As the Int4+ woke up on Friday morning to “Eye of the Tiger” pumping through the speakers Vanessa Ibbett, Sam Bowman, Briony Martin, Niamh Murphy O’Connor and Celeste Boruvka all felt the understandable nerves of a development squad going to their very first Henley experience.
The slightly stressful journey to Henley in rush hour traffic did little to ease the nerves even with Bob Marley’s “Don’t worry about a Thing” blaring. On arrival at Remenham, with only 20 minutes to rig our boat and change, our plan to take our time rigging and getting ready went out the window.
With heart rates running faster than mice, we got out on the water and were hit with gusts of wind and a very fast stream. A failed attempt to enter the umpire zone to have our boat checked and a sticky situation with an Empacher 8 later, we were on our way to the start line. Due to the bad weather only the top 8 boats were to qualify which put even more pressure on us, but a pre race pep talk with James, Bevan and Verity assured us they had every faith we could do it and our row up to the start gave us the chance to shut off and get in the zone.
After a shaky start we fell in to a strong rhythm and dug deep – with no other boats in sight we had no way of telling how well we were doing but we worked together with Celeste expertly taking us down the course to qualify in the top 8!! The news brought tears, hugging and massive smiles all round. Not only had we qualified but our quarter final put us against Thames’ IM2 boat – what a race that would be!
We spent the few hours we had eating, napping and inevitably going to the toilet a million times! – But this was it, we were officially qualifiers in Women’s Henley and there was only Thames in our way to the semis.
Our pep talk with the coaches reminded us that we were in our element – “the conditions are perfect for ‘bigger’ girls” (…lucky we aren’t sensitive!) We were hit with what can only be described as gale force winds and rain as we got on the water and realised this was going to be a tough one. We just had to remember we’d done it once that day, we could do it again.
We nervously attached on to the stake boat with surprising ease (anyone whose seen us at the start of other regattas would know this isn’t our strongest manoeuvre!) After the traditional re-enactment of the “True Blue” touching of shoulders, we were called to attention and were off. As we anticipated, they were faster off the start, but we didn’t let it phase us and got in to our rhythm quickly. The wind was halting us at each stroke, but we kept pushing and working together. At 500m a quick glance across saw our stroke sitting equal with Thames’ bow – we were rowing through them! Celeste’s call for clear water was answered and by 1000m we had a clear lead. The last 500m were arguably the hardest any of us has rowed – it felt like the wind was pushing us back up the course! We maintained our steady rhythm and gained a 5 length lead on Thames and were rewarded with an “easily” verdict when we FINALLY crossed the finish line. As we came in to land, James and Bevan were smiling like proud Dads – we were in the semi finals!
A much needed day off was had on Saturday and on Sunday we were back in Henley and ready to race again. We had achieved more than we ever imagined, but we now wanted to prove we could go all the way. With weather conditions considerably improved, we got on the water and paddled up to the start with Mortlake (our opposition) closely following. We managed yet again to get on to the start relatively pain free and came to attention. They took us off the start as again was anticipated, but we managed to get in to our strong rhythm. Unfortunately every call Celeste made to take them was matched by them and they held us off by a length. We fought hard, but they eventually crossed the line with a 2 length lead. Although it would have been great to make it to the final, we are really proud of what we achieved and had an amazing experience. Roll on next year!