by Joe Casey
On Saturday 12th November four men (and one cox!) formed one of the two crews representing the Vesta RC Senior Men’s Squad in the Fours Head of the River Race. We had trained hard over the previous two months in the gym, on the ergs and in gruelling water sessions in everything from small boats to eights – and in whatever weather the Tideway could throw at us! In the final weekend before the race we were put through our paces alongside the other VRC coxed four and a crew from the University of Southampton. But we came out of it feeling fit and confident.
But our run up to the big day wasn’t perfect. More than once ankle and knee injuries threatened the race. And even sickness tried to spoil our day, with two members of our crew becoming seriously ill in the week before the race. After a brief suggestions of substitutions it was decided that we stick together, row hard and represent VRC as best we can.
On the day we settled our nerves with a warm up paddle and plenty of stretching. Then, after rousing speeches from Captain Harry, our coach Ross and our cox Helen, we pulled on our whites and got hands on our boat. Despite our setbacks, we pushed off from the embankment feeling eager and ready to represent VRC at the first big Head of the season.
The row up was typically frantic with over 450 crews on the water. But our cox Helen showed trademark coolness and got us to our marshal point without a hitch.
Then it was time…
Outside Putney Town RC we pointed our bow into the stream and Helen lined up Chiswick Bridge in her sights. First with pressure through the water, and then on the rate, we built up to that stinging rhythm Ross had asked for. We burst out of Chiswick Bridge at rate 32 and the race was on.
The first stretch was a Remenham affair with us hunting down Twickenham while holding off Kingston. Despite settling into our stride quickly KRC got the better of us just as we approached Barnes Bridge. But we came past the band stand feeling good and the ‘100 stroke charge’ to the island began. We didn’t have many other crews around us so had to rely on Helen’s commands to keep our heads in the game but the boat felt good and the wash was easy to handle.
At r30 now we sped towards Dove Pier. While Twickenham were still within striking distance, we had allowed a strong Warwick BC crew to slowly creep up on us. But just as fatigue threatened to creep in Hammersmith Bridge appeared round the corner. We flew underneath, powered on by cheers from the crowd overhead. But we now had a battle on our hands. Warwick were trying to get past and Twickenham were stubbornly maintaining clear water on us (just).
But this was the home stretch. Our home stretch. With a rate change from Helen we increased the intensity and battled alongside the other crews. We powered past Craven Cottage with renewed force and started to wind up for the big finish. By this time my legs felt like jelly and my arms like lead but as we heard the roar from the VRC clubhouse a new strength found us and we crossed the line with our chins held high.
Unfortunately the final results didn’t reflect the work we had put in in the months leading up to the race – a modest 14 out of 16 (at IM1 mind!). But we rowed well and given the injuries and sickness that had plagued us so recently prior to the race we hit the bar feeling proud of our paddle.