Athlete in the Spotlight: Caragh McMurtry

GB Rowing Team news recently caught up with Caragh McMurtry – on the eve of the team’s visit to Rio starting today – in the second in a series of spotlight features on squad members. We’ll add another each month (male and female) so look out for future editions. Tweet us via @GBRowingTeam if there is an athlete you would like to see featured in October or November.

Caragh McMurtry

Birthdate: 22/08/1991
Height: 174cm
Hometown: Southampton
Education: Bitterne Park Secondary School, Itchen College, Reading University
Began rowing in: 2002
Clubs: Southampton Coalporters RC, Reading University

Caragh McMurtry was a permanent fixture in the GB Rowing Team women’s eight throughout the 2014 season, racing in the stroke seat from the Lucerne World Cup onwards.

Rowing life for Caragh, 23 and from Southampton, began as an 11-year old at Southampton Coalporters RC through British Rowing’s “Project Oarsome” scheme. Although she stopped rowing for a time after that, she returned to the sport when she was 13 and says that decision was “one of the most important and telling moments in my life”.

“Coalies” is a predominantly coastal club, and Caragh has suggested that competing on the coastal rowing circuit for five years before moving to river rowing had a significant influence on her development, saying: “I think my experience as a coastal rower is greatly responsible for the grit and determination that I have relied on up until now”.

She also paid testament to two of her coaches at Coalies during this period, Alan Booth and Nick Chmarny, saying: “They were the two coaches I remember most because of how much effort they put into the club and the project. They worked so hard off their own backs to set up the programme and get kids from both Bittern Park and Belmore Boys School into rowing. They changed so many peoples’ lives.

“Nick in particular is a real inspiration to me, and I really think he’s at least 50% responsible for me being where I am now in the sport”, she added.

Following Caragh’s time at Coalies, she went on to attend Reading University, from where she graduated with a 2:1 in Archaeology and Classics, and her rowing career continued to flourish as a member of Reading University BC and the GB Rowing Team’s Junior & U23 squads.

In 2009 Caragh won a silver medal in the women’s four at the World Rowing Junior Championships, and then followed this with another silver at the 2012 World U23 Championships – this time racing in the pair with current GB Senior Squad teammate, Olivia Carnegie-Brown.

The 23-year old broke into the GB Rowing Senior Team in 2013, when she was drafted in to the women’s eight to race at the World Rowing Championships in Chungju, South Korea, where the crew finished fourth. The 2014 season, though, has seen Caragh make some of the biggest advances (and come up against her biggest challenge) in her rowing career to date.

After winning the Windermere Cup in Seattle at the start of the year, the GB women’s eight went on to win an impressive silver medal at the European Championships in Belgrade. The crew then won bronze medals at the World Cup regattas in Aiguebelette and Lucerne.There was also a win at Henley Royal Regatta sandwiched between the two World Cups.

The season’s climax was at the World Championships in Amsterdam, where in spite of earning a hard-fought place in the final the GB women’s eight couldn’t find the form that had seen them win medals at each event throughout the summer and they finished sixth.

Following the World Championships, we spoke to Caragh about all the things rowing-related, as well as her life outside the sport.

GBRT: How and why did you first start rowing?

CM: I started rowing through Project Oarsome and Nick Chmarny was greatly responsible for bringing out that competitive side of me and slowing me how to pursue the sport as far as I have. Project Oarsome was run at our school, and as someone who liked to have a go at most clubs, I had a go at rowing! I continued regardless of the fact that when I was 11, I was pathetically weedy. Admittedly, I quit for a while, but returning to the sport made me realise my own strength of character and independence.

GBRT: What has been your biggest success, and your biggest disappointment in the sport so far?

CM: I think [the World Championships] this year has to be my biggest disappointment – with such a good start to the season, a medal looked so promising, and yet we came away with sixth place. It’s hard to choose the biggest success, but I think the whole of 2012 is up there. I was in my second year of University at the time, so I’m especially proud of it.

GBRT: What aspirations do you have within the sport?

CM: It’s funny, because when I was younger, I fantasised about being the stroke of the senior women’s eight, but saw it as an impossible fantasy I liked to think about it during training, yet here I am! At the moment my fantasy is that we will, 1) medal at a World Championships (maybe get the gold!), and, 2) do the same at the Olympic Games! But no matter how impossible something seems, if you’re determined enough, I believe you can achieve it – that’s what I’ve learnt from my previous experiences anyway.

GBRT: Who is your best friend in the rowing set up and why?

CM: My partner, Mickey Mottram. He stopped rowing last year, but we first met at Reading University BC, and began our relationship in 2012, when he raced for GB as a lightweight. He’s my partner and my best friend, and although he doesn’t row anymore, he supports me and guides me through my rowing career.

GBRT: Who do most look up to?

CM: My Dad. He’s my source of logic, pragmatism and humour; all things that are difficult to maintain when you’re tired and emotional from training.

GBRT: What hobbies and hidden talents do you have?

CM: I like to think of myself as a good artist – I absolutely love art, and I have to make a tough choice when I was younger between pursuing my art or my sport. I still paint and draw in my down time, and have even sold some art to family and friends.

GBRT: What are some of your favourite bands?

CM: The Smiths, M83, Crowded House, The Beach Boys – most music from the 80’s or inspired by the 80’s.

GBRT: Favourite books?

CM: Anything sci-fi or fantasy, particularly by authors such as Robin Hobb and Julian May. Also any historical fiction – Robert Harris is one of my favourite authors, and ‘Forever Amber’ is one of my favourite books.

GBRT: Favourite films and TV shows?

CM: Anything with Tom Cruise in… Interview with a Vampire, Minority Report, Top Gun! I also love thrillers, horrors and comedies; from Family Guy, to Summer Heights High, to Zoolander. It’s hurting me just saying a few because I like so many!

GBRT: What job aspirations do you have outside of rowing?

CM: Well, I have my degree in Archaeology and Classics, but I don’t actually want to be an Archaeologist or a Classicist. I’m currently doing an online course in Computer Animated Design, because this is a necessary if I am to enter a career in the arts when I finish rowing. I know I either want to do something sporty or arty – the same dilemma I’ve had all my life.

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