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Last club crew standing

Christine Stokes shares her perspective from the bow seat of Lea R.C.'s Women’s Pair at Henley Women's Regatta, where they were highest placed club crew in the event.

Competing at Henley Women’s Regatta 2021 quite simply felt surreal! After numerous lockdowns, training at home and wondering if we’d ever compete again (dramatic I know!), Caroline and I were put together in the pair and had three months to see what we could do. Our first race was at Met regatta a few weeks previously but we weren’t sure what to expect at Henley. We’d heard of crews from other clubs contracting covid-19 so we were careful to restrict our movements in the two weeks leading up to Henley.

We turned up on the Friday morning for our time trial and there were signs everywhere saying ‘No cheering’ so it felt eerily quiet. Whereas in previous years you would have heard screaming for your own/ different clubs, there was polite clapping. It was weird.

Warming up, we were focused but unsure of how many loops to do. It turns out all the other pairs were the same. Everyone was watching each other and we had friendly words with our competitors.

We knew we were going to go as hard as we could - we’d built the trust there. But I reminded Caroline that we needed to go out and enjoy it and also remember how grateful we were to be finally racing at Henley.

The time trial was great - we went straight(ish) and did one of our best pieces. We came off the water feeling fulfilled and hungry for more. The draw gave us a 'by' which meant we wouldn’t be racing Tideway Scullers till late Saturday afternoon.

Saturday morning started with an early morning paddle where we practiced starts down the straight. We weren’t racing till 5.34pm so we went back to our Henley house, had breakfast and both went back to bed. Stretching, cheering on the other Lea boats on the live stream and eating more followed.

Turning up to compete so late in the day felt strange but we were ready. We sat on the start line next to the Tideway Scullers crew and I remember thinking just breathe and stay loose. We got off to a great start, took the lead and stayed in front the whole way. The verdict was ‘easily’. We were over the moon!

The semi-final came next on Sunday morning and we knew we had tough competition with UL. We went out as hard as we could but they were dominant throughout the race and beat us by three lengths. The compensation was that we were the highest placed club crew in the event.

Anyhow, we were absolutely ecstatic with our performance. We enjoyed every second of competing and loved being back at Henley. Henley 2022 here we come...

Special thanks go to Sam and David for all their hard work coaching us. There was sweat, tears, laughter, confusion, a couple of near-capsizes and everything else in between but all those miles at the Royal Docks having the coaches there really helped us to perform to our best.

Photos: Al Craigie.

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