The winter onslaught had been long. It felt at times like we were in an endless pit of darkness and rain and rowing and wind and snow and rowing; constantly shivering with cold and faltering with fatigue.
But then, on a dreary Monday evening at our weekly Committee Meeting (squeezed reluctantly in between one heavy training session in the gym and another of essay-writing in the library) the end of that long winter came into sight. Whilst comfort eating donuts, listening to the rain hammering outside and allowing my wandering mind to zone only vaguely in and out of the mundane conversation; “crews…summer racing…launches…Portugal…training camp”…“wait, WHAT?”
On that bleak London day, the metaphorical (and highly-clichéd) light at the end of that deep, dark pit seemed blinding at the prospect of training in Portugal for a week – crystal waters, blue skies, sunshine and a week away from London’s impatient hustle. Portugal saved us from that long winter (intentional GoT reference) and reminded us why we partake in this [delete as appropriate] torturous/insane/superduperfun sport they call rowing… Because maybe just maybe, for that week, the latter seemed almost true…
Some months later and 50 of us embarked upon the small Portuguese town of Avis. Those first few days were a case of getting used to new water (flat), new surroundings (Indiana Jones-esque) and a new climate (hot). A far cry from the numerous bridges decorating the River Thames, here rocky cliffs towered over us as we weaved around narrow cave-like passages. One bend later and the water would open onto a vast lake surrounded by greenery and wild flowers, the sun reflecting on the sparkling water only adding to the spectacular backdrop to our daily training sessions. The water was not only ours though; everyday a fleet of small boats adorning GB lycra rowed past our drifting eight while we shamelessly failed to resist moving our eyes from inside our own boat, following instead the swift passing of those Olympic celebrities.
After those beginning days of familiarising ourselves to rowing in Avis, the training sessions intensified as we all looked towards summer racing. Just as a sprinter practices their racing start over and over, so too does a rower – except here the difficulty is that eight people must coordinate those beginning short, sharp strokes to allow the boat to get up to full speed as effectively as possible. All that practice culminated on the comically-named Milka Cup on the final day, a series of ‘fun’ races which inevitably turned into intense competitiveness and inter-squad rivalry (all light-hearted of course). The winning crews enjoyed their prized Milka bar washed down with a pint or three and a half-drunken dip in the lake, and there ended our Portuguese adventure. Back to the Thames we flew.
Now, in between coffee refills, Buzz-Feed procrastination, multi-coloured highlighting and three-hour examinations, we find ourselves rowing some more. For now is when the racing season really begins.