Shrewsbury School

Giles Bell's Team of the Week

Friday 7 March 2014

This week - Rowing.

This is not an easy subject for me to tackle and I am not sure why my editor suggested it. She knows I avoid rowing and any other scenes of confrontation where possible; although I was quite tempted to have a go at her today! It was suggested that I talk to Athol Hundermark as he is apparently well qualified in rowing (as one would expect, being Shrewsbury’s Director of Rowing), although I have always found him to be most amenable – unlike some other South African sports stars I could mention.

In general Shrewsbury is quite a peaceful place and there are very few rows that I am aware of. It is true that I was quite irritated with some of my Lower Sixth Form students, who recently showed more interest in the rain falling on the classroom window panes than in my exposition of the Cosmological Argument. Even then I did manage to avoid a major row. Indeed the only row I have had of late is with my five-year-old son Reggie over musical differences in terms of which Womble song should be listened to next. I found myself being quite stern with Reggie, which resulted in a walk along the river in an effort to take my mind to calmer waters; it was here I saw several other sterns and realised I had made a major error of interpretation!

The English language can be so confusing! In a flash of inspiration I have just realised that I was not detailed to concentrate on bad tempered confrontations but on what is happening on the Severn and other significant puddles, or waterways. For those blessed with the ability to catch or kick a ball, rowing has often been associated with the Severn Bore, but I hope in this article to explode that mean-mouthed myth once and for all! Rowing at Shrewsbury is fun, inclusive, builds character and self-confidence, as well as muscle, and is a path to University entrance success – especially in America.  Tom Marshall is one of numerous Salopians to have entered the hallowed portals of Harvard because of his prodigious rowing talent. Harvard, according to today’s Telegraph, is the world’s foremost University. Schools that do not offer rowing as a sport thus lack an extra arrow in the quiver when it comes to trying to hit the bull’s eye of the University world! (Darts will be covered soon!)

I have always found the river to be a slightly stressful place when accompanied by my blind dog Ted. But with Ted safely tied up and well away from the river bank, I was able to relax to the beats that were pumping out of the Boat House stereo at quite a high decibel level. If you have not visited the Boat House recently, you should! It has been newly refurbished and is now a most impressive facility. I arrived to find that a weights session was going on. This did not mean that squad members were waiting to speak to their coaches, although some were. This was serious weight lifting and conditioning. I could have joined in but did not want to be accused of showing off. (I am afraid that it has to be said that I am closer to an East European weightlifter in look than I used to be!) There were athletes and coaches everywhere.

The first coach I collared was Nathan Williams who is in charge of the girls’ crew. He was very upbeat about the chances of success this year and extremely impressed by the progress the squad as a whole is making. He told me that Francesca Molyneaux (EDH UVI) and Lettie Tay (MSH LVI) have the making of an awesome pair and that Claudia Kimpton-Smith (EDH LVI) is also a very talented oarswoman. He paid tribute to the work put in by Poppy Crowe (EDH UVI) and Izzy Diment (EDH UVI) among others and said it was a joy working with such a positive group of students.

Rob Wilson was next to suffer an inquisition. He is coaching the under-16s and delighted that the top squad can now boast five crews, including two under-16 crews. He is hoping that his crews will perform well at the Schools’ Head in London later this month. The event has been pushed back a couple of weeks as there has been two much water for training purposes.

I found Charlie Johnston (R LVI) looking much more alert on a bench press than in my lessons. He told me that he loved rowing as he had never been a keen ball sportsman and had now found a way of staying fit and being part of a team. He enjoys the excellent facilities and the camaraderie of the training room. He is hoping for a good season in the second boat and certainly seemed focused and inspired.

Will Dodson-Wells (SH UVI) was effusive about the Boat Club. He is loving being in the 1st VIII and is hoping to win some silverware this year. He told me he thinks that Mr Hundermark likes speed and winning; he seemed to think these ideas might be important for his crew to take on board – unlike water! Will is also enjoying the prospect of rowing in a brand new boat. “It is important to be able to keep up with the others,” he suggested. And go past them, Will? Certainly Mr Hundermark is excited by the new boat. He told me it is a very high spec boat from Germany. The riggers are carbon fibre and that helps maintain a rigidity that is important. Too much flexibility is a bad thing and tends to happen to ageing boats. 

Mr Hundermark has been frustrated by the weather as many have been this year. He is delighted to finally be preparing his crews for some racing this weekend at Runcorn Head, where the main rivals will be a King’s School Chester crew that are apparently flying at present – I am not convinced by that type of training! As far as the Head of the River prospects go, Mr Hundermark is cautiously optimistic… He admits to enjoying his role here as he gets his feet under the table. He has had to be imaginative with the training schedule because of the rain. The squad have been to Lake Bala and Lake Vyrnwy to row and he even had a hog roast at the Boat House to help lift spirits and thank his squads for their patience and hard work. His tip for the top is ‘play the long game – rowing rewards hard work’ – a mantra I suspect that could be taken into other areas of life. Henry Rassmuss would be an example of his words in action, as Henry through commitment and dedication has made it into the 1st VIII, but has not necessarily been in the A crews in the lower year groups.

Wherever I go on my travels around the School, I am certain of finding some amazing young people. The Boat Club is no exception. George Patterson (R LVI) has been selected for the GB squad and Toby Thomas (SH LVI) and Lettie Tay are currently still in with a chance of representative rowing. I always find representing GB quite a challenge!

The Boat Club is as you would imagine an oarsome place to be! Good luck to all who row in her!

To see stunning gallery of photos of the Boat Club senior rowers training at Lake Vyrnwy last weekend, please see: RSSBC Training at Lake Vyrnwy

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