Let’s go back to 2006, it’s my first day of rowing. I’m still drunk from last night, but next door neighbour decides its going to be a great idea for me to go and give it a try. I rock up, bash out a 2k test in 7 minutes. Im not that tired, I have no idea what I have done. Turns out it wasn’t too bad, and three years later I go and win the Welsh Indoor Championships under 23 event pulling considerably faster.
So I train, I eat, I sleep. I realise I love this lifestyle. Then this year’s welsh boat race comes around. I'm sitting in the 6 seat of the boat, the power seat. I don’t care what anyone says about rowing, the 6 seat is damn important and I love that seat. You get a rhythm set for you and you follow it, all you have to do is give it some leg as soon as you catch. Beautiful. So we win this race, an eventful day that is described in many other places, so we’ll leave it for here and now. This win propels me forward in the eyes of coaches, namely Ian Shore, the Welsh coach. I go to the BUCS regatta, the national university championship, and race a single not doing to badly. Said coach says he wants me to train with him, to row for Wales. Then nothing happens for a long time, I go to Cardiff a couple of times to train more in the single, improving my skills, I keep training by myself to keep fit in case I am needed to race. One day I get an email, saying that I am in a coxless four racing for Wales at the british national championships, with a possibility of racing at the home international regatta if we make the final.
So I meet the guys I am rowing with. Four guys rowing in four different ways. We train harder than I’ve ever trained before. A week of intense boat action, only interrupted by my graduation and a single thunderstorm over Cardiff. We go to the nat-champs, we feel okay as a crew. We finish third in our heat, allowing us to go to the repecharge; there we finish second, earning a place in the final. Success! Getting this far means we can race at the home international regatta! The final goes nicely, we only come 5th overall, but we were beaten by some very good crews so we are happy.
A short time later, it’s the big weekend. We have spent a week living with the entire Welsh team training for this. We do not want to disappoint. We are the under 23 Welsh coxless four, and we are bricking it. The day before the race – our rowing is perfection. Best outing we’ve ever had. The starts are much improved, the rhythm is getting good, we feel quick. Race day, were not on until 14:20, so we get up, eat a little and go for an outing early doors. We pass the time relaxing and keeping the weight off the legs, supporting the other crews in the Welsh team. We are constantly reminded that this is a team event and that we need to perform for the team. Not going to lie, I was a little nervous by this point. Let’s just summarise here: I have rowed for three years, and I am a still new to all of this. I am in a team of men who have rowed for many years and been to this kind of thing before. In my crew the three guys have all attended junior GB trials on many occasions - they are truly good. I sit down and say to myself that I have nothing to fear except being fearful of this race. If I am fearful then I am likely to tense up, if I do that then we will be a slow crew. So I relax, mentally and physically, and we take to the water for the warm up. Its nothing special, there are a few nerves in the boat that can be felt, but on the whole I am feeling allright about this. We continue on our usual circulation, and finally make our way to the start.
If you have ever seen films about a start of a race, you will notice that in between the “ready” and the “go” everything seems to slow down. Its wrong, pure Hollywood drama for the camera. The starter calls “attention”, the light shows red, I stupidly start to pull, realise my mistake and reset myself, two seconds later the light goes green and we are off.
Before the race we had agreed on a fairly standard start: A long stroke, two short strokes, getting longer, pound out as fast as possible for 15 strokes then settle hard going. What we did was an average first stroke, a pretty crap second stroke and then suddenly all clicked for the third and sent the boat off like a bullet from a gun. We were flying. We’re rating 50 strokes per minute off the blocks for 15 strokes, get moving, lactic burning, all the time I am thinking non stop, “catch”, “catch” “CATCH AND MOVE”!! Bowman calls for rhythm after the 15 strokes, and then something happened, or perhaps did not happen. It was like a smoothness occurred over the boat and a rhythm was just… there. I am chilling out, our man in stroke seat is having a cup of tea and some biscuits, bow pair is probably doing the same yet we are keeping up with the other three crews who had half a length off us at the start. Then it dawns on me, actually we are moving through them. I don’t question, I just do. Eyes up, rinse the legs. Catch, power on, pin the finish, power off. Seems to be working. All of a sudden there is only 500 metres left in the race and its only us and the English out in front. Ireland were looking to have made a move on us earlier, yet have done nothing of the sort and we have broken them mentally. The Scots are further back, and we know they have nothing to keep up with us having beating them twice at the national championships.
Then the worst possible thing happens, I clip a buoy and catch my blade. Yet for some divine reasoning this does not even slow our boat speed. I whip the hands away, release the blade and get back into the stroke mans rhythm. Perhaps two feet were lost to England over that little bastard buoy. We are moving and hitting it hard, and it dawns on me that if I am going to be pushed to the line and be exhausted for the rest of the day then I am DAMN WELL GOING TO WIN A MEDAL FOR IT!!! So I push, like nothing you have ever seen, 300 metres to go, we’re level, I think. I say “I think”, because I have lost cognition by this point, all I know is that in a moment there will be a red buoy next to me that means 10 strokes left. It shows itself. We make a move. We are working hard. Then, all of a sudden, its over, I succumb to exhaustion slumping forward in the boat.
I asked someone later what happened as we crossed the line, as it turned out we were neck and neck with England, each moving a little further on the other with every single stroke. We happened to be taking a stroke at the perfect time to accelerate our boat forward to cross the line first. A second earlier or later and we would have been in second place. But I tell you, it means sweet F A now. We crossed the line first, We got the victory. And after a little appealing and issue with our steering the umpire declares our win.
6 minutes and 50 seconds of hell on the windiest rowing lake in the world, but I am truly happy.