Hi! I’m Thomas, a third year Engineering student and this year’s Men’s + NB Captain.
I joined Downing Boat Club in October 2022 at the start of my second year at Cambridge after focusing on cricket in my first year. Within a week of novicing, I was hooked! Learning a new sport has always been something I have enjoyed but the club atmosphere in rowing is something I hadn’t experienced before. My first taste of competition was Qergs, an indoor rowing machine relay where 8 novices each row 500m in a hall full of people yelling in support. I left the room without a voice but certain I was going to keep rowing for the rest of the year. Soon I was messaging Alex, last year’s captain to see if there were any spots in senior boats to row with to get out on the water more. As the term went on and my technique improved I soon found myself in 3 seat of M1 racing in my first race, Winter Head.
I quickly found that racing is my favourite part of rowing, pushing yourself to the limit with 7 other rowers and a cox is exhausting but highly addictive. However, the boat club is about much more than just rowing. One of my favourite memories from this term was celebrating Bridgemas at the club. The evening was filled with plenty of food, drinks and games and was the perfect way to get to know the rest of the club who I hadn’t had the chance to row with yet. Another highlight of the term was my first Boat Club Dinner (BCD) where the whole club celebrates the successes of the term by enjoying a great meal in the hall.
Lent term started with a wet and very windy week-long training camp on the Cam before lectures began. Despite being windswept and soaked through, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. A week of rowing and socialising without having to worry about work was a perfect way to kick off the term. After a couple of head (time trial) races I got to do a side by side race for the first time at Pembroke Regatta. We won our first round comfortably against Fitz but were beaten in the second by eventual winners Maggie.
Next up was Lent Bumps and my first chance to race the events that make rowing at Cambridge so famous. It’s fair to say it surpassed all of my expectations. From the huge nerves rowing up to the start line, to the moment the starting cannon, yes cannon, went off it was all a blur and soon we were smashing into the stern of Pembroke around grassy to move up to third on of the river. Over the remaining 3 days I went through every emotion: the relief of holding off a flying Pembroke out for revenge, frustration at the weather cancelling day 3 before disappointment of being bumped by Jesus which was quickly forgotten as I sat down for another excellent BCD.
The term wasn’t quite finished yet, a quick trip to London to row the Boat Race course in reverse for the Head of the River Race provided a totally different experience to the rowing on Cam. The waves are far bigger, the tidal stream provides the infamous conveyor belt and there are over 300 boats to avoid crashing into. Max, our cox we borrowed from W1 for the week, did a great job guiding us down the course, keeping us motivated for the 19 minute race. We placed 134th out of 321, beating the previous year’s result by more than 20 places. After the race, we met Leo Judd, a legend of the club and the person who our boat is named after. We had a chance to speak to him about his time at Downing, coaching the club to many successes. It was inspiring to know how much the club meant to him and others even years after they left.
Easter term was the toughest but also the most enjoyable term of rowing for me so far. In a bid to fill every waking hour with exercise instead of work, I decided to play cricket for the university as well as row. Alex was very understanding of my cricket commitments and we planned our outings around my matches. As the term progressed we came second in two head races and approached May Bumps full of confidence that we’d be smashing into the sterns of the boats ahead. However, luck was not on our side and Aidan, our 2 seat caught Covid less than a week before racing. Some phone calls were made, and a last minute transfer of Cam Spiers from CUBC saved us. Days 1 and 3 ended with us being hit by both King’s and Jesus respectively, who both went on to achieve blades, which is no mean feat in Division 1.
Day 2 was an epic row over ahead of Clare, who sat within a metre of our stern for a kilometre down the reach, providing some respite after the previous day’s disappointment. Day 4 was another row over in front of Clare, this time at a much more comfortable distance and chasing the overbump on Pembroke. In previous years Bumps has marked the end of rowing but this year we decided to go to Henley Qualifiers for one last race. Whilst we didn’t qualify for the main regatta, the chance to row between the iconic booms will stay with me forever.
My first year of rowing has been great fun and I’ve made some of my best friends and memories. I have no doubt this year will be just as incredible. See you all in October!