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Cambridge University Boat Club trialist Fred Gillard has a strong connection to the Light Blues

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Fred Gillard is treading in some famous family footsteps in trialling at Cambridge University Boat Club.

The physical natural sciences student is in his first year at Trinity Hall, and is also trialling with the Light Blues’ lightweights’ squad.

A former pupil of St Paul’s School, Gillard, 19, took up rowing six years ago.

Cambridge University Boat Club trialist Fred Gillard during his St Paul's days. Picture: Victoria Gillard
Cambridge University Boat Club trialist Fred Gillard during his St Paul's days. Picture: Victoria Gillard

“It was on offer at my school, and my dad is a rower as well, and my mum coxed. I thought I might as well give it a try,” he says.

“I enjoyed the guys around me and formed a close friendship group, and just carried on.

“The way they built it up at school, because obviously you’re not going to train to a high level when you are 15, they gradually bring on the intensity over the course of a good few years.

Cambridge University Boat Club trialist Fred Gillard during his St Paul's days. Picture: Victoria Gillard
Cambridge University Boat Club trialist Fred Gillard during his St Paul's days. Picture: Victoria Gillard

“You don’t really realise it at first, every single step you take seems like a little bit of an extra one.

“They change it gradually from ‘we want you to do these extra sessions’ to ‘these are more optional sessions’, but everyone still ends up doing the optional sessions.

“You feel like it is a sense of choosing to do it more. You get three years past when you started, and you wonder ‘how did I get here? I would never have dreamt of training at this level when I was 14 or 15’.”

There were plenty of highlights as well.

Gillard was part of the St Paul’s quad that qualified for the Fawley Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in 2018 and 2019, and was a member of the schools’ eight that was second at the Head of the Charles in Boston in 2019.

A year later, he returned to the United States for a special race.

Gillard’s father, David, rowed in the 1991, ’92 and ’93 Boat Races for Cambridge and was also chair of the Light Blues’ selection process in 2005.

He is still competitive having won the Veterans’ Head on numerous occasions and the masters’ categories at the Head of the Charles, and the father and son duo linked up two years ago.

“He is the reason I got into rowing in the first place – he said, ‘This is something I enjoy, why don’t you give it at a try’, and as St Paul’s has a really good rowing programme I thought why not, and it’s snowballed from there,” said Gillard.

“He still trains to quite an astonishing level for his age. In 2019 on my gap year, the Head of the Charles has an event called the parent/child doubles and I went out and raced with my dad out there.

“We came fourth. It was really good fun. It’s just really good fun racing with him in particular.

“It’s quite a special moment because it’s something he has done and enjoyed his whole life.

“My brother is into rowing and for my dad to have the opportunity to race with us, and for us to have the opportunity to race with him doing this thing he has enjoyed for so long is quite special.”

They are very different times between the father and son attending Cambridge, and that is not just in terms of generations – also in the backdrop of the pandemic.

But as Gillard points out when people ask if it is weird this season, while it may be so, he knows nothing different being a first year.

“It’s taking your time and making sure you get as fit as possible,” Gillard explains.

“Then, when we do get back into a boat we put ourselves into as good a position as we can to step back on it; Oxford are in exactly the same position.

“The Boat Race is always a race where you need to be more adaptable than most for rowing. You need to be prepared for a bunch of different scenarios to happen, and these are just different scenarios that have cropped up.”

Gillard already knew some of the lightweights squad from his St Paul’s days, and describes the group as “really solid guys”.

“I think it’s a pretty driven squad, a lot of really committed guys with a healthy level of competitiveness at the top end of it,” he says.

“There aren’t any guys in the squad who are just absolute monsters and really amazing. There are just a lot of really solid guys.”

Gillard added: “It’s a great privilege to be part of, and does make me think back how crazy it is that I’m in the same position my dad was 30 years ago rowing for the university.”

The lightweights boat race is set to be on Sunday, April 4.

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