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Cambridge 99 Rowing Club play key role in helping Phil Horton pursue Boat Race ambitions with Cambridge University Boat Club

Phil Horton at Cambridge University Boat Club's Goldie Boathouse. Picture: Keith Heppell
Phil Horton at Cambridge University Boat Club's Goldie Boathouse. Picture: Keith Heppell

When Phil Horton came to the University of Cambridge to study natural sciences, learning to row had always been a consideration.

“I had never rowed before Cambridge as I came for the academics. But I’m tall and lanky so I thought it would be something that I might be alright at,” says the 23-year-old Girton College student.

“I played a lot of hockey at school and fancied a change of sport. It turned out to be something that I had a bit of a knack for, or nice long limbs for!”

Those ‘long levers’ have certainly served Horton well since that initial visit to the freshers’ fair in his first week at the university.

Through Cambridge 99 Rowing Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club development squad, he is now in trialling to race in the Boat Race on Sunday, March 29.

It has been a rapid rise as the Town and Gown have combined to take Horton off the Cam for the first time, and seen him train alongside the likes of Olympic and World Championship rowers such as James Cracknell, Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk and Sam Hookway.

The progress in a college sense was instant, as Horton made the Girton first boat for the May Bumps in his first year and, looking to develop his craft, he turned to CUBC executive secretary Alister Taylor.

“In my second year I decided that as I was really enjoying the rowing, I wanted to take it a bit further,” explains Horton, who had an ambition to race for the university club and wanted to know the best way to go about it.

“I looked at ways I could do that and decided that, after talking to Al Taylor here, going to row at a town club would be quite a good thing to do.

“Girton Boat Club does not have that many resources, unfortunately.

“It’s a lovely place to row, but in order to further my rowing I decided I needed somewhere with a bit more rowing and funding.

“I decided to row for Cambridge 99 and that was absolutely fantastic.

“The guys there are brilliant and it was a really good way to move my rowing on.

“There are guys there that are very experienced rowers, have been rowing for a long time and it was just a bit more of a competitive environment.

“The standard of rowing was just higher basically, and when you’re training in an environment where everyone there is a lot better than you, it brings you on.

“It really pushed me on.

Nines have been making big strides in recent years, taking the men’s headship in the Town Bumps last year, and they regularly compete at regattas across the country.

This offered Horton the opportunity to race away from the Cam, an experience that helped when he became part of the CUBC development squad at the end of his second year where the benefits were huge to set him up for trialling.

“Going out to Ely, training out there, training alongside the guys that had just won the Boat Race was fantastic and brought me on massively,” said Horton.

“Rich Chambers, the [development] coach at the time, was fantastic as well and taught me a lot.

“The dev squad gave me a taste of what a high-performance rowing programme looked like.

“Rich said at the time that we were doing about 60 to 70 per cent of the volume that we do now in the full squad, and that even seemed quite a lot at the time.

“When I arrived in September, it was 11 sessions a week, lots of ergs, weights and rowing, it took a while to get used to.

“Even by the end of the season I hadn’t been properly conditioned for it, I think. Starting this season, it has definitely felt like 1) you know what to expect and 2) you’re body being that bit more resilient.

“This season has been a lot more ‘you’ve done it before, you know what it’s like’.”

Horton, who is now studying chemical engineering after taking the option to change at the end of his first year, joined forces with Harry Baxter to win the spares’ race last year.

But he admits that the transition to rowing has taken its time.

“When you’re a novice, there’s an awful lot that is thrown at you at once,” says Horton.

“It’s an entirely different language for one – there are all kinds of words and phrases, that if you don’t know what they mean it’s very confusing.

“Physiologically, I wasn’t an athlete when I came in.

“Yes, I played a lot of hockey but I wasn’t super fit or strong so there was picking that up, and all the skills and technique; so there was a lot to take in at once.

“I’ve only really started to get the hang of it in the last couple of years.”

And if Horton is able to go from a Girton novice to Blue boat rower in four short years, he will certainly have put those ‘long levers’ to
good use.

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