henley, and thought the move would be good for him and his wife Charlotte.

He worked as a maths teacher but wanted to become involved in the coaching set-up. Within two months he was coaching the eight.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says the crew was already strong when he arrived but he quickly spotted areas for improvement.

He explains: “They didn’t train hard enough was the simple one. I was making sure that all the sessions were monitored and that the boys were accountable for their performances.

“It was just making sure they were rowing to their potential and pushing them that little bit harder than previously.

“The boys expect that in training so now we’re in a position to look at the finer details.

“The year I turned up there was a really nice bunch of boys, and all really tall, and we got good results without having done the graft of years and years.”

Mr Mackworth-Praed also improved the training facilities, creating a proper weights room.

Working with fellow coaches Keith Settle and Tom Crisford, he began to get the crews competing against one another rather than each coach doing their own training and this, he says, improved the whole boat club.

Mr Currie’s appointment in 2014 led to further improvements.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says: “From a selfish point of view, when the athletes come to me in their final years they will be well drilled from their previous coaches.”

Shiplake College has an agreement with Upper Thames Rowing Club to train on the Henley stretch of the Thames, which is preferable to the “bendy” section by the college.

With all this in place, Mr Mackworth-Praed began to see his crew improve further still.

From to 2012 to 2015 the school competed in the Child Beale Cup, which is part of the National Schools’ Regatta, finishing sixth in the first year, then winning silver in 2013 and 2014 and finally gold in 2015. In 2016 the crew competed at the National Schools’ Regatta proper and took fourth place. Last year, they claimed bronze and won the Schools’ Head of the River.

This year the eight again took bronze at the regatta.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says: “The thing that is really nice is seeing the old boys.

“At National Schools this year we had everyone who had raced in the eight in the previous two years come back to support.

“It’s just that expectation that we’re going to do well and the old boys expect it. Yes, it’s a bit of extra pressure on the eight but they seem to be coping with it.

“The hard work is paying off. There are times though when you think ‘why am I doing all this?’ — and my wife will say the same — but when you get the result it is very satisfying.”

Mr Mackworth-Praed, who now lives on the college campus with his wife and children, Tom, 12 and 10-year-old Kitty, says the planned new £2million boathouse and activity centre will be hugely beneficial to rowing at Shiplake.

It will have 24 ergos, more storage, a workshop and fitness area, a rifle/archery range, changing facilities and toilets, a climbing wall and a balcony accessed from the ergo training area that doubles up as a function room. It is hoped the new building will be completed by next summer.

Away from college, he found time to compete at Henley once more, once again for Auriol Kensington but this time with Eliot Barton. In 2013 and 2014 they raced in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup.

Last year Mr Mackworth-Praed competed in the Diamond Challenge Sculls but this year he failed to qualify for the event.

He also competes at the Scullers’ Head of the River Race, which takes place on the Boat Race course. “For me the two important races of the season are Scullers’ Head and Henley Royal Regatta,” he says. “I’m still enjoying racing and if I get to race down the course, it’s a bonus. It’s great being part of it and I still am as one of the coaches.

“Henley is also about bumping into old friends and chatting. I’m still part of the social side of Henley and the rowing.

“Auriol Kensington have a really nice tradition. On the Saturday before Henley their old boys, or veterans, row from the club to the town and take out the competitors for a meal. It was just a way to start the regatta.

“Now a lot of people I used to row with are doing that row.”

He also rows with the club at smaller regattas.

Mr Mackworth-Praed says: “If Auriol Kensington are going to a regatta and I can put my single scull on the trailer as well and it fits in with my coaching I’ll go. It’s trying to show the Shiplake boys that actually there are different sides to rowing — it’s not just slogging 2km up and down flat out. I think that’s quite important. I think the boys quite like seeing their coaches

“I’ll be fit enough to jump in the boat if someone’s missing for an exam or because of illness and it allows me to feel what’s going on inside the boat. Every year that I’ve coached at some point I will have sat in the first eight for a couple of outings and will get that extra feedback.”

After Shiplake lost to their Oxfordshire rivals Radley College in the semi-final of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at last year’s regatta, Mr Mackworth-Praed would dearly love to go one better this year and see the school reach the final for the first time since the late Eighties.

He says: “The year before last we made the Friday and the thing about Friday at Henley is there are lots of empty racks in the boat tents so you know you’re doing well. To go one better last year and get to the Saturday, the boys suddenly realised ‘this is getting serious’.

“This year they are a small crew but they have a good feel for the boat and they just move well together.

“How well will we do? Well, you can never tell because of the draw but the boys will be up for taking on anyone. They will have that self-belief.”

Mr Mackworth-Praed says the support the college eight receives at Henley is special.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “When I first came here I never considered Shiplake to be in Henley but when you’re on the riverbank everyone will be cheering for us and the noise is incredible. It’s the crowds and because you have people all the way down the course and you row so close to them. You don’t get that at any other regatta.”

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