We were thrilled that two recent Lea R.C. alumni helped Cambridge along to exciting wins at the 2023 Boat Race. Luca Ferraro stroked the men’s boat, and Rosa Millard – interviewed here – rowed in seat 2 in the women’s boat.
The Women's Boat Race was very exciting this year – was it always your ambition to row in it?
In all honesty, I didn’t think I would be good enough to even get a chance to get into the Blue Boat until about December of this season. Throughout my time at CUBC my goal has just been to make the boats I’m in as fast and as enjoyable as possible.
Photo credit: Vicky Gillard @bakergillard
Last year, you stroked the Lightweight crew to victory. How did this year’s race differ?
Internally, you’re doing the same thing: racing down the championship course, executing your race plan and making sure you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing. The main difference is the attention the races get; the Lightweight Race only has a couple of hundred spectators along the bank, whereas the openweight race has a quarter of a million people on the banks, and millions more on the TV.
How did you transition between the two boats?
We use telemetry, so I had to prove I could produce the same power (watts) as openweights. I had to win a series of seat races to move up the rankings and eventually into the Blue Boat. The main factor in becoming openweight was producing consistent power and making the boats I was in as fast as possible.
How does university rowing and training differ from club rowing?
It is much easier to fit the training in, contrary to popular opinion! At the Lea I had a long commute between school, home and the club. In Cambridge, our land facilities are a five-minute cycle from college, and while the Boathouse is in Ely, 16 miles away, the club is efficient in getting us to and from there. The fundamentals are the same though: keep turning up, push hard and stay positive.
How important has moving to the Tideway been for the profile and prestige of the Women’s Boat Race?
It has been essential. CUBC does a great job in making sure the women’s and men’s squads are on the same level and we are one of the top women’s programmes in the country. On the team, we don’t call it the ‘Women’s Boat Race’ because the men’s race isn’t called ‘The Men’s Boat Race’. So, I was disappointed to see that 80 percent of the newspaper coverage was about the men’s race and not the women’s, even though we won — and by a bigger margin! Seeing the external reaction to the races makes me realise there is more to be done to make sure the women are getting the recognition they deserve.
In 2020 Cambridge integrated the Mens’, Women’s and Lightweight squads under one umbrella —CUBC. What difference has this made to the competitiveness of Cambridge boat club?
The main thing it has done is start to remove some of the prejudice around the Women’s and Lightweight races. We all train under the same name and for the same club, which helps to ensure that there is no squad hierarchy.
What were you thinking about mid-race?
We had a very detailed race plan and mid-race I was thinking about what our focus was for the next 20 strokes. We were such a competitive crew that even when Oxford was almost a length up on us, I had total faith in our rhythm and our baseline speed. At that moment I thought ‘this isn’t ideal’ but having practiced being down lots before we were well-versed in walking through a crew.
What is your keenest memory about the day?
Walking out of the boat house. We had a countdown from 10 before they opened the bay doors of Thames RC and when we walked out the noise was deafening. I remember seeing my dad and my friends and they were smiling and everyone was cheering.
Photo credit: Nordin Catic @nordincatic
You started rowing at Lea RC - what do you remember most about your time here?
Going out in all sorts of crews with all sorts of rowers — we really did everything. I remember Tom Johnson used to bring us heavenly Cardamom buns from his daughter’s bakery for the occasional evening session and I also remember sitting in the freezing crew room of the old boat house eating flapjacks my dad had made for us.
What do you think you learned at Lea RC that you were able to bring to the Boat Race?
Adaptability. Paul Carter, Orhan Kephalas and my dad, Dick Millard, were all advocates of single sculling and pairs, so we did lots of boat hopping. You had to be able to row with everyone and make the boat you were in as fast as possible. The Lea definitely toughened me up. I remember we used to go out in a singles flotilla when I was 13 with lots of J17s and J18s, and they would set us off first. I remember pushing so hard not to be overtaken, which was of course inevitable when you’re 13, but the coaches at the Lea encouraged us to challenge the idea that just because you were smaller you were going to be slower.
What’s your secret to going fast in a boat?
I don’t think there’s any ‘secret’ as such. However, it’s important to remember you aren’t always going to be the strongest in the boat. I try to allow those who are super strong to row in a way that allows them to put down the most power, even if this isn’t how I would like to row. Also, always listen to the coaches, they are telling you to make improvements for a reason. Lastly, make sure people enjoy rowing with you!
How do you motivate yourself when you feel like slacking off?
I always think ‘might as well’. If you have the chance to be in the top boat for a session, you might as well make your time in it as good as possible and make it as fast as possible. On the other hand, if you’re in a crew you perhaps don’t want to be in, you might as well make your time in it enjoyable and surprise people with how fast it could go.
What’s next for your rowing career?
I want to give Beach Sprints a go. I did it last summer, but unfortunately messed up my rib before I got a proper chance, so that is my goal for the next few weeks.
When you go back to Cambridge after Easter, what do you go back to in terms of rowing vs academic work?
It is exam term so really have to get working now. Rowing-wise, I will be in my college First Boat, for the inter-collegiate race of the year, the May Bumps, This involves being set off in divisions, 1.5 boat lengths apart, with the aim of catching (‘bumping’) the crew in front of you. If you do that on all four days of racing you win your ‘Blades’.
What’s the best bit about rowing?
The changing room chats after a session, talking about peoples’ latest dates, dinner plans, how work is going or having a debrief after a party. With rowing,. when you’re in the moment waking up at 5am and rushing around,. you don’t sometimes appreciate how lucky you are to be doing it, but when you look back on a season you’re filled with nostalgia.
And the worst?
When rowing is getting so overwhelming that it can infiltrate your everyday life. You don’t want to be thinking about seat racing in the middle of a lecture.
Photo credit: Cambridge Women’s Blue Boat in The Boat Race by Mike Taylor
Anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to say thank you so much to Lea R.C. for supporting myself, Molly, and Luca throughout our time at the club and now at Cambridge. And an extended thank you to Paul Carter, Orhan Kephalas, Tom Johnson, Martin Cambareri, Richard Peckham, Gabor Marton, and to my dad, Dick Millard for giving up so many hours to come and coach us.
Coda: Two further Lea members raced that weekend, Molly Foxell in the victorious Blondie crew, and Lebby Eyres stroking the Oxford Vets Women’s boat; sadly, after a hard fought battle, they were unable to beat their light blue counterparts.