2015-16 Women’s Captain Claire Aitken talks about her time at GUBC.
When I started university 4 years ago I had never set foot in a boat before. I didn’t know anything about rowing, and certainly hadn’t considered it as something I might try. I knew I wanted to give a new sport a go, so I wandered the Freshers’ Week sports fair as an excited first year, keen to try everything. I knew a couple of people that were planning on giving rowing a go, so I joined them and I found myself on the way to the boathouse for my first ever shot in a boat. Little did I know that I was making the best decision I could have possibly made.
I don’t remember much about my first time in a boat, but I must have enjoyed it because I found myself going back. We spent the early weeks mastering the basic techniques involved in rowing, while doing some short sessions on the rowing machine, and our weekly novice circuits. I have a vivid memory of one particular session on the rowing machines, after we’d moved on from the technical sessions, and started doing some work on fitness. I remember pushing myself harder than I’d ever done in a sport before, yet looking at the girls around me and realising they were still going faster than me. I wish I could say that I took to rowing naturally, but that would definitely be a lie!
Novice Claire looking happy in the bow seat…and a little bit less happy during her first ever race!
I made my way through the first semester of training, but to my dismay I wasn’t getting picked for any boats. I was starting to think I really wasn’t good at this, but not one to back down from a challenge, I made it my goal to get into the first novice boat. Although perhaps ambitious given my apparent lack of talent, I threw myself at all the training, embraced all the hard sessions, and took on all the technical advice my coaches could give me. Second semester came around and suddenly I found myself in the 1st novice 8. Rowing is very much sport in which you get out what you put in, and that is something I love about it. You put yourself through so much difficult training on a daily basis, but you get immense satisfaction from seeing the improvements you gain from this.
By this point I had made some fantastic friends in the club, and was loving every minute of rowing. In the Boat Club you spend so much time training with your squad that it is so easy to make friends, and some of my best friends today are ones that I met rowing. You become a very close-knit unit, because when you race in a crew you are not only racing for yourself, but for those who you have trained alongside all year. A huge part of my rowing experience has also been the socials. Rowing socials are fantastic events where senior and novice squads mingle outside of training for big and often themed nights out. At the beginning of the year our weekly socials gave everyone a chance to meet, and let off some steam away from training.
Training camp at Inverness and first regatta medal at Strathclyde Park Regatta.
However as the year progresses, the training gets more serious and the socials have to take a back seat. The time comes when everything we do is aimed at making us fast. One of the highlights of rowing at GUBC is definitely the yearly Easter training camp. In my first 2 years this was held in Inverness, although now it is held in the slightly warmer Italy! This gives everyone the best possible opportunity to get out in the crews they will race in during summer, and get those boats moving as fast as possible. It is also a great bonding experience for the squads and club as a whole, and carries you through to summer racing in peak form. Summer racing, as I’m sure all rowers will agree, is the best part of the season. This is what our whole year of training leads up to. This is usually over a distance of 2km, and is a very exciting experience where you get to race side-by-side with other crews.
BUCS bronze in the beginner 8s and the 2013 (reserve) and 2014 (first) boat race crews (a win for both crews!)
I have had a few races which stand out as some of my proudest achievements. In my first year we won bronze in beginner 8s at the British University Championships (BUCS). This really motivated me to continue with the sport, and I can’t truly put into words the ecstatic feeling I had crossing that finish line. I also raced the championship pair at BUCS in my third year and won gold. This meant we were selected to represent the GB Universities rowing team in Hannover at the European University Championships, in which we came 6th. I was also chosen to represent Scotland for the first time that year at the Home International Regatta, which was a huge honour, and I came back with 2 gold medals to top it off. I was selected again this year, and managed to win the pair. I have won 3 out of the 4 Scottish Boat Races I have been a part of, in crews with very talented rowers. These are achievements that I would never have even dreamed of before starting the sport, and I have GUBC to thank for that.
In 2015 Claire won BUCS gold in the Championship Pair with Emma McDonald as well as winning 2 gold medals for Scotland in the 8+ and 4+ at Home International Regatta.
As with anything, rowing has had its tough times. You invest so much time and passion into it that your results mean everything to you, and with the wins comes disappointments. That is sometimes hard to deal with. However, when I think about the incredible crew mates that I am rowing for, and the progress that I have made as an individual, that really motivates me through it all.
In my time at GUBC the club has developed massively. In my first year it was entirely volunteer and student run, but in my second year we had the introduction of Andy Barton, our first paid coach. This development has continued, and we now have 2 more paid coaches and a fantastic network of volunteers that have led GUBC in a new and exciting direction, with more success than ever. The majority of people in the current senior squads learned to row at GUBC, and a record 15 GUBC athletes have represented Scotland this year. That is a testament to the hard work of every-one involved in the club.
2016: GUBC’s highest ever placing WEHORR crew, a win in the Scottish Boat Race and a gold medal with Rosanna Loy in the pair at HIR as part of the winning Senior Women’s Team.
I am now at the end of my final year, and I am so glad that I found rowing 4 years ago. It is a really rewarding sport which I am truly passionate about, and I will most definitely be carrying it on next year. GUBC has helped me learn and grow as a person, and I have made lifelong friends along the way. I couldn’t be prouder to have had the chance to represent such a fantastic club, and I wish everyone at GUBC the best of luck with everything to come.