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Freya Sutcliffe switches from Cantabrigian Rowing Club to trial for Cambridge University Women's Boat Club for the Lightweights' Boat Race

Freya Sutcliffe in training at Goldie Boathouse. Picture: Keith Heppell
Freya Sutcliffe in training at Goldie Boathouse. Picture: Keith Heppell

Freya Sutcliffe is almost home from home at Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club.

The first year medicine student took up rowing on the River Cam but unlike many who progress through the squad, not via one of the colleges.

Sutcliffe is a homegrown product of Cambridge having taken up the sport on a Learn to Row course at Cantabrigian Rowing Club.

“I thought it would be something fun to try, I did it on the Cam and really enjoyed it,” said the Jesus College student.

“Cantabs have a really good junior programme which is very much about getting stuck in and as many people out there as possible.”

That was only four years ago, and Sutcliffe has thrived.

She was part of the Cantabs eight – rowing as Hills Road Sixth Form – that finished seventh at the Schools’ Head, the first time the club had earned a spot in the top 10 against all of the London schools.

She was also in the quad which was fourth at the British Junior Championships, and fifth in the eight.

On arriving to study at Cambridge, Sutcliffe was unsure whether it would be possible to combine the academics with trialling for the Light Blues.

“Medicine was the big aim, but I wasn’t sure whether I could actually physically do medicine and rowing because the contact hours are so big,” she said.

“There were lots of other medics here that said ‘Yes, you can do it, you’ve just got to be insanely organised and a little bit bonkers’.

“It’s been such a big learning curve, I’ve learned so much and you make such close friends as well because you are in such an intense environment.

“It’s been great, amazing. It’s been a big commitment, exhausting but really good fun.”

Freya Sutcliffe at Goldie Boathouse. Picture: Keith Heppell
Freya Sutcliffe at Goldie Boathouse. Picture: Keith Heppell

Having only just made the step out of junior rowing, Sutcliffe has noticed the impact of the training schedule.

She has gone from training five times a week to up to 13 sessions, and feels fitter and stronger as a result.

“Everyone progresses and with the lightweights we’re quite lucky in that we’ve got a squad of 12 which is the squad size we’re aiming for anyway,” said Sutcliffe.

“It’s about the whole squad stepping on and making those leaps and bounds rather than individuals. There’s an interesting thing about trialling where people think it’s about who comes out on top, but it’s really not.

“The culture is very much, as a unit, we want the whole squad to move further and be better.”

It is also a landmark year for the lightweights. They will be moving from Henley Boat Races to the Tideway to race on the same day as the men’s lightweights, on Sunday, March 15, with Interactive Investor sponsoring the races.

The men’s and women’s lightweights and women’s openweights all train together, which is a big benefit, according to Sutcliffe.

“It means that it really pushes each other on,” she said.

“It means Blondie and the lightweights can do side-by-side rowing in training sessions.

“It means we really get used to being side-by-side with other people, and I think that is really good practice for Trial VIIIs and the Boat Race; you get used to the pressure of having other people right there.”

Sutcliffe will be hoping that practice makes perfect for the Light Blues, for the lightweights on March 15 and the openweights on March 29.

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