"To see someone from home in the crowd supporting you - it makes you go for it even more – I’m sure that’s the same for every sports person. If someone you love is there it lifts you and makes you do your best for them."
Today, I met with Ellie Boam, a Boston Spa Academy pupil, RowLeeds Record Holder and Team North Rowing Athlete at the 2018 National School Games.
My role is different these days. Now, I seem to spend more time with Headteachers, coaches, sponsors and researchers than I do the young people on our programmes. This morning, however, talking to Ellie about her rowing experiences this year, I was reminded of how lucky I am to do what I do. Ellie is an inspiration.
When I used to coach full-time, one of the pleasures of working directly with athletes was simply watching them develop as people. You witness the highs and the lows and their growing self-belief. It brought back to me that, when I was a coach and teacher, just by giving a little bit more each day, by going the extra mile, I could make such a difference to a young person’s life. Young people forget no act of kindness or support. That’s an important responsibility, but it’s a privilege too.
I hadn’t met Ellie until this morning. I was very proud that one of our RowLeeds students had been selected to represent the North of England Team at the Schools Games finals in Loughborough, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to congratulate her myself.
Ellie talked about the rowing experiences she’s had this year, her appetite for trying something new, the friends she’s made and how she handles the ‘pressure zone’ of competition. Until she came to the RowLeeds Indoor Champs, she had only been on a rowing machine once. No coaching. No training. Nerves, yes, but no hesitation. Her teachers threw her into the competition and she won. Then she was selected for the North of England team. When she competed at the School Games Finals in Loughborough this August, she had only been on the rowing machine a few more times since the RowLeeds Indoor Champs in February. She loved every minute of it.
When I asked Ellie if, before she competed at the RowLeeds Indoor Champs, whether she knew she was a good rower, she looked at me puzzled. “I don’t know, until then I’d never had the chance to find out!”.
Enter a team to the RowLeeds Indoor Champs and let’s see if we can create a few more stories like Ellie’s. There’s no such thing as “can’t”.
When did you first try indoor rowing?
RowUK came to Boston Spa with rowing machines when I was in Yr9. I jumped right in and came first in the trials. I liked it but I had other commitments. I didn’t row for my school until a year later because I was too busy playing rugby and basketball and the RowLeeds Indoor Champs were the same day as my training. I play U18 rugby for Harrogate Rugby Club and U18 basketball for City of Leeds.
What was it you liked about indoor rowing that meant you kept training?
The atmosphere at the event - it gets to you. Everybody cheering and supporting you. You get excited by it and want to do well. It pushes you further to do more. It’s different to other sports because of the amount of shouting; it gets the adrenaline going. Also, visually, it’s so cool. You can see everything on the big screen and watching the race develop is amazing. You can see the positions change through the race, sometimes right in the final few strokes.
Your time at the RowLeeds Indoor Champs meant you qualified to represent Team North at the National School Games. How did that feel?
Nerve-racking! Mum and me were so excited when we found out I’d made the North of England team. We thought it was a massive opportunity – we knew something good would happen. My Mum and Dad were really proud and over the moon. On the car ride to the bus that took us down to Loughborough I was in the car having second thoughts thinking “I won’t know anyone, I won’t be accepted. I’m just from a little village in Yorkshire and they’re all from big cities like Sheffield and Manchester.” Then a group of girls from Newcastle came and said hello and we all got along so well. I ended up have so much fun with them, it was a massive experience. We shouted each other’s names during the race and we still keep in touch now.
How did you train for the School Games?
I trained at my gym during the summer holidays [the School Games finals were on 31st August and selection was announced in July]. I thought, “I might as well go on the rowing machines and practice my race distance.” I did that about three times a week. I put on my headphones to create a sense of motivation from the noise and atmosphere coming from the music – something like I imagined I’d feel on the day. When you’re not in the pressure zone you get in the race, you need to try and create it when you’re training so I used loud music to create the pressure zone in the gym.
What did it feel like to arrive at Loughborough University where the School Games were being held?
When we arrived, we spent some time warming up on the rowing machines and stretching on the rollers. There were canoe ergs there because there was a canoe final in the same place and the canoe kids were warming up on those too. We did minute-on-minute-off pieces on the rowing machines for a little while, trying to keep warm and getting used to working at race pace. The coaches looked after us and gave me some tips because the other girls had rowing experience and had been properly coached for a while, but I had almost no experience.
How did you get on at the School Games?
I didn’t feel prepared for the first heat. You can’t see the crowd but they can see you. You can only see the first few rows. They put a spotlight on your rowing machine and play dramatic music. It’s an intense moment so you need to try and look good. You can’t get away from how horrendous you look at the end so you need to try and look good at the start. I sort of forgot my planning – it got to me – the pressure of coming out, the big crowd. I wasn’t too sure of how to pace it so I just missed the A final.
With more coaching, I think I could have made the A final. The other girls had already rowed a lot. I just looked it up on google and got a few ideas. If I get a proper coach I reckon I could do well. Anyway, I won the B final and I was shocked. I just beat the girl from Ireland by one metre. As we crossed the line we both looked at each other and said, “What just happened?!” Then we got up and hugged because we were so happy for each other. We were just happy that we had another try and did our best. Rugby and basketball are good like that too. You are against the other girls and you want to do well but because you get to see them for regional trials and that sort of thing, you get to know them and build a trust. So, when you play against them for your club, you know it’s just sport and whatever happens during the game, they’re just trying to do their best too and you know they’re not trying to make you feel bad. They just want to win too.
You still hold the Y10 Girls RowLeeds Record at 1294m (from the February 2018 Champs). As you are not competing this December due to an injury, will you be back at the March 2019 Champs to defend your record and title?
I might be back in time for March if my shoulder heals from the operation quickly, but definitely June. I’ll see what I can do then. I’ve been asked to present a medal to the Year 11 medallists so I’ll still be a part of the Champs. That makes me feel really proud.
If someone asked you why they should take up indoor rowing, what would you say?
The experience. The different opportunities. The people you meet. The talks and the messages from the teachers and coaches inspires you to do more – to do your best. If you win it teaches you that you can do anything. If you get a medal, you get the motivation that you can do a bit more. If you finish at the lower end you can always get a plan, stick at it and improve and keep going forward and get what you want.
I also like seeing people compete – how they find what’s inside them to do well – especially the Paralympics. When you see competitive sport, you want to try it out. You don’t know how good you can be until you give it a go and then it’s about giving all you’ve got. Tell your parents you want to try something and they’ll support you. Like at the School Games final in Loughborough, my brother came and watched me for the first time; that was really exciting. To see someone from home in the crowd supporting you - it makes you go for it even more – I’m sure that’s the same for every sports person. If someone you love is there it lifts you and makes you do your best for them. That definitely the most important thing.
The atmosphere at rowing events is amazing. If anyone wants to take up the sport, the opportunity is there. You can join your local rowing club but I’m lucky because we have a rowing programme coming to my school. That is a massive change for Boston Spa Academy – to have its own rowing club. It’s a whole different sport for our students which they never thought they’d get the opportunity to try.
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Read more about the RowLeeds Indoor Programme.