Club Focus - UCD Boat Club

Image Credit: Ian Jennings

In this issue’s Club Focus, Shauna Fitzsimons talks to the UCD Boat Club about returning to the water, preparations for the upcoming season and training during lockdown

12th of March 2020 is a day that will live long in Irish memories. As Leo Varadkar addressed the nation from Washington about the measures planned to fight Covid-19, UCD Men’s Boat Club was gearing up for a battle of their own on the Liffey, racing Trinity for the annual Colours Boat Races. Within hours of that speech the race, like much of Irish life, was cancelled.

The season had started in optimistic fashion, with the club riding high after a successful 2018/19 campaign that saw them capture the coveted Men’s Senior 8+ Irish Championship for just the 2nd time in 45 years, along with major wins at home and abroad. However, like many sports clubs around the country, their competitive calendar would be impacted far beyond what anyone anticipated that Thursday in March.

As the nation moved into lockdown the club was, like everyone, forced to change plans, but they sought to maximise the opportunity for alternative sessions. Coach Niall Farrell mentions “squad discussions on various topics such as time management, motivation techniques and mindfulness”, which “allowed the group to share, learn and discuss how they are dealing with the lockdown”. Zoom, Slack, ErgWorld, and Strava were used to maintain their sense of community and ensured their members were supported during this time apart. Being one of the few clubs in UCD whose season runs through into summer, they were able to continue training, (albeit alone), and made significant progress during this time with various indoor individual tests that ran throughout the lockdown in many homes across the country. 

During the lockdown, the UCD Sports Awards took place online, honouring over 340 athletes across all sports in UCD. The Men’s Boat Club took home the “Elite Team of the Year” and the “Elite Club of the Year” as a result of the success of the 2019 Senior 8+ and the entire club’s achievements throughout the season at various University and National events.

The club doesn’t seem to be letting lockdowns or setbacks get in the way of powering on and were back out training as soon as it was safe to do so. “UCD Sport were very supportive and helped ensure that each step was taken safely and in line with government and Rowing Ireland guidance” says Captain Rob Brown. Unfortunately, this was then curtailed on the 5th of August when Rowing Ireland announced that the Championships would not be able to proceed in September as planned as the allowance for numbers at outdoor gatherings were not sufficient to run a regatta of that size.  

Despite this, Farrell says they are “extremely lucky” that the sport is non-contact and predominantly outdoors, which allows them to carry out the majority of their training at their main boathouse in Islandbridge. The membership of the club continues to grow for a number of reasons, with incoming first-year students from other rowing clubs and retention of athletes presumably influenced by the club’s success in the most recent season. This is something committee member Max Browne accredits to the hard work put in by the coaches, Captain, committee and notably, the club’s Covid Officer. Training sessions are to be staggered to ensure all the guidelines are followed; not a bad problem in the midst of a lot of disruption to sport all over the country. 

The morale seems high, with ‘Sunday Story Time’ a regular feature in the weekly calendar. Alumni from winning Henley boats, World Champions, and Irish Olympians and coaches gather via Zoom with members past and present to discuss the club's successful history. It seems to have strengthened the culture of the club despite turbulent times. As the club faces a winter of uncertainty, one thing the club seems certain of is that they will find a way through what comes their way, having gained a lot of experience from the lockdown. 

UCD Boat Club is known for taking in a large group of novices with no experience in the sport, some of whom go on to win National Championships in the summer, and hope that this year will be no different. Medical student and Novice 8+ All Ireland Champion, Joe Keirns said he joined the club for all the usual reasons, wanting to make new friends and “rowing sounded pretty neat”. After joining the club a few weeks late he quickly immersed himself into the club; “Being part of UCD Boat Club has allowed me to form strong bonds with peers in my course, as well as giving me the platform to develop friendships that extend beyond my faculty and will extend beyond my degree. Ad Astra”