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Not a piece of cake

Fran Franchi describes her lockdown journey from rowing-themed gingerbread to a medal-winning performance at the 2021 World Rowing Indoor Championships

Lockdown has done strange things to people. I was happy enough when I won the biscuit challenge with my gingerbread single sculler for the Lea R.C. Virtual Bake-Off last April. I never expected to find myself a medal winner in the World Rowing Indoor Championships the following year!

As I have an erg at home, dusted regularly and viewed with suspicion from time to time, club coach Louise Nickerson suggested I enter BRIC last December, as a focus for my training. I agreed and the preparation began. Having successfully completed that challenge, it seemed to follow naturally that I should enter the WRIC, and the training intensified. Lou was right, it did focus the mind and made it easier for me to commit to consistent training.

The virtual training sessions that the Women Club Masters have organised during lockdown helped enormously; it’s hard to believe that we’ve completed almost a year of Wednesday night circuits, started by vice-captain Rosie Anness and then continued by Sarah Rimassa from the women’s squad. Lou’s early morning sessions for the Jewish Ladies, open to all women, are a great start to the day and leave plenty of time for a second session later in the day.

WRIC was only my second indoor rowing race and both have been virtual so I haven’t experienced the buzz of a big arena with loads of other competitors and spectators. My erg sits in an office/studio at the bottom of the garden. Wednesday was a nice sunny day so it was good to be able to have the doors open and to look out into the garden, although once the race started there wasn’t much of that.

The organisation of these events is awesome. Competitors link their ergs to a computer so that the monitor is taken over by the race organisers, and also have to provide a live video feed, for me via my phone. This was almost the most stressful part of the day, making sure I logged in on time and that the video could see from my head to my feet and the whole stroke from catch to finish. I thought it might be hard to compete, being on my own in virtual silence, but once in the groove, it was relatively easy to keep going.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to beat Marjorie Roome, that woman is phenomenal, but thought I might be able to beat the other competitor. Both women started strong and fast, and Marjorie just powered away. I was tempted to go harder but had Lou’s advice in my head and kept my nerve and tried to execute my race plan. Once I had edged into second place, I just kept working to stay there and maybe put a little more distance between us. And I am delighted that I achieved that! I would never have wished for lockdown, but I’m pretty sure I would never have done an indoor rowing race without it!

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