A Risk Worth Taking

Fionnuala Ratcliffe
Henley looked different this year. The glorious sunshine we were met with was initially regarded with the deepest suspicion by those who remembered the previous year’s hail, wind and white horses. No complaints, though! In our outings we tweaked our race plan; the rest of the time we spent amusing ourselves and trying to conquer our nerves. Just the mention of the word ‘stakeboat’ was enough to put me off my food.

We felt ready. We had belief in ourselves, but not a blind belief. We hadn’t been repeating ‘We can do it’ twenty times every night before bed. It was completely rational and pretty simple. If we rowed our own race in our own rhythm, we would win.  

The morning of the race we talked about race dreams. After watching Top Gun the evening before our strokegirl had dreamt that we had raced in aeroplanes, and Oxford had won by taking off half way through. Before long we were sat on the stakeboat for real, waiting for the umpire.

Our race was, I suppose, from a spectator’s point of view, unremarkable. We came out of our start almost three-quarters of a length down. Oxford extended their lead to about a one and a half lengths. We pulled it back to about two-thirds of a length down, but they pushed away again and crossed the line one and a quarter lengths ahead. I think one of the first feelings I registered was surprise! That really was not supposed to happen.

I felt I’d gambled and lost. My decision to trial again was fuelled by the desire to win, but I knew the risks. It’s not much comfort to know that I brought these feelings on myself: no one forced me to trial again, to set myself up in such a way that 22 March would bring with it either enormous disappointment or joy. But I have no regrets. Right now I am miserable, but soon I hope to be able to look back on the achievements of this year rather than just the disappointments. And as with any addiction, I still want more! The year isn’t over for us and we will be back to prove ourselves at the BUCS Regatta in May.

You can read more of Fionnuala’s diaries in our Boat Race section