I am A Rower ...
LISTEN TO MARK’S STORY
“As soon as I started rowing, it raised my aspirations. Rowing is full of absolutely driven, successful people and that just rubbed off on me.”
I went to a pretty rough comprehensive in Hackney and at that time London schools were run by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). The ILEA had decided that state schools should become rowing schools and compete with the private schools, so our PE teacher took us down to the rowing club and I loved it right from the very beginning.
My dad had been part of Oxford House in his youth, an East End club set up by Oxford University, again to give poorer children rowing experience, and he’d taken me to watch the Boat Race as a boy, so rowing had always been shown to me to be possible. In those days, the Lea RC was made up of 12 affiliated clubs, including the Bus Drivers’ Association, the Police Association and the Civil Service Association.
Our crew turned the whole ‘rowing is a privileged sport’ thing on its head and we won everything: the British Championships, National Schools – and I found a really good group of friends. It was funny being a group of white working class, black and Cypriot boys walking around regattas where everyone else was wearing blazers and flannels.
As soon as I started rowing, it raised my aspirations. I decided to become a teacher and met loads of people that have influenced my life, including my wife. Rowing is full of absolutely driven, successful people and that just rubbed off on me. I wanted to be an international rower but at 5’8” I was too small. I tried and tried and after five years, I ended up being a Great Britain international. That planning to get better and better over a long period is something that rowing gives you.
I retired from rowing in 1985, but tonight, I’ll go to the pub and there will be 10 people there I’ve known since 1970. Once a rower always a rower – all we talk about is rowing, even though most of them haven’t been down the club for a long time.
What’s surprised me about rowing has always been how happy I’ve been down at the river. We are a huge, vibrant group of people at the Lea and I love that. But what I want to do as a coach is re-establish it as a top rowing club too. The greatest experience you can have is to wear a gold medal around your neck as the national anthem plays. Now when I see our youngsters competing at World Championships, standing on podiums, it brings me to tears sometimes because I’m so proud.