Hello! My name is Max Filley, I am about to start my third year reading Economics at Downing, and I am also Women’s + NB Captain (and Coxing Representative) this coming year.
Coming from a state school, I had some preconceived notions about rowing when I arrived at Downing. I thought it was just a sport for people who had learned before arriving at university, and people like me wouldn’t fit in. The people who I knew who rowed were lovely, but a lot of them were more outgoing and sporty than me, even if they didn’t fit the stereotype I had. In the whole of my first year, I was slightly intrigued by rowing, but a mixture of COVID lockdowns and my own lack of confidence put me off trying it out once Easter term came around. When I went into my second year, however, and realised that a lot of my friends were trying it out, I finally tried it! On the advice of previous Coxing Rep Ryan Chung, I noviced as both a rower and cox, leading to some interesting scenes during novice Fairbairn’s – having to literally jump out of one boat and straight into another waiting on the bank for me to get back! Regardless of this, I absolutely loved novice term, and being able to both row and cox regularly helped jump-start my progress. It made me much more confident both as a rower with technique, and as a cox with understanding what rowers want from their cox. A particular highlight of novice term was Bridgemas at the boathouse, which was my first real taste of the social side of DCBC, but this still had nothing on the adrenaline rush of racing for the first time!
Before Lent term, I had decided to continue coxing – it was what I enjoyed the most, and was what I knew I could go furthest in. The Lent training camp on the Cam was massively helpful for me and all the other novices moving up to senior boats – I got to know so many new people, and more importantly managed to get about 2 outings a day throughout the week, helping me to develop further, pick up tips about coxing, and meet our alumni coaches for the first time!
As we moved into full Lent term, COVID ran through the squad, taking me out of action for 10 days along with many others. Despite the massive setback to the whole of DCBC, I was struck by how resilient everybody was together, adapting to the crew changes and still attempting to train whenever it was safe to do so. Eventually, we moved past it, and I was assigned to W3 for the remainder of the term, along with 7 other novices, and looked forward to the possibility of bumps! It was a big step-up for all of us, being allowed out on the water by ourselves, and the adjustment process was not always easy. Having dealt with COVID, injuries, and bad weather, we couldn’t have made it through without the help of seniors such as Callum, Dan and Maddie offering us their time and expertise, another aspect about DCBC that I really love. Our goal for the end of term was simple – try and make it onto Lent Bumps! This wasn’t an easy task, however – our competition was stiff. Races throughout the term such as Pembroke Regatta gave us a larger taste of racing adrenaline once more, and we wanted more. We reached the 12 outing minimum and were hungry to prove ourselves in the getting on race. From the start, we went off calm but strong, building into the race with the help of our bank parties Ryan and Callum, who were shouting their lungs off even more than me! I could see how hard the whole crew was working, more than any other race our outing we’d done, and as we finished I was incredibly proud of everyone in the boat, and how far we’d come! Unfortunately, we missed out on a competitive Lent Bumps by around 10 seconds, but seeing the support we received from other seniors and the whole club really made me proud to be at Downing. We were sad, but also knew going into it that getting into bumps was unlikely. Regardless, we set our sights on Mays, and got our heads down.
Moving into Easter term, we were in a strong position from the get-go. We had our ranks bolstered by 2 rowers from W2’s Lents campaign, and almost 7 whole weeks of training to go. Crews still shuffled around slightly, and exams often caused us to have to train in IVs or on land, but nothing stopped us completely. As the rowers were improving massively, both in strength and technique, I sought out every opportunity I could to improve my coxing – as well as coxing W3 3 or 4 times a week, subbing in regularly to W2, M2, M3 and even occasionally other colleges to help bump up the amount of time I spent on the water and help reduce the time I spent on my degree to the bare minimum. Throughout the term, my confidence and my coxing ability grew massively, and I knew I had made the right choice in becoming a cox! Racing regularly in Easter was a great feeling and fantastic preparation for all of us, competing in head races like Head of the Cam alongside alumni, as well as high-adrenaline regattas such as 99’s spring regatta. In the latter, we had a fantastic comeback victory in one of our races – there’s nothing like overtaking someone late in a regatta!
All our training throughout the term, however, was for one specific goal – May Bumps. We had set our sights on it from the beginning, and knew that it was much more within reach than Lent Bumps. We had trained hard and loved every second of it, but as we sat behind the start line of the Getting on race, none of that mattered. I had just finished my final exam earlier in the day, and now the only thing I could think of was Bumps. We went off strong, and then inevitably began to slightly drop off in power and rate throughout the race. I could feel the energy levels of the crew dropping, and thought maybe we wouldn’t be able to make it the whole way. However, I stayed calm, and kept going with the race plan. As we turned out onto the reach and the home stretch beckoned, our supporters on the bank turned up the volume, and we turned up the power, taking the rate back up to power home, with a time around 30 seconds better than Lents, on the same course. As a crew, we spent the rest of the evening together eagerly awaiting the results, and when we got on we were ecstatic!
We enjoyed our celebrations, and were proud of ourselves for beating all 5 other W3 crews and multiple 2nd boats in the race, but then we moved onto Bumps itself. After a late drop out, we were moved up from sandwich boat to the bottom of division 4, chasing and being chased by FaT W2 and Girton W2 respectively. I’ve felt nervous before a race before (in fact for every race), but nothing compares to sitting on station holding a bung, waiting for the start cannon to go off. Our first day, we started strong, and looked as if we might get a bump, but unfortunately got a technical row over due to chaos ahead. On the second day, we were unfortunately bumped by an incredibly strong Peterhouse W2 (who went on to super-blade, bumping 5 times in 4 days), putting us as the sandwich boat on day 3. As temperatures reached 32 degrees, we first held off a strong Girton crew behind to row-over as sandwich, before rowing over once again as the 4 crews ahead of us bumped out in division 4. I was incredibly proud of the crew for racing for around 5km in the blistering sun, however, and never giving up when going for the over bump , which was far closer than it was expected to be by the finish line. On the final day, we lined up ready to go out strong, knowing that if we could row-over as sandwich, we would almost definitely get DCBC’s first bump. All we had to do was to hold off Jesus, who themselves were a strong crew on the up, and had caught Girton before first post corner the previous day. We went off strong, trying our hardest to hold them off, but they closed to within half a length in the first 500m. Through the next 700m all the way to grassy, we didn’t let them inch up on us one bit. However, as strong and as resilient as the crew was under the circumstances, eventually we had exhausted ourselves, and a slightly suboptimal line by me around grassy sealed the deal – we were bumped. I was incredibly proud of us, first for getting on to bumps, and then for pushing to the last moment to keep the hopes of rowing over alive on the last day. Even though we got bumped, we had our heads held high knowing that we had done fantastically just to get onto bumps. We cooled off with a jump into the “colourful” cam water. The week of bumps was exhausting, as I also bank partied with at least 2 crews every day, but it was amazing just to be a part of – it was the highlight of my Cambridge experience so far!
As enjoyable as bumps was personally, however, there was one key thing missing – some DCBC bumps. After several difficult years, the squad performed below usual expectations – which was most keenly felt in boats moving down the river in bumps. Without the incredible hard work and adaptability of Emma, the rest of the senior committee, and the squad as a whole, results might have been even worse. Nevertheless, the resilience of our squad to weather tough times and the strength of community it continues to foster makes me believe we can move onwards and upwards in this coming year – I want as many people as possible to bump up the charts in both Lents and Mays, with particular focus on improving W1 and W2’s standings. The amazing rowers and coxes we have in the club make me confident we can do this, as long as we work hard and stay together. I am sure we have great things in store for us this year!