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Captain’s Corner: OUBC

In anticipation of the Boat Race on 30th March 2024, Cherwell spoke to the women’s president of the OUBC, Ella Stadler, and the men’s president, Louis Corrigan.

When did you start rowing?

E: I started rowing when I first came to Oxford as an undergraduate in 2019. I had been on the ergometer a few times at the gym but thought that it was the ‘Oxford thing’ to get involved in rowing. I did two years of very disrupted college rowing due to 2019/20 flooding and then the pandemic, before joining the university development squad in Trinity 2021 and Trinity 2022. I then trialled in the 2022/23 season, making the Blue Boat and this year I became the president of the OUWBC

L: I started at school at age 13. I rowed for two years and then pivoted to coxing because I clearly wasn’t going to get much taller!

What drew you to the sport?

E: Initially I was drawn to the sport because it seemed like the sport that epitomised Oxford and the thing that I had to try whilst I was here. I stayed because of the friends I made and the satisfaction that I got from a sport which required so much perfection!

L: In all honesty, simply because it was offered and offered for free. I was already a swimmer at the time on a full training programme, but thought I’d try out something different at school. Once you get into it the sport has a way of hooking you in. It’s a unique experience, and I never really looked back once I started to get involved!

Were there any specific goals for this season and how has the season gone so far?

E: The goal for this season as president was for an Oxford clean sweep and to create a great group dynamic that incorporated both the new coach and the recently merged openweight and lightweight women’s training group. As an individual I really wanted to improve my own technical experience, as I am still so new to the sport. I think that both my presidential and individual goals are progressing well, and I am so thankful for the coaches and the team for making it all possible.

L: Our club has a fairly simple goal of winning the Boat Race, which does provide a unique sense of pressure, with all of your work for the year being defined by the outcome of one race on one day. Our goals for this year which were more specific could be thought of as goals for the type of people and athletes we wished to be, and the way that we were going to go about pursuing the win. From my point of view, especially in the context of merging the previous four clubs into one this year, a major goal was to have a cohesive and integrated team of athletes who all see the role that they play in the result in March. Whether they’re the strongest in the Blue Boat, or competing to be in the spare pair, everyone recognising the effect they can have on the outcome of the year, I think, is really key to succeeding. The sport isn’t just physiology, it’s often about building something greater than the sum of its parts. I think we’re going in the right direction there. 

The season so far has been tough with the weather flooding off our home water and much of the rest of the area, but rather than using that as an excuse everyone is even more determined to make the most out of every session and be better people and athletes than yesterday. We’ve had our first opportunities to race externally now, and we’ve seen good results from that. In the last few weeks now we’re doubling down and refining our speed ready for race day. 

What have been the biggest sporting successes and setbacks in your time at Oxford so far?

E: The biggest sporting successes at Oxford were making the Blue Boat and racing in the Boat Race 2023. The biggest setbacks for me were COVID and the river flooding, both in 2019/20 and this year.

L: I guess that question is easy to answer by just reflecting on my previous two Boat Race campaigns. 2022 was the biggest success, winning the Isis-Goldie (Men’s Reserve) race with a record to the Mile Marker for that race. Then 2023, a close loss in the same event, where we changed leads several times over the course and fought out to the last stroke. Winning is probably the best day ever, losing one of the worst, and that’s what makes the race special. Victory is absolute, defeat is total. 

How did the boat race go last year?

E: We lost.

L: 2023 was not our year, to understate it…It has left all of us eager to turn the tide and embed a renewed, winning culture at the OUBC. 

How difficult is it to have a high turnover of athletes, losing and gaining people each year?

E: We actually didn’t have a lot of people leave last year. We have a current women’s squad of 40 people and 18 previously trained with the lightweight or openweight squads, including myself, and 16 members came through the development squad, so had trained in the summer term with us. The job of the president and coaches is to create a training culture and dynamic in which any potential turnover doesn’t matter. I had lots of chats with the returners about developing a culture that we all believed in from day one of the season. I have a lot to thank them for!

L: This has become more of a prevalent thing in recent years, as our programme has an increasing number of postgraduates who are often only here for a year. It certainly gives every year a unique feel, and places quite a lot of demand on the returning athletes to build a culture, while learning the lessons from years gone by. This year we’ve really worked to re-engage our recent alumni to really build and reinforce a sense of an inherent club identity, which can be lost when turnover is as high as it is. We’ve had a lot of insight from a range of different experiences of the race and club, and it has ultimately enabled us to build a team environment which has learned not just from last year, but from decades of experience. 

What is the best and worst thing about being Blues president?

E: The best thing is the people who are alongside me. I wouldn’t be able to put the hours in if it wasn’t for the incredible and inspiring group of women that I am working alongside. Their determination and commitment are highly commendable. The worst things are long rowing meets and long media commitments. 

L: The best thing about being president is watching your work come to life, by far and away. I ran for the role on a core principle: leadership through service. Much of the work I’ve done this year has been to enable the team to focus, as purely as possible, on their athletic careers and on winning this race. I shoulder a lot of the organisation, and work to lay everything in place so that the guys have everything they need to progress and pursue victory. This has enabled everyone to play to their strengths, and support each other through an undoubtedly challenging season, while building a team which is resilient to challenge. 

The worst thing? There are definitely times when the workload, alongside the degree workload and everything else life can bring, can feel overwhelming. I’m fortunate to be supported by good friends both within and outside of the team at times when things can seem too much!

How are you feeling about the Boat Race this year?

E: I am so excited about this year’s race. It is completely different to previous years and I think that the excitement we are feeling towards it is really driving our training on. We just can’t wait to show the world how fast we are and what we have built this year as a collective. Flip the tabs and clean sweep, bring on 30th March. 

L: Everyone is excited to race and display the best of themselves against strong opposition. We’ve got a lot of real solid work under the belt, and we’re improving every day.

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