Our race morning started in an RFB kitchen, as our stroke, Andrea, made the rounds braiding our hair, as per the Newnham tradition. Whilst we were feeling nervous at the prospect of a 2.7km race, we tried our best to channel the nerves into excitement. Once at the river, our beloved coach Becca decided to shake things up with a land warm up of jogging (gasp!), squats, high knees and the like, to help prepare our bodies for the ‘feel-like negative 3’ degree temperatures. Hair braided, triple socked, and squeezing spare layers into our hatches, NW1 was finally ready to climb into our boat, Lady G, for the last time together.
As we made our way to our banking position, we practiced some pauses – “on three or after three?” – to help find our set of the boat. This had been one of our main challenges as a crew this term, but on that crisp Thursday morning, everything seemed to fall into place … and by everything, I mean stroke side’s tapping down! Once in our waiting position, we were joined by a large Newnham bank party who simultaneously provided last minute techniques tips, and sugar. Fuelled by Starbursts and some hyping tunes through the cox box – predominantly Taylor Swift, courtesy of yours truly – it was time for NW1 to race our hearts out.
At this stage, my memory is disappointingly foggy. All I could focus on was keeping my head in the boat, specifically on Andrea’s elbow. I knew that if we stayed in time, and kept the boat set, we could row with some substantial chonk. Keeping in mind that our race would take approximately 12 minutes, Andrea managed to maintain rate 28 throughout, even reaching 32 at one point. This was possibly a result of our excitement at being able to overtake a boat ahead, which was a truly exhilarating feeling. Our cox, Asma, reminded us to slam our heels down, and keep pushing till the very end. I also may have been guilty of some backseat coxing, as I demanded more ‘power 10s’, to ensure we had given it our all to the last stroke. With the yelling and cheering of our bank party in our periphery, we knew we had achieved something special as we, rather haphazardly, began to wind down. With adrenaline and endorphins coursing through our veins, all nine of us cried out an emphatic “WOOOOOOAH!”, once we had vaguely caught our breath.
Our ‘chonky paddle’ back to Newnham’s esteemed patch of grass was comparable to a group of kindergarteners being left unsupervised in the classroom: chanting, man-breathing, blade slapping … chaos – quite possibly the perfect word to summarize our time as novice rowers this Michaelmas. But we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
– Jas Eden Gray (7)
Finally, Fairbairns! The race we had been training and waiting for. The two weeks before it were full of ergs and outings with the aim of completing the 4.3km race in 18 minutes. Unfortunately due to traffic on the river (classic), we did not have the chance to practice a long enough piece to get a taste of what this race would feel like, as no one in the crew had done it before!
The morning of the 3rd of December 2021, after we had braided our hair and painted our faces with the Newnham colours, we paddled over to Jesus lock. Despite the chaos, the crew, again formed of Cat, Paula, Vicky, Ella, Emily, Rose, Thea and Laura, was full of energy and enthusiasm, especially after being fed fruit jellies by our fabulous and supportive bank party, Alice Wood and Edward Henderson. We did not have much time to warm up, and very soon the race started by Jesus boat house.
The start was strong and controlled, at rate 34, followed by lengthening and rhythm strokes called by Grace, which settled the rate to 30. The first 2km were fast, allowing us to close the gap with the Fitzwilliam W1 boat in front us. Our cox nailed many corners she had not taken at that speed before.
Half way through, we started getting tired, but fought to not let the pressure down. Gemma, our coach, joined our bank party and supported us through our last 1.6km. The rate did not fall. Approaching the Newnham bridge and end of the race, we took the rate up again and recovered a perfect balance of the boat, finishing with beautiful, powerful strokes. We had done it in 18 minutes and 23 seconds, allowing us to maintain our second position in the W2 division! Only a few seconds separated us from Caius. We are extremely proud of this result!
– Maria Victoria Rodriguez Noci (6)
Putting our victory at Winter Head and being Rowbridge favourites to win at Fairbairns out of our minds (because… stress!!!), W1 began race day like any other – with matching plaits for free speed! Arriving at our patch of muddy, bird-poo-covered grass, Beth and Amy had to get creative in leading a warm-up. While clubs with money (and boat houses) choose to warm up on ergs, Newnham chose a (sort of) choreographed dance to Christmas music. Let’s just say it’s a good thing rowers don’t need coordination or rhythm because certain members of the crew (*cough* Clemmie!!) clearly lack those skills! After a short row down to Jesus Lock which brought back memories of novicing, we pulled in to marshal and watched the chaos unfold around us.
After several attempts to film a Tiktok (which eventually worked!), we wrapped up in as many layers as we owned and settled in for the very long wait. Mishearing a marshal, we de-kitted early and pushed off. But this did not phase us – we loved the opportunity to aggressively hydroplane in the middle of the river and do “we will rock you” with everyone watching in awe.
Rowing up to the start, some members of the crew felt relief that the division was finally starting; others felt sick with fear; others were a bit clueless and just vibed. With an aggressive rolling start at a 1:32 split, Cat was worried we were going to have to overtake Maggie, despite leaving over a minute gap between us at the start. Settling into the race, we kept our heads in and suspended through. Cat’s “YEAH CLEHHMMMIIEEEE” and “MAGGIE MOVE” maintained the aggression and drive through the 4.3 km. We stormed through the finish, marked by a very quiet whistle from the marshal.
Triple parked, sandwiched between Pembroke and Hughes Hall, Beth showed off her gymnastic abilities to ensure we were well supplied with snacks and layers during the wait to row home. The row home featured Cat (our cox) as a rower … see her stroking the Boat Race next year!! Despite being pooed on during photos by the resident pigeon, spirits were high and we were proud of how we had rowed.
We were all in various random locations when the results were posted so anyone on Sidgwick Avenue and in McDonalds on Friday afternoon must have been very confused by the screaming!! We WON!!! And not just by a few seconds – by over 25 seconds!!! Collecting our plaques and lifting the trophy at prizegiving, we knew we had done ourselves proud.
Fairbairns has topped off an incredible term for W1. A massive thank you to Gemma and Ellie for their coaching. Bring on Bumps!! YEAH NEWNHAM!!!!
– Rebecca Sproston (7)