A happy return to Oxford for Babs

Sons 2013 attendance at Oxford City Regatta was completely different than 2012’om 3 crews racing between both days, we must have more than trebled our number of entries, with the help of some of the men’s squad, who decided to tag along to what is becoming one of my favourite regattas in the UK.

Could this have to do with the fact that I won a pot again at Oxford this year? After racing at Peterborough in a 4- and doing it splendidly, we made the decision with the coaches to split the crew and move to sculling boats. So I spoke with Tony Brown, our club captain, to ask his permission to use his scull, the gorgeous Dumb Muscle, a white and blue Filippi.

I’d decided only to race at Molesey and Oxford City because sculling wasn’t my main priority during the season and I had only intended to do it at Oxford. Decision made, races planned and I went out as much as I could, most times with my crewbies Lucy and Sandra in a double and our coach Cat in a launch. As the days grew longer and lighter (not to say also drier), it was good to take Dumb Muscle out and train for those 2 regattas. In the regattas I didn’t race, I made sure I went along, armed with my camera and my tin of Banana Bread (in the lack of pompons) to support (and feed) my crewbies.

It was fantastic to see another 4 of them win their novice pot, this time at Kingston. At Molesey, I made it to the final, where I had one of the closest races of the day. I dug deep to try to win but it wasn’t enough and I lost. But it kept me motivated for Oxford City, having realised that my physical condition was much better than in 2012.

So, going into Oxford, I knew Saturday was going to be difficult. The draw had a lot of rounds and the distance was longer than Sunday’s. My race against Reading was scratched so next round was City of Cambridge. I reported to sculler’s park and found my opposition – this is one of my favourite aspects about Oxford City, you find your opposition before you boat. Well, it could be a bad thing if your

competition is taller, younger and fitter than you…

We boated, both of us quite quiet on the row up to the start. We saw a couple of starts and then it was our turn. Similar to Molesey, the race was very close and I believe I was ahead at some point but my opposition got away. The result says I lost by a length, I think it was less than that. Main outcome for me was that my lungs only started to hurt afterwards and, unlike last year, I didn’t once think that it was too much for me. It gave me confidence for Sunday’s sprints.

On Sunday, my opposition came to find me about an hour before the start of the race and we arranged to boat 30/35 min before the race time. I got on my boat at the agreed time, closely followed by my opposition from Llandaff. While she was putting her blades in, I took one look up as

I was putting my matching blue football socks on and shouted ‘Llandaff, you have your blades the wrong way round’… She looked at me, looked at the blades and started to laugh because there were 3 of them helping her boat and it took someone else to notice it. 

When we passed the finish area, I heard a familiar voice shout ‘Go Babs’ and I knew that my friends Steve and Sarah were there for some local cheering. We were early but as we were both there, we lined up to start, me on the towpath side. We started and I just kept thinking of Cat’s words during the last few outings: ‘keep pushing all the way till the

end of the stroke’. And that’s what I tried to do. Once we started to hear the cheers, I knew that we were very close to the end so I ‘went for it’. It was a very close race, both of us pushing till the last stroke. Verdict says I won by 2 feet and it could have gone either way.

When the result was announced, I was very happy and thought ‘Ok, one down, one to go’, 50/50 chance. I was racing Putney Town. Or.. So I thought! After a couple of inquiries to race control, I was told to boat if I wanted to get my pot. So, I did. It was go be a row over so I was going to enjoy it. I still did it at race pace but very relaxed, keeping my technique and sparing my lungs. I even managed a smile and a wave for the camera!

The other Sons women's crews competed well, with the 4’s winning a round or 2 each, and Lucy and Sandra’s double making it to the final on Sunday. It shows how much Sons’ women’s squad has progressed since I joined nearly 2 years ago.

I couldn’t have won my pot without the help of my coaches, Cat, Paul and Craig, Tony B for lending me his boat, my crewbies for their support and, of course, my family and friends, near and far, who’ve been living my return to rowing almost as intensively as I have been rowing.

Bruce Maclachlan