Larkin Sayre has home goals for Cambridge University Women's Boat Club in the Boat Race
You imagine that growing up in Cambridge is ideal for anyone with even the slightest inclination to take up rowing.
Not so Larkin Sayre.
She may have first picked up an oar in Cambridge, but it was 3,266 miles away in the US equivalent. And hopping across the Pond has been something of a theme for the No 4 in the Cambridge Blue boat.
Originally from Seattle, the 24-year-old first arrived on these shores aged eight, when her father – a radiologist – came to this country for work.
“When you’re a radiologist and you’re reading x-rays and you’ve just pulled a 12-hour shift and you’re tired, you might miss some horrible tumour,” said Sayre.
“They want you to be more alert, so we literally moved to the UK for the time difference.
“There was a time zone that we could move to and they picked England, and then Cambridge. I’m very glad they did, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Sayre attended St Faith’s – of which she says “I absolutely loved it there, it was my pinnacle” – and then went on to the Stephen Perse Foundation.
Without a rowing team at the school, she focused her attentions on netball and hockey primarily, but also a wide range of other sports. Yet still resisted the urge to get into a boat.
It was only after heading back Stateside to do mechanical engineering at MIT that there was the temptation to try something new.
“My dad would always tell me ‘rowers, those are the ones who are the most athletic, those are the guys who are crazy, they will work until they throw up, they are the best of the best’,” says Sayre.
“So I thought, I want to do that because I like doing difficult things – it’s a little bit masochistic.
“I started as a freshman. My randomly assigned room-mate was a rower so she said come to the barbecue and I talked to the assistant coach who said you’re decently tall and I took to it and never looked back.”
Sayre became captain of the MIT rowing squad for two years, and that brought about its own challenges.
Sport in the college system is split into divisions in the NCAA, and MIT was ranked as a Division Three school overall, but were in Division One for rowing.
So they did not have the funding that other schools received, and at times Sayre was having to scramble to fill two crews.
“It was an uphill battle, as nobody goes to MIT to row,” sh
explains. “People go to MIT for academics and MIT, the same as Cambridge, refuses to lower their academic standards for recruits.
“We would always get these great rowers who would want to come to MIT but then they wouldn’t get in. Or they would get in, and then it would be really hard to just stay on top of their school work.
“Other schools get a ton of free kit, and we were given one unitard every year and you had to give it back at the end of the year and have it washed and cleaned.
“I feel like I have had more of a bootstrap approach.”
Sayre, who is doing a PhD in material science looking at high efficiency solar cells, found it quite a transition from MIT to Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club.
It brought about a different type of challenge and focus, with raised expectations and standards.
The calibre of oarswomen meant that Sayre was in the winning reserve Blondie crew last year, but it helped her to go through the trialling process for a second time.
“The MIT rowing squad is a great team but we struggled with resources and it wasn’t the high level that it is here,” she says.
“Here I’m rowing with Ida (Gortz Jacobsen) who went to the world championships and there is just incredible talent in this team.
“I wanted to see how far I could get with the rowing and this squad has really drawn me up with it, which is really exciting.
“Both years are incredibly strong and fighting to get a seat in that boat is really difficult.
“Last year I was in the reserve crew which I was so proud of, but I really wanted to be in the Blue boat, which everybody does.
“I looked at it and on stroke side to get into the Blue boat you would have to either beat a two-time world champion, she is now three-time world champion, Olivia Coffey; or Alice White, or Thea Zabell, or Imogen Grant, all of whom have been to under-23 world championships.
“And Imogen is a bronze medalist at the seniors.
“It’s such an incredible calibre, it’s so exciting, just to even be considered is an honour.
“At MIT I trained maybe seven times a week, and then all of a sudden I was training 12 times a week so I almost doubled my training volume so I got very injured last year.
“My body has adapted, I’m fitter, stronger and my body has changed a lot since I started doing this and thankfully has adapted well.
“My split times are so much lower – I used to steady state at a very different power output and now I can just maintain so much more because the women around me are all doing it.”
With her long-standing ties to Cambridge, spending half her life here, helping them to victory in the Boat Race on April 7 would be special for Sayre.
“It means a lot to me, this is my home and rowing has given me so much,” she says.
“When I started at MIT I was absolutely terrified and I thought they had made a mistake letting me in, and I didn’t think they would let me in, but rowing made me feel strong.
“I was fit and it was this group of women who were immediate friends and nice to me, so it would mean so much to me, everything.”