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Cambridge University rowers use lockdown to take on Row Britannia charity challenge

CUWBC member Sophie Paine is taking part in the challenge in the Bahamas. Picture: Keith Heppell
CUWBC member Sophie Paine is taking part in the challenge in the Bahamas. Picture: Keith Heppell

Lockdown has not stopped rowers from Cambridge University finding their rhythm for a charity challenge – even from the far-flung Bahamas.

Members of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club have put the disappointment of having their Boat Race cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic behind them to pitch in for Row Britannia.

And they have joined forces with the lightweight men in their bid to clock up 2,020 miles (3,251km) to raise £3,000 as part of the initiative to promote mental health, fitness and wellbeing by the British Inspiration Trust (BRIT), as part of Sport Relief.

Wolfson College student Sophie Paine is one of the Light Blues’ squad contributing to the efforts which are all being done in the safety of their own homes – it is just that the 22-year-old is five hours away in the West Indies.

“Coming off the cancellation of the Boat Race was hugely disappointing and not knowing when the next time I will be in a boat will be, it’s really good to have a goal to work towards,” said Paine, who is studying an MPhil in management.

“Being so far across the Atlantic, it’s nice to know that every time I sit down on the erg I’m not just doing it for myself, I’m doing it for a good cause with the people on the team around me.

“When the Boat Race was cancelled, we didn’t know about this so I came home not knowing what was next, but then immediately had something to work towards.”

It was not mandatory for the Cambridge squads to take part, but as many as 30 from the CUWBC openweight and lightweight squads and lightweight men have signed up to the challenge.

“Having built such tight connections and feeling like such a big part of the squad and a collective identity, it’s hard to lose that overnight or feel it has been ripped out from under you,” said Paine.

“This is just one way of keeping the squad together, and I think that is hugely valuable for everyone, so it’s great.”

With each rower putting their data into a joint database, after eight days they had clocked up 872,000m, which was 26 per cent of the target, so they looked on course to go above and beyond the set distance.

Leading the way on individual mileage was Matt Edge, who had racked up an impressive 108,000m.

Being able to see what each other is achieving has an advantage for Paine, given the time-lag.

“It’s really fun as well as we have a spreadsheet that we all log our miles in so at any time you go onto the spreadsheet to see who has rowed that day, what they’ve done and then you always try to one-up the person who has done something,” she said.

“And I have an advantage being five hours behind the UK so I can wait until the end of the day to see what has been going on and contribute.”

The CUWBC rowers have so far not done a joint row on Zoom, although it is believed the lightweight men have done so, but Paine has been keeping up her fitness in other ways with her team-mates.

“I’ve been doing some circuits with some of the girls on Zoom so that is really fun,” she said.

“I’d never done that, worked out with people virtually, but this is the new normal so you have to adapt.”

On the importance of the charity aspect, she added: “Rowing is as much as a mental challenge as a physical one, so it’s only fitting that we should be part of this challenge that is raising mental health awareness in sport which is hugely important.”

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