The life of a UEL Sports Scholarship student- Part 1

By Rhiannon Jones

Hey there. It’s always difficult to know how to start off a blog… the plan is for me to update this fairly regularly with the training, trials and tribulations of myself and my fellow rowing scholars. There’s significantly more of us this year, so hopefully with us all on board we can improve on last year’s haul of medals and bring up more rowers along with us.

So, me. I have a pretty unique role at UEL, and in the sport in general. I am a cox…. if you aren’t sure what one is – the tiny shouty one in the stern of the boat in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race! Although there are plenty of people who tease me constantly about my role, being a cox isn’t simply being tiny and having a big mouth. Firstly, and most importantly, there’s steering. In an 8 I steer a boat the length and width of a lorry with a rudder the size of half a credit card. This means I have to steer about 3 boat lengths in front of where I am at any one time, and more if we are travelling at speed. Added to this, every time I put on my rudder, there is an effect on the balance, which slows boat speed. So, to have less effect on the balance I put my rudder on when the blades are in the water… but at this time the rudder has less effect…. meaning earlier steering… Secondly, there’s calls. There have been books written on coxing calls, but briefly, I am the brains of the boat – I direct the crew to move the boat around the course in exact ways, manoeuvring taking wind, stream and tide into account. I am a mini coach during racing and training, taking responsibility for technical to improve the standard of rowing and so boat speed. Finally in a race situation I will deliver the race plan, but also have the confidence to make the decision to change the race plan when needed in response to the race at the time. On land, I am generally part of the crew – you’ll find me supporting the guys in the gym doing weights, taking times and rigging boats. Finally, being tiny takes effort, well for me it does anyway, as in coxing terms I am a giant at 5ft 4 1/2in. I will try to keep this theme out of my blog, as there are few things more irritating that someone whining about dieting!

Right, that will do for the moment. Now, a wee bit about me. I’m a Herefordshire girl from the middle of nowhere on the Welsh borders. At 10 years old, my ageing father decided he was going to return to his youth and go back to rowing… I was dragged down to the river and pretty much have been obsessed with it ever since. I started off rowing rather than coxing, and rowed fairly seriously until I was 16. I wasn’t even too bad, but it soon became obvious that I had totally stopped growing and all the other girls were calmly breezing past me. During many teenage strops about this, I was asked to cox a 4 for the World Masters Championships (a veteran event). That showed me I wasn’t too bad at the coxing lark and so when I turned up at the University of Reading in 2006 I announced I wanted to cox.

So uni began. I coxed through my whole three years, won a fair few bits of varying colours of metal, got stressed as President, made the mistake of living with non rowers in my second year (failed attempt at joining ‘real’ life, I mended that one in third year) and after having a scary realisation that I really did have to do some work, managed to come out with a degree in the end. Happy days. Cue blistering hot graduation, in the middle of Henley Royal Regatta week. Rowing of course came first, and it was all a bit of a rush (this did not please Mum).

 So, it’s a pretty lovely May day in 2009, the day after my last final exam. We’re having a half decent outing on the river at RUBC in the sunshine. A small woman is cycling alongside us with our coach, but as RUBC is a World Class Start centre (a scheme that takes tall people and turns them into athletes) this was not unusual. After the session, someone tells me “oh, that lady wants to talk to you.” I faff around, putting everything away and getting the boys sorted, then trot over with best president’s smile on and handshake ready…. “Actually, my name is Mary, and I want you to come and trial for the GB Adaptive Team.”

Following that day, my wardrobe doorhandle has collected a few medals internationally, with the highest achievement being a Gold at the World Championships in Poland, 2009, with what was then the World Best Time. All well and good, but in sport, few stories have a complete lack of low points, and mine is not an exception. In June 2011, I was not selected to cox the LTA 4+ at the World Championships in Bled, Slovenia. However, all is not lost. The trials process will run in 2012 and 2013…. more to come I hope.


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