Sophie Paine steps across the divide to trial with Cambridge University Women's Boat Club for the Women's Boat Race
On a busy afternoon at Goldie Boathouse, there was one person discreetly trying to avoid all the hullabaloo in the captain’s room only to be brought to centre stage.
“I did my undergad at Brown University which is where I learned to row,” says Sophie Paine, explaining how she arrived to study Cambridge University.
“It was was about where was the best place for me to continue both my academics, and my athletics, and Cambridge was the obvious choice.
“Interestingly, my mum went to Oxford, and she is across the room.”
Erica Paine was that person in the window seat looking out over the River Cam, very much in ‘rival’ territory at the home of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club.
She was in town from the family home in the Bahamas to visit her 22-year-old daughter, who is in the midst of trialing for the Blue boat to race in the Women’s Boat Race on Sunday, March 29.
Home is now the Bahamas, but in student days, Erica studied at Somerville College and also picked up an oar.
“In terms of rowing, the support I received from Cambridge, as I was looking at universities, was really good,” says Paine, who is studying an MPhil in management.
“I felt supported from the programme before I even got here and that support has continued throughout.
“My mum is very supportive of all the decisions I have made thus far in my life so she was completely 100 per cent supportive.
“The way she views it is that she will win either way. If I win, she will win. But if Oxford wins, it will be a win for her as well.
“She rowed for her college, so not to the level I’m doing now, but she had a crack at it.”
The level that Paine refers to is Great Britain, and the Under-23 Rowing World Championships, and she reached the standard in quite quick time.
Having grown up in the Bahamas – she holds Bahamian and British citizenship – she picked up an oar for the first time at the Ivy League Brown University on Rhode Island.
In her first year as a freshman, she was in the third varsity eight that placed second in the Ivy Championship, helping Brown finish first as a team.
The good performances continued throughout her undergraduate studies, which were in political science/education, with top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships and top three spots at the Ivy League Championships.
It was a quick transition last year from the NCAAs to the GB squad, with the culmination coming a day before flying to the UK and national training starting a day later.
“It’s a bit funky the way that it happens across the Atlantic,” says Paine.
“You do all of the testing remotely. What that involves is a series of erg tests and Pete Sheppard, the head of the [GB under-23] programme, came out to the US in the spring and did a tour of all the different places where he had athletes.
“He would spend a couple of days with each of us, just assessing our rowing and getting a general picture of who he had coming.”
Quite a number of rowers were coming across from the US, but they were initially unable to train out of Caversham as the senior GB squad were preparing for their world championships and the GB-based athletes had their commitments at Henley Women’s Regatta.
“After that, we did a series of seat racing which was the final trials and a period of about a week at Caversham,” says Paine.
“We definitely had a leg up because all the US-based athletes had been training for three or four weeks together by that point so we had an opportunity to test some combinations just casually.
“In my boat at least, seven of the eight rowers came from the US programme.
“We got our stroke from Oxford Brookes, who hopped in at the last minute so it was an interesting experience but a very positive one and I’m looking forward to going back to it.”
Success followed as, making the jump back across the Pond, Paine was part of the GB women’s eight that won the silver medal in the eight in Sarasota, Florida.
She is no longer eligible for the under-23s, but is hoping to be able to compete at the 2020 FISU World University Championships this year, and at Henley with Cambridge
Before then though, the immediate priority is the Boat Race.
Paine has already shown the ability to make the switch to new systems and training regimes, with the jump from Brown University to GB, and that has aided the adjustment to the Light Blues.
“What I found is that the rowing, training, scheduling and the way we do things over in the UK is very different from the way they do things in the US,” she explains.
“It was a big change for me going from a US-based programme to training with the GB team, but less of a change going from training with GB to Cambridge.
“What I have found is that the Cambridge system is very much modelled on the way that GB trains. The work-outs are very similar, it’s a similar system.”
And the atmosphere and overall environment at Goldie has helped her settle in with ease.
“The support has been incredible,” she says.
“The coaches look at you as more than just an athlete, you’re a person and that’s refreshing and new for me as well.
“It’s been great and we’ve had opportunities to race already and test our speed which has been successful so I think we will be well prepared for March 29.”
More by this authorMark Taylor