On Saturday 7th April I sat down in my college common room, with my friends, to watch the Boat Race. Since 1829 this amateur event has captured special attention and it is listed amongst the crowning achievements of any rower’s career. With demanding training for 6 hours a day, for 7 months, alongside full time Oxford or Cambridge studies, there is no sporting event like this on earth.
We cheered loudly as the lighter Oxford crew pulled away quickly from the start and held their slender lead through the first part of the course. Then, the interruption of the swimmer, the anxious waiting with the legs full of lactic acid, and of course, the restart.
It was a good restart. Oxford again pulling away – but then the boats came together and with an almighty clash of oars a blade snapped clean off leaving Oxford with only seven active rowers.
The commentators were tripping over their tongues to describe the shambles. At one point they were even suggesting Oxford were silly for continuing on. They should stop, it was suggested. Record a D.N.F. (did not finish) for the record books. But the commentators and the Tweeters simply did not understand what was happening.
The minds of the 8 men and one women in the Dark Blue boat were set on one thing. Their purpose had been established months ago. They were there to race; they were there to race to the end.
It may be an international TV spectacle. It may be a source of pride and honour for the top two universities in England. It may be “steeped in tradition”. But that’s not what a rower sees on race day.
Something almost mystical happens when you get in a boat. The world outside disappears. The noise and happenings around you dissolve into background hum. You focus only on the voice of the cox. You concentrate only on your work with the oar.
The 9 people in your boat become your micro-world. You have trained with these people day in, day out. You have come to know them and to respect them. On race day, you row for them.
The purpose of the Oxford boat was to row the best race they could. To give everything they possibly could. To unleash the sum of the preparation sacrificed together through freezing months. To give it absolutely everything. Their eyes weren’t on the record books. This was their moment.
So 7 men rowed on. They weren’t going to stop. The cox put her hand down and the team lifted their heads up and they rowed, they rowed hard. So hard in fact that the bowman, Dr. Alexander Woods, needed oxygen, an I.V., and a night in the hospital to recover.
And what is your purpose? The world may be full of commentators shouting their opinions at you. But you, what have you resolved in your heart to do; what are you going to live your life for?
Now watch the last video diary entry from Oxford. Helps to sum it all up …