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Olympians and Paralympians line-up to race for Oxford and Cambridge in virtual boat race to fundraise for Power2Inspire

Freddie Markanday and Power2Inspire founder John Willis. Picture: Clarie Borley Photography (36449147)
Freddie Markanday and Power2Inspire founder John Willis. Picture: Clarie Borley Photography (36449147)

The boat race with a difference will be staged by Power2Inspire this Saturday (June 13) at 3pm.

The first mch.london virtual boat race is being hosted by Give As You Live and supported by Small Films and GingerMay.

It will feature Olympic, Paralympic and club rowers representing teams from Oxford and Cambridge to raise money for Power2Inspire.

Sophie Paine, a member of this year’s Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club squad and silver medalist at the Under-23 Rowing World Championships, will be captaining the Light Blues.

She is joined in the crew by Rio Olympic gold medalist and old Blue Tom Ransley, 2019 Boat Race winner Pippa Whittaker, current Cambridge University Boat Club trialist and world junior silver medallist Ollie Parish and lightweights Freddie Markanday and Miranda Clements.

German Paralympic hopeful Jan Helmich, studying for a masters at Trinity Hall, and Renae Domaschenz, an Australian cox for their national PR3 mixed coxed four, make Cambridge’s perfect eight.

Captaining Oxford is Ollie Cook, the current world champion in the four and a member of the Dark Blues’ victorious Boat Race crew in 2017.

He recruited three-time Olympic champion Pete Reed, double Blue in 2004 and 2005, who is undergoing rehab from a spinal stroke.

Rio Paralympics gold medalist Grace Clough, Oxford University Boat Club president Alexander Bebb, lightweights Amy Hosking Jan Ole Ernst and OUWBC’s Martha Birtles and Amy Hosking complete the Dark Blues’ crew.

Cambridge and Oxford crews for virtual boat race. Picture: Power2Inspire (36411133)
Cambridge and Oxford crews for virtual boat race. Picture: Power2Inspire (36411133)

“Although this event has been in gestation for four years, its delivery has come together in a whirlwind two weeks,” said Power2Inspire founder John Willis.

“It was seeing the women competing in their Boat Race on the Thames, just before the men’s race, that inspired me to dream that we could create an inclusive race.

“And the success of the Power2Inspire Inclusive Festivals – including badminton, hockey, tennis and golf –encouraged me to find a way to make a rowing event with the same philosophy, to include people of different abilities participating together.

“The link with Cambridge Blue Fiona Macklin was crucial: she connected me to the Cambridge University Women’s and Lightweights Rowing Club and that led to a PowerHouseGames with them in 2019.

“The teams had to be matched and to be inclusive. We settled on two disabled rowers in each team, one male and one female, and overall an equal number of men and women – four of each.

“With lockdown and the cancellation of all the Boat Races – lightweights, women and men – there was an extra desire amongst the club rowers to be involved.

“Some real competition, and accessible from their own homes – the enthusiasm has been contagious.

Power2Inspire founder John Willis. Picture: Clarie Borley Photography (36449150)
Power2Inspire founder John Willis. Picture: Clarie Borley Photography (36449150)

“An unexpected challenge which makes this a truly global event is that the rowers are spread around the globe.

“Renae (Domaschenz) is based in Australia, Sophie (Paine) in the Bahamas and Jan Ole (Ernst) in Berlin.A fun problem to have. What has truly excited me has been the enthusiasm of all the rowers to be involved in something so inclusive.

“Grace (Clough) summed it up beautifully when she thanked me: ‘Thanks for having me involved, such a great thing to be part of and would love to be part of many more. It’s something close to me. Please let me know if you need anyone to speak or talk to the media about the importance of inclusion and sport for all. I’ve had my fair share of fights to be included and feel very privileged to have experienced a Paralympic Games and the power of sport and disability there'.

“There isn’t any sport she can compete in for her university, despite being a Paralympic champion. Creating opportunities like this and not just for disabled athletes, but for all, regardless of age, ethnicity, faith, gender or sexual orientation is crucial to creating a fairer world.

“I am proud that Power2Inspire is starting that journey, though I admit we have so far to travel.A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – at least we have started.”

The crews will race virtually, side-by-side, on rowing machines, with each crew rowing a collective distance of 6,838m.As they are rowing, all the scores from each crew are added together to create a combined boat score, and each has a fundraising target of £5,000.

It will be available to watch online at Power2Inspire’s Give as You Live page at 3pm BST – with an option for viewers to donate to the charity.

To donate to Cambridge, visit donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/cambridge-mch-virtual-boat-race. To donate to the Oxford crew, visit donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/oxford-mch-virtual-boat-race

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