Walbrook Rowing Club won the Senior Double Sculls at Henley Women’s Regatta in June 2012. This was not only exciting for Karen and Flo, but also for Diane who had also helped with their coaching and was retiring as Chairman of Henley Women’s Regatta on it’s 25th anniversary – a fairy tale ending or just one part of an exciting journey?
The conditions at Henley were atrocious with a very strong stream (the race is upriver!) and a massive headwind (gusting at 40 mph!). At the last minute there were changes to the order of racing to allow racing to proceed in the conditions and the double needed to come in the top 8 out of over 20 crews to reach the knock out stages. With Waladdin polished and nicely re-taped and looking as good as new (thanks Giles and Barry), the girls boated for the time trial. Due to problems in the warm up area due to the stream, the marshalls had started the time trial before Walbrook had even crossed the course to start warming up, 20 minutes early. There was no panic in the Walbrook crew though as they had had to race ‘cold’ at Reading Regatta the week before (where they lost in the final) and so just followed instructions and set about proving that they were good enough to be there. Their first 1000m was, in their own words “awesome” but as they hit the last 500m the wind picked up and the boat almost stopped dead – but they kept battling into the wind (at a speed 40 seconds per 500m slower) not allowing the elements to defeat them. So it was an anxious wait to hear who had qualified for the afternoon’s race.
Qualification into the last 8 was just relief. Now the real job was to start. Friday afternoon and round 1 (or a quarter-final to be precise) and the girls lined up next to a Leeds University and Sheffield University composite. This was an unknown crew so the start was ferocious but by the end of Temple island the Walbrook boat had complete control and led the composite rowing in “Team Jamaica”, which should have been our boat! The race was a bit processional but it was good to progress to the last 4 and the semi-final on Sunday morning.
By Sunday, the conditions had improved a little and first up was a Maidenhead RC crew in the semi-final. The opposition had been in a semi-final at HWR last year in a quad and the stroke lady is one of the most medalled people at HWR ever so it was never going to be a simple affair. However, the real ‘Team Jamaica’ once again took control of the race and watched Maidenhead fighting for their lives in their wash (the umpire was having a great time with the flag!). Too little too late and Walbrook had reached the HWR final at 3:05pm and appeared live on the BBC Rowing World Cup coverage!
There was no time to celebrate the win and instead it was time to recover ready for the big race in a few hours time. The final was against a Reading RC/Wycliffe crew who are experienced oarswomen but there was always hope as we had managed to beat them at the Met regatta a few weeks previously. As we waited for the start it became a psychological battle; were we going to let those women take our medals home with them? Would we ever live up to losing to an older crew? Did we want to be given that medal by Sir Steve Redgrave? Did we want to wait a whole year more for a chance at Glory?
After some terrible steering off the start (from both crews) and an almighty push from the composite, Walbrook made a mighty move off the end of Temple island and took the lead and gradually edged away through the middle of the race to gain clear water. It seemed like the whole crowd was behind Walbrook (Diane obviously roused some good support!) and so there was no way that we were going to lose. The last 500m was tough as the composite wound for home and we attempted to hold our lead and not do anything that could lose us the race in the choppy water and wind. They pushed back at us but we were in control and were ready to step the rate up if needed but luckily the finish line came too soon! What a novice pot for Karen!
Who knows what the future will bring, but with a massive points top up and having to step up to race in the elite category next year, there will be a lot of work needed over the winter to enjoy success in the future. It was a brilliant result for a crew which came together in the last month but is goes to show that if you train hard all year and really commit to winning you can achieve things that others think are impossible. What a result for Walbrook!
Many thanks to everyone who helped the club achieve this: John and Diane, Giles, Barry, Jock, Phil and everyone else who supported us along the way.