Our Henley Royal Regatta campaign started two weeks before the start of the actual regatta, in Düsseldorf, Germany. We trained in Germany for two weeks, in an effort to get away from any potential distractions at home and to focus solely on rowing and finding as much speed as we possibly could. It was the first time in Germany for most of us, and it was a great experience for all of us. As the two weeks came to a close, everybody in our group was itching to get to England, to finally start racing against some of the best in the world.
After a quick flight, we said hello to our home for the week: England! The next day, Monday, we awoke eager and excited to go to the course for the first time. It was the start of ‘Henley week’ and there was a lot of activity in and around the course as last minute preparations were underway. Big grandstands were put in place for spectators to cheer on the races, party-style tents were assembled along the bank of the river, and the grass was perfectly cut to impress all visitors to the regatta.
The days leading up to our first race were very exciting. With each practice, we became more comfortable with the course and the surroundings. The course at Henley Royal is very unique, as spectators could be as close as an arm length away at any point in the race. This is very different from what we are accustomed to back in St. Catharines where the spectators are on the shore.
Racing started on the Wednesday, but due to our success on our side of the Atlantic, we were given a bye to go directly to the second round, and would race the winner of Star Club and York City. We went to the course on Wednesday to experience Henley in full swing, and to watch how the racing occurred. The experience and atmosphere of Henley was indescribable, undoubtedly unlike any event that any of us have ever attended. There were men in fancy suits and ladies in the wildest of hats. As it turned out, Star Club beat York City by a comfortable margin, so we went to bed knowing who we were racing the next day.
The next day, Thursday, our race was slotted for 6:45pm, one of the last of the day. Before we went out to race, Coach Jason reminded us that while this is a very prestigious regatta with a very distinct atmosphere, we need not panic, he told us the water here was just like the water back home, and the oars and boat were exactly like the ones we have back in St. Catharines. He calmed us down so we could perform to the best of our abilities. As the race unfolded, ‘the big Canadian lads’ as said by the British commentators had a comfortable lead passing the halfway mark of the race. We jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. The margin of victory was determined to be ‘Easily’ (more than 5 lengths) by the officials.
In our second race, the quarterfinals, we raced Nottingham Rowing Club. While they were smaller than us, we had to be careful not to underestimate them. After the first 5 strokes, we found ourselves down by about half a boat length. We are typically a very fast starting crew, so we were shaken up when we realized that we weren’t leading after the start. However, our crew is comprised of 4 excellent and very disciplined racers, so we didn’t let the surprising start get the better of us. Instead, we put our head down and went to work. By the halfway mark of the race, we were now leading by roughly half of a boat length, which isn’t very much. As we approached the finish of the race, Nottingham started charging at us and passed us with about 10 strokes to go. But there was no way that we were going to allow another boat to walk right through us, so we pushed right back and ended up pulling ahead and crossing the line first. Our first reaction after the race was frustration that we didn’t win by more, but then came to the realization that this wouldn’t be like the other regattas we have attended, where we’ve have boat lengths on the next fastest crew. That quarterfinal race was very difficult, so we were fortunate to have another late race (6:00pm) the following day.
Our semi-final race pitted us against The Windsor Boys School, the surprise boat of the regatta so far. While the result was not what we would’ve hoped for, our boat had the best race we could’ve asked for, and we were satisfied with that. Coach Jason and Coach Winston have always told us that the goal is to have the best you can have, and if you get beat, there is celebration in that. The Windsor Boys School was a very good crew, and rightfully earned a berth in the final.
That was the last time that any of us would wear the ‘R’ on our chest, and we wore the orange and black unisuits with pride, after having represented Ridley on the world stage. It was an incredible year for all of us, not without its ups and down. The overall experience was definitely worth all of the time and effort that was invested in these past 10 months.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip, and year, a huge success, including our coaches Jason and Winston, our families for cheering us on and supporting us, Ridley for allowing us to represent them at an international event, the Ridley alumni, and everybody else who made a difference this year, we appreciate your support.
Row Blacks Row.
Cosmo Steier is from the Niagara Region and attended the Ridley College Lower and Upper School. He was a part of the first graduating class of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Ridley College. In September he will be attending the University of Pennsylvania and will be on the Men’s Heavyweight Rowing Team.