Prior to the actual race report I just wanted to put this race into context as perhaps on paper the verdicts in the run up to the final don’t best reflect the true efforts of what was actually achieved by the Vesta Intermediate 8+ winners of Henley Womens’ Regatta this year.
As Murray goes into the Wimbledon final this afternoon, with a secure route through and the knowledge he has beaten his opponent in the past, we were unfortunately not so lucky. The mighty Lea RC had beaten us at every stage this season through Wallingford to Met Regatta and only looked even stronger coming into this event. Lea were the clear favourites to win the Club 8+ and deservedly so.
If you have competed in a final at any level of competition you will know what it feels like to have the emotions, the fears and the doubts that creep into your head and that Sunday was no exception. We’d had a tough season, dogged by fatigue, illness and performance inconsistencies which at times led me to have doubts as to whether our performance on the day could be solid enough to win the competition.
Aside from the physical training an athlete endures, I truly believe this sport is by far one of the toughest and I sincerely take my hat off to all the athletes at Vesta and anyone at any level who commits themselves physically and mentally to an entire season of ergs, high mileage on the water and the torture of selection. I often get asked by my NRF (non rowing friends) WHY?? and sometimes question this myself, but ask any athlete, coxswain or coach and the answer will still be the same, “to win.”
After beating City of Cambridge and Thames RC against the horrendous conditions in the quarters and semi finals we knew the final meant we had to end ourselves, making sure we all physically knew what “rowing on the edge” felt like. Mentally it was a difference story…
No matter how prepared you are there could be one thing, just one small thing beyond your control that can change your outlook, mindset, alter your performance and ultimately change the outcome of your season entirely. This “one thing” for me came in the form of a conversation with an upriver coach that morning, he was frank but truthful; “I just don’t know, I’m going to be honest with you, you really are going to need the race of your life to beat them.”
My doubts turned to determination to MTFU and give me belief that our training programme had given us every tool we needed to win.
An absolute blinding start jumped us a quarter of a length ahead by the island, the key focus being to sustain the lead and do enough at the beginning of the race to dispose of our opposition from the outset. Lea were not going away. Undeterred by our quick lead they ploughed on to draw level. Vesta support in place at the Barn Bar, we sharpened up to get a canvas ahead to lead us into the enclosures.
Lea had dashed Thames RC’s hopes of a win in the Semi-final which meant that the mighty “Remenham Roar” was there in full force, just for us.
Level at the enclosures and spurred on by the most amazing wall of inter-club support, Lea managed to pull level and lead by quarter of a length.
I still get shivers as I recall the closing stages of the race. Everyone just about knows that one of the hardest parts of the Henley Womens’ Regatta course is coming out of the enclosures and into “no man’s land.” The support dies down and you’re on your own, just two logs; dead level and an extra battle of the mind to fight to make your log the fastest.
Still level, I will never forget this moment as I looked into the bows of our opposition, their huge enclosure push and semi-final dog fight with Thames had taken its toll. Fatally they had begun to forget about their legs and started to pull. I then knew then that we could win this.
200 metres to go it was do or lose: the call at UTR: “girls, their heads are down, ours are NOT” “sit up and push, you can do this, NOW” our log moved through to take the canvas a last kick of adrenalin to push through, crossing the line victorious at 1/4 of a length.