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Ashton Brown helps chart Cambridge University through historic period

Cambridge University Womens Boat Club president Ashton Brown.
Cambridge University Womens Boat Club president Ashton Brown.

President sees changing times at Women's Boat Club

Ashton Brown has been part of one of the most eventful and significant chapters in the history of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club.

And not only does she have the stories to go with it, she has recovery from pneumonia to show for her efforts for the Light Blues.

The 28-year-old Canadian won her maiden Blue in the year that the Women’s Boat Race moved to join the men on the Championship Course on the Tideway for the first time.

Her second Blue was earned this year, when the Light Blues bravely battled on to finish against the odds after they had struggled to stay afloat with the water coming into the boat quicker than the pumps could get it out.

Now in her third year, and as president, Brown has seen CUWBC join forces with the men’s heavyweight and lightweight squads to move into the boathouse at Ely – marking a sizeable change in the facilities available to the squads.

That she is back firing on all cylinders is a testament to Brown’s tenacity in being able to balance the demands of her studies for a PhD in education and battling back from the side effects suffered on the ravages of the River Thames last spring.

“We got a little wet during the Boat Race and I was in bow seat which meant quite a few waves broke over my head,” said Brown.

“I didn’t think much of it until I got quite ill later in the week, and was having trouble breathing. I went to A&E and they told me I had aspirational pneumonia from inhaling dirty water.

“They asked if I’d had a near drowning experience, and well I guess I had. I still didn’t really believe it until they showed me a chest X-ray and I was like I’ll be fine.

“I even tried to come back rowing a week later, which was a disaster – I’m that stubborn!

“It was probably about four weeks completely out of things, which was tough for my PhD because I had planned on doing a lot that week.

“It coincided with the summer so I used the summer to ease back into things.”

While recuperating Brown was elected president of CUWBC, where she is joined on the junior committee by Imogen Grant and Ellie Hopgood, and she has been impressed by the quality of the squad this year.

They have enjoyed some good results during the Michaelmas Term, which will no doubt carry them through the winter months.

“Preparations are going pretty well for us,” she said.

“We have a really strong squad this year and there’s a lot of positive momentum from some of the returnees from last year, getting the people that are new to Cambridge excited and on board with things.

“I’ve had a really great junior committee with Imogen and Ellie, and so far things are going well but there’s a lot that can happen between now and the race so we just keep pushing every day.”

One significant change this season has seen the squad boat out of the new facility at Ely.

Brown has a vast amount of rowing experience from around the world, but ranks the new Cambridge boathouse up with the best around.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of boathouses in the years that I’ve rowed, and I think this is one of the nicest definitely.

“It’s really well done in the way that it matches the local environment without just being an eyesore, and it’s really thoughtful.

“To have the three clubs together for the first time is something that’s been a long time in the works.

“All three of the presidents are excited about working together on other things, and the heavyweight men and women have been training together at Goldie in Cambridge for a few years now and there has been a lot of positives connected with that.

“And now that the lightweight men are joining us it will bring everything full circle.

“So a few times Lance (Tredell) and I have met this year and we’ve invited Jamie (Brown) because he is the third president.

“We’re the people that most understand each other in Cambridge, and there is a lot to be learned from each other – some of it simple stuff like access to training facilities in Cambridge or different resources we can share.

“But some of it is just the positive momentum of having over 100 people pushing towards a common goal versus several pockets of 20 to 30.”

She added: “The thing that strikes me about the boathouses is that it’s a tangible monument to something that is really special about Cambridge rowing, that the alumni care so strongly and so deeply about it.

“The boathouse brings that momentum from the three clubs together and gives us a bit more awareness of the history of some of the other clubs.

“Instead of having three separate histories, we’ve now got this really powerful combined history.”

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