Women's Eight Head of the River Race

Press - Inspired new rowers

Eton Excelsior Rowing Club post-Olympic recruits gear up for first race

London 2012 was a pivotal moment for seven of Eton Excelsior’s crew who are planning their assault on the Women’s Eights Head Of The River Race next month; five were inspired to row for the first time and two felt compelled to return to the sport after a lengthy break.

During a stint as a Games Maker at Eton Dorney Gail Buckley was told that that her 6’1” frame would suit rowing. The only thing holding her back was a fear of water.
“It was incredible to be part of the Olympics and I got a huge buzz from it,” says Gail, a Reading-based facilities manager. “I’ve always been sporty but until two years ago I couldn’t swim and I wouldn’t go near a boat — let alone get in one. I’ve grown in confidence since I started rowing and I’m so glad that I took the plunge.”

Project manager Vicky Kingan lives a stone’s throw from Dorney Lake.
“I was glued to the television during the Games and proud to say that the rowing events were on my doorstep. I could hear cheering from my house and after seeing some of the teams in the area I looked into having a go myself.”

The answer was a Learn to Row course at Eton Excelsior Rowing Club (EERC) one week after the Olympic closing ceremony. Run by the club’s vice-captain Pete Clements, Vicky met her fellow WEHoRR rowers for the first time.
“I left knowing that rowing was something I wanted to pursue. It is a different type of sport to anything I’ve done before and I love being a part of a team. After six months of training in all weathers I can’t wait to experience our first race.”

Sisters Aimi and Natalie Clark were equally motivated by EERC’s course.
“The best thing was that it didn’t burst our Olympic bubble. We were told that if we work hard there was no reason why we couldn’t be good enough to race and be competitive,” says 28-year-old Aimi, a journalist whose only previous rowing encounter was a bad one — she nearly drowned when a lifeboat crashed into her while swimming off the Cornish coast at the age of six. “I wasn’t a big fan of water after that and there were a few butterflies when I got in a boat for the first time. Now, though, I look forward to being on the river.”

PR assistant Natalie, 25, is the youngest in the crew.
“Rowing wasn’t even on my radar before the London Games. I remember Aimi and I screaming at the television as Heather Stanning and Helen Glover won their gold medal. When the commentator said that Helen only started rowing four years ago we thought ‘why not’? Finding a new sport that I am so passionate about was completely unexpected.”

The fifth squad member, Helen Edge, enjoys the team aspect of rowing.
“I had to give up running due to injury and I wanted to take up something more sociable. After the Olympics rowing was the obvious choice as I live close to the Thames,” says the mother of two. “I’ve made new friends and I love that giving up is never an option because you can’t let everyone else down.”

In five months Helen’s rowing ambitions have spiralled from only wanting to learn the basics to racing.
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of getting that little bit better and fitter each week,” she adds.

Leona Jacobson and Madeline Stone bring experience to the crew. The latter started rowing with Mortlake Anglian & Alpha Boat Club in the spring of 2003 and she rowed recreationally for 18 months before study commitments took her away.
“The Olympics gave me the push I needed to get back into it,” says Madeline, a microbiologist. “I love being outdoors and it feels good to be back on the water. I’m looking forward to summer evenings on the river and racing.”

Leona rowed with a Dorset-based club for a short time while she was at school. She lost touch when career aspirations took her to London but found herself in the British Rowing tent at Eton Dorney enquiring about how to sign up.
“I haven’t looked back since then. One highlight was rowing along the river adjacent to Eton Dorney and hearing the national anthem playing after Team GB won Paralympic gold,” says the 32-year-old lawyer whose crew trains every Tuesday, Thursday and at weekends with coaching from Ray Hague, Fiona Brewer and John Sismey.

“As the river has been on red boards for so long we’ve rowed on Dorney Lake several times. I didn’t sleep for days before our first visit because I was so excited to be rowing at the venue made so famous last year. The Olympic motto was to ‘inspire a generation’ but actually it inspired many. I just wish the Games had come to London when I was younger.”

-- Aimi Clark