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Lent Bumps 2014

1st women's VIII

Coxed by: Yining Nie

Rowed over
An inevitable dress rehearsal. The stage is ours tomorrow, girls! (Yining)
This term has been a nightmare for predictions. So much so that Marc Jacobs, instead of even having a half-hearted attempt at guessing who would bump who in the Lents Program, went on an extended rant about the standard of college rowing. Personally, I'd rather have had the BumpIT charts published.

While we hoped that Downing would cave at First Post and capitulate to the bump at Grassy, we knew in our hearts that they would be a decent crew. To field anything else when defending the headship is unusual. Our plan was to go off steady until in the first half of the race, grind them down, and then use our experience and guns to really take it up on the reach.

It seemed to me that the gun came far too early, and when sitting in the middle of the river listening to Iain count down, I was surprised. I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing here, or how we had got to this point. I am always glad when the gun goes and we are in the race, as then there is nothing more we can do, but our best.

We stuck to the race plan, albeit striding to 38 just before first post and then to 36 in the gut, rather than our loose, long 34 from outings. We closed off the start, but they pulled away in the gut with a more effective stride. We sat inside station until the exit of Grassy, which we took much better than Downing thanks to Yining's line and got a whistle from Iain here. Both crews took a plough reach burn, but by the entrance of Ditton we were comfortably inside a length and began our big push onto the reach. This gave us two whistles.

We were getting constant updates from Fordy and Thomas about distance, but we went so long without hearing any whistles that I wondered if Iain had forgotten it. On two whistles, Yining called for us to get her three, but our lift here was ineffective. We were pushing on for what we expected would be a long race, and sacrificed a massive push here, waiting for 3 whistles for a big move. Downing responded to our two whistles and started to move away. We tried to respond after a call from Yining, but the momentum was now with Downing.

We started to hear less and less from the bank party, which the older members of the crew realized meant we were drifting back. We kept the pressure up, but the high rates in the early stages started to cost us as we limped along with dying legs. At the railway bridge I'm told Downing had to take another push to contain us, and we were never outside station, showing that we were putting decent pressure on them the whole race. We wound for the line, but too late, and rowed over the line without the headship.

We've shown that we're the faster crew, and that we can give Downing a good scare. Tomorrow we need to go out there and finish it off when it's still our race. (Julia A.)
Gained a little off the start, closed to within a length down plough reach. Half a length on the reach. Downing pulled back out to on station down the reach. Yo-yo'd down the reach between within a length and on station, finally finishing 1 length down. (Thomas)
Bumped Downing
AWESOME!! (Jane)
Massive congratulations!!! :) :) xxx (Katie)
MASSIVE CONGRATUALTIONS FROM ALL US IN LONDON!! What a fantastic achievement girls, you will remember this day forever!!! We don't have to be in Cambridge to know that you've all worked!

Now just make sure you don't party too hard tonight and lose your cool tomorrow. PASTA HARD, NOT PARTY HARD. xxxxxx (O. Skilbeck)
Much better than yesterday, and the finish was absolutely clinical. Halfway.

May I add that in the midst of our jubilant celebrations, Ian Watson (Downing boatman) could not have been more gracious. (Neil T)
Awesome!!!! Congrats!! (Allen)
Wooooooooohey!! Excellent job, ladies! (Ulrike)
I'll post a more detailed race report on Sunday, along with all the other days, but for now, I think this is all you need to know about the race:

When Yining called for us to hold it up, I screamed. Then Canadian stern 3 burst into tears, and the bows started cheering.

I can remember what it feels like to take a headship. I can also remember what it feels like to be bumped off of head station. Downing held on for a day and half a course longer than we did in 2011, and they were good and kind enough to smile at us when we told them they raced well when we rowed past them on our way back to the boathouse. There were times when I believed they were being held in that position by the force of Ian Watson's will alone. That is not true. They were a good crew, but this was our year. At the end of the race, Ian Watson came over to Fordy and said 'you should have got us yesterday'. That meant a lot to those of us who knew who he was.

Our race plan was to move the kill push to two whistles, and to stride to our long rhythm at 34 instead of a stabby 36. Off the start we needed 3 strides to calm the excitement but eventually settled onto a 34 that felt so easy. Our loyal bank party were telling us that we were inside station coming around Grassy. Our push in the gut had been effective, and we felt strong and calm. Thomas shouted that we were 'under-rating them and gaining'. We got one whistle on Plough reach, but they started to move away and we had to take a push to respond. Our lift caused the rate to rise a couple of pips, and Yining then had to change tack and call for a smoother ratio again. We had a good Ditton and knew that it was now time to bring the race to Downing in earnest. This time we had rate to spare for a big push, and the legs to match. We took a brilliant corner, as we always do with the powerful Yining/bow four combination we've come to rely on, and then we waited for our whistles.

I didn't even notice the headwind, hopefully because we've grown strong and comfortable in them through a term of typhoons, but more likely because Yining had us sat in Downing's wind shadow. Thomas and Fordy were screaming 'inside half a length!' which I'm told afterwards was being relayed from Iain, who was so far ahead, monitoring the gap between us and Downing, that we could barely hear them. Yining called our kill push from the bank party's calls and we moved. We lifted the rate and squeezed on the legs, the move we had been waiting for for 2 days. We heard 3 whistles, loud and clear, and it lifted our spirits and gave us the adrenaline to carry on. Amazingly, Iain repeated the three whistles at least twice more, something I've never known him to do, almost in time with the clunking of the blades. Yining was demanding that we give her the overlap she needed, and Thomas and Fordy became unintelligible, screaming that we were closing fast, that we had it, that it was ours if we could just carry on pushing for 3 more strokes, for 2 more. All I could hear was a mass of noise from them, desperate and jubilant and crazed at the same time.

Finally, though I can't be sure I actually heard it, or whether I just sensed that it was time, I held it up. The joy and shock and happiness were so overwhelming that all I could do was scream, and then burst into tears. All of my celebration plans, and victory fist pumps, flew out of my mind because I just had to press my hand to my mouth and look for Yining and think about everything that had happened in the past 4 years. Our bank party had swelled to include my parents and Neil and Matt, his arms raised in victory from the overlap whistle, running down the bank after us.

We pulled in, and cheered and hugged each other and hugged our bank parties and smiled for the pictures. People kept appearing and smiling at us and waving. We were so happy to have so many people to share our joy with. I still can`t believe that it actually happened. I expect to wake up tomorrow and either find that it's 2010, or I've been dreaming.

Headships are taken with one bump, on one day, but the making of them takes years. Every crew I have rowed in since the day we bumped Emmanuel in 2010 to today, has brought us closer to this. They pushed us to be better, they held our places for us in the charts, they fought and scrapped to keep us near the top. Bumps is a historic race, and it's not fair to the people who aren't there on the day, because it depends on them too. We got the greenery today, but it belongs to all of you too. Thank you. (Julia A.)
YEAH!!!!!!!! Well done girls!! (Liz)
Sometimes you gotta play nice; sometimes you gotta go in for the kill. Today was kill day.

"You're underrating them and gaining" was the theme of the race. With first-day frustrations out of the way, we set out ready to race and hungry for a Headship. Our stride was as effective and efficient as it had ever been and really gave us the length we had been chasing yesterday. We had fantastic corners as always and closed to half a length around Ditton. Then we just ate up the distance, sticking at a canvas of overlap before Nina scraped a good chunk of paint off of Downing's stern.

"Show me how much you want this!" The ease of that row made me believe that we could've pulled it off a second time right then and there. Luckily for us, we get two more chances to do just that. (Yining)
Brilliant, well done! (Mark)
Congratulations! A fantastic achievement. All good wishes for glorious row overs tomorrow and Saturday (AmeLia)
Head... For now
Gained into ditton, moved strongly out of ditton, head at the railings (Thomas)
Absolutely delicious, WELL DONE!!!!!!! (Yimin)
Rowed over Head
Downing gained a little off the start, but once settled onto rhythm the gap opened. This went out until Downing effectively responded to Emma on the reach, when the Gap started closing.
Outside station when the challengers bumped out.
A good chance tomorrow to see who the fastest women's crew on the river are. (Thomas)
Day 3 traditionally sees a gap in W1 race reporting, so I thought I'd oblige.

After I had grabbed the bung just before it was too late, we delivered a confident start, if a little scrappier than the previous day. We pulled away from Downing almost immediately and continued to do so while taking several strides to stretch out to our optimal rhythm. They fell back along Plough Reach and never regained distance until their final attempt to scramble away from Emma halfway up the Reach. Our own row was strong and committed until Downing were bumped approx. 2 lengths behind at the white house, whereupon we settled down and finished the course to a heartening amount of support from various M1 crews marshalled along the bank.

Well done to Emma W1 for their clinical bump. I'm looking forward to meeting them tomorrow and seeing both crews pull out all the stops. Let's give 'em a good show!

P.S. To those hungry for every excruciating (occasionally literally) detail, hold on til Sunday for Julia's incredible narration. As faithful readers will know, you won't be disappointed. (Yining)
I went into this race with a strong sense of deja vu. The last time I rowed over head with Downing behind us, it was a grey, rainy, miserable day. Then, we had no idea how fast they would be, as we hadn't raced them all term. Today, we knew we had bumped them yesterday, but had no idea whether it had been a bad day, whether they had an amazing sprint that would surprise us, or whether we could just row away from them. On that day in 2010 we were scared, we rowed badly, and we let them get to somewhere around a length. Iain proclaimed it a 'bullshit whistle' at the time, and I believe him, but I still think of that as the gap.

Today, I hadn't been nervous until we were sitting at head station. I had been so excited last night about what we had the potential to do, and what we had already accomplished that I had trouble sleeping and woke early this morning. The fire alarm test also helped with this.

Sitting at head station I worried about everything that could go wrong. Would my hand slip on the handle? Would we be able to contain Downings sprint? Looking at their blades at marshaling I was sure they had geared up. It was another grey, rainy, miserable day. Iain was chipper, and gave us three rules:
1. Don't give them a sniff.
2. Row well.
3. Enjoy it, not many people get to row from here.
Amazingly, this correlated very well with our race plan. We wanted to move away from them from the first stroke, and keep walking away.

Our start was a bit scrappy, as our nerves started to show. Downing may have taken a few inches here, but we strode, and strode again and finally hit a more sensible long-race rhythm. We started to move away around Grassy, and by Plough Reach our bank party was disagreeing about whether the gap was 2 or 3 lengths.

We took a brilliant Ditton and started to feel comfortable enough with our position that Iain decided to hold an outing in the middle of the race and coach us about clearing our puddles and taking time over the feet. I was reminded of standing in someone's kitchen during crew pasta on the third night in 2010 and hearing that Julijana and Ulrike had been so sure of our ability to row over that they hadn't been at 100%. Having rowed in Ulrike's seat for the past couple of years, I thought, 'Badger it, Ulrike wasn't pushing, I can quiche'. I feel a similar train of thought moved through the crew at about this point, as in the crew chat afterwards we admitted none of us were at our limits.

Downing began to gain on us again as the situation with Emma became more critical around the white house. Their bumps push and Downing's response took them back to somewhere between 2 lengths and 2 and a half. Some interesting evasive action caught the attention of the crew and most of us became spectators at this point, as we realized a bump was imminent. The two boats speared across the river and we took a tactical stride.

The rest of the row was fairly processional. I saw a huge umbrella waving at me out of the corner of my eye, which was my mother doing an excellent Mary Poppins impression, jubilant that the crews had bumped out behind us and that we could have a gentler row. The men's crews at marshaling cheered us as we wound it down to 28. We easied once we were over the line, took a breath and rowed a chunky 22 home.

We have a new opponent tomorrow, and we'll have to face them knowing that on Saturday, there are no do-overs. Neil said this is what he wanted, for us to face all of our competition equally so that we can hold our heads high tomorrow and either say that we were defeated by a worthy, a faster crew, or that we were the fastest boat on the river, undefeated. (Julia A.)
Rowed over Head

Massive congratulations, girls! Sweet sweet headship, well deserved! (Ulrike)
W1 took hold of the race in the first two minutes, opening up the gap to over 2 lengths. They settled into a long 34, and looked untroubled and unflustered until Emma called their 'last ditch headship push' coming into the railway bridge, this started cutting the gap, to my consternation on the bank. The crew were unphased and responded with a little more pressure to keep Emmanuel around 1/2 a length behind, with a little more distance gained back before the line. (Thomas)
Much of this is being posted after Julia's report below, but I wanted to make sure I got a few words in first; the headliner should always come after the supporting acts.

We were marshalled at the finish line when Madgalene M1 rowed over comfortably ahead of Caius M2 at the top of the men's second division. They were pleased to have "controlled every minute of the race". Kate and I agreed that we had to follow suit. Simon later said that that was exactly what we did.

Julia and Kate might have been relaxed coming into this final race, but I don't think I've ever been so nervous. Everything about me was shaking - my legs, my hands, the rudder wires that I was so crucially responsible for. I must've readjusted my grip on the bung a hundred times in the two minutes leading up to the starting gun. Then my hand went up in the air, Alexa and Nina took a tiny tap, a moment of silence and suddenly I was calling the draw strokes.

It was a bizarre experience to row bumps twice without having anything to chase. While the girls had the benefit of seeing Downing and Emmanuel rise up or fall back, I could only gauge how well we were doing from hearing our respective bankparties: distances and "you're moving away!" from Thomas and Fordy and a vague, optimistic buzz from Emma's infamous wishful thinkers. It was oddly backwards from the usual situation, where the girls have to rely on my vision and their ears. Coming past the Plough, I was struck with the sense that the girls could have just defended the headship by themselves; this was our best row technically and the support we received from spectators on the bank certainly drowned out any inkling of doubt.

I was surprised when Emma moved up on us coming towards the Railway Bridge. Thomas shouted "station!" rather anxiously and then the whistles began. We took our well-rehearsed lift off of the bridge, but when they still got to three whistles and I wasn't getting any feedback from Kate or Julia, I had to break a coxing rule and turned around for a quick glance. Relief. They were killing themselves for that 3/4 length gap. We were strong and ready to lift up a pip. And so we did, to the rousing shouts of M1 crews, including our own. We crossed the line with our heads held high and an easy length clear of Emmanuel.

A great race, to be sure, but I think the sheer ridiculousness of everything that occurred afterwards will leave a stronger impression. I was given a massive flag to wave/hold/keep dry as we took our victory lap to a stunning amount of applause and respect from both sides of the river. Lots of hugs, tears, medals and congratulations. Then I was carried back to college on a wooden boat by my rowers and coaches, trembling to have been singled out in such a way - and to have been taller than Jon Glass for a glorious 20 minutes! The boatburning was incredible and emotional. The whole club had contributed to that moment and joyfully shared it with us.

From Nie (2014: iv): To the girls and coaches at First and Third: every day you teach me what it means to be dedicated. Two years ago with spoon in hand, I would never have dreamed of being part of a plausible Headship campaign, but this W1 crew stuck together, fought for every inch and proved that hard work and commitment pay off. I am so, so proud of what we have achieved, and thank you for trusting me enough to allow me the honour of being part of this crew. Someday I might even forgive you for tossing me in the river... (Yining)
The reality of what happened yesterday only hit me when I put my new headship medal next to my old headship medal. Thinking about all the ergs and sweat and tears and work over the past four years, I broke down and cried for a few minutes. Not from sadness or exhaustion from the effort of it all, but from astonishment that something that we had been chasing had finally been caught. The pursuit of a dream, especially one of excellence, is all-encompassing, and stunning when it is over.

I woke up early on Saturday, earlier even than I needed to for the photos, because I was so excited about the potential of the day. The flurry of activity and club spirit that took place as we posed for our photos kept my mind off what was to come that afternoon. We had had our pre-requisite terrifying speech from Neil about what we were going to do if Emma got to a canvas off our stern, and were in a mixed state of nerves and enthusiasm. I spent the morning preparing presents for the coaches, thinking about what I would write in the cards later if the race went well, and if it went badly. We all desperately wished for it to be 24 hours later, so we would know. I was very nervous in the hour before I left my room, but as I was walking down the corridor, I had a feeling of calm and well-being, and I took this as a good sign, as I told Kate later. I walked to the boathouse, because I hoped I'd be carrying something rather heavy on the way back.

Today, we wanted it to be our race. We had let Downing dictate the terms of the race to us on Wednesday, and had allowed circumstance to convince us to take it easy on Friday, but today, we had to defend our headship. The river was flooded due to rain overnight and the works on Stourbridge Common, and there was some chaos with exchanging wellies with M3. We eventually rowed off at a long 19, all eyes in the boat and ready to face the task at hand.

At marshalling we had Aoife for stress relief and to take our minds off the battle that was to come. However, I had begun to see geared up blades everywhere, and Emma looked as if they were going for a 2 minute race plan from the placement of the stop on the collar. It took Fordy a few minutes of explaining the mechanics of collar placement to calm me down. We rowed up in beautiful sunshine, had a blistering wind on the reach and strode to our best rate 34 rhythm at the practice start at the Plough. We knew we were ready.

I wasn't nervous on the start line, and Kate agreed that we were beyond nerves then and just ready to walk away with a medal. Our start was good, we strode to a more reasonable 36 (Yining?) and then again onto our 34. We started moving away from Emma almost immediately, with our bank party calling '2 lengths!' in the gut. From there, we started walking away. We heard the cheers of encouragement, the roars from the bank. We had been expecting Emma to sprint, to test us in the first half of the course and then fall away after Ditton. Perhaps they didn't fancy their chances against Yining's steering through the corners. We continued to move away on Plough Reach and took a nice line around Ditton to open up a lead of about 3 lengths. We settled into our long race rhythm, and flew down the reach in a comfortable stride. We were later told that the update coming from the umpires at this point was 'FaT are 3 lengths up and don't even look like they're racing'.

Coming up to the white house I started to hear the word 'station' from our bank party. Long distances are difficult to judge, but I glanced up at Emma and determined there was no need for concern yet. We had a small lift, a squeeze on the legs, but didn't deviate from our rhythm. Just before the railway bridge the Emma bank party began whistling. They got one whistle, which confused me, as I was judging the distance to be outside or on station. I didn't want to shift to see if it was Downing making a late surge to bump Emma back, so I waited for more information from the bank party. Two whistles came as we came straight out of the railway bridge, but they still seemed too far away to justify anything but one, so I didn't call for our kill push. At this point, the Emma bank party seemed to be using their whistles more as encouragement than as a means of transmitting information about distances, as they were given three whistles soon after. Kate and I remained unperturbed, but Yining glanced over her shoulder and called a move, just to be sure. We shifted up a gear. It had been time for our finish line wind anyway.

We crossed the line about a length apart, with plenty of breath for cheering. We floated, dazed, for a few moments, enjoying the sunshine and the knowledge that the headship was ours. Some admin was communicated about whether to spin, how to collect the flag, and when we wanted our medals. We ended up following the men's division up for our victory lap. Yining discovered how large the flag is, and how difficult it is to hold it bolt upright and steer. We were exhilarated. We responded happily to the congratulations and cheers from the bank, waving to our friends and parents, who were smiling and jumping up and down along the river. We took another burst on the reach to see how straight we could get the flag behind us, with Yining and Blanka laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. We were getting updates from John about whether we could go to the Plough, and were able to collect other supporters and boaties as we spun at Grassy. The paddle back was solid, Yining told us we were rowing into the sunset, which seemed a fitting end to our fairytale.

When we parked there were reunions and photos and tears, but mostly smiles and laughter. We cheered the other men's crews and cheered our men back and forth. Everyone was hugging someone. There were so many people there to share in our happiness and who deserved to be thanked for making it real.

For me, this was an incredible ending to my rowing career. I'll be back for Mays, but this was my last Lents campaign and it was an unbelievable (and I mean that literally) way to finish. I don't think any of us (except maybe Yining and Chris, who found the wooden boat) had actually allowed ourselves to believe that we would find ourselves Head of the River until we crossed the finish line. Fordy and Thomas and Jon Glass and Neil and Peter Summers and Matt had all believed in us. We had bufties wearing FaT stash in support around the world. I told the girls to enjoy every second of the celebrations, carrying the boat, the bumpers at the dinner, jumping through the flames, because you need to be in the moment to believe it later. You'll want to have those memories to call back, to convince yourself that it all happened.

The glow of victory is amazing, but what truly amazed me was the support and out-pouring of good wishes during and after the races. Several times a text or email that I received that night would bring tears to my eyes, and the unselfish joy and congratulations of every single member of the club humbled me. I wish every one of you could have jumped over that boat with us, because you all helped us to get there, whether you were screaming from the bank, or finding us wellies for the flood, or giving up your morning outings, or getting in the way of our Headship video, or hiding incognito behind bushes to cheer us on. The past four years can seem amazing to me now because of the instantaneous happiness of winning, but they would always have been incredible to me later on because of the gratitude I feel for the friendships I've gained, and the camaraderie and happiness of being a part of First and Third. Fordy said it last night. We've lit the way for you, but it's yours to carry on and make into a dynasty. I can't wait to see it.


P.S. Yining, we all went in after you, and carried you back to college on a boat. Debt repaid. (Julia A.)
This was a wonderful end to a fantastic four days of racing. The focus in the crew was palpable on the row down, with some excellent paddling providing a preview of what was to come. It was a gorgeous day to race, with fans lining either side of the river, very little wind and lots of sunshine - a spectacular day to be rowing at Cambridge. As we lined up at the headship station, I took stock of my nerves, and found (to my surprise) that I was very calm. Julia had said earlier that she had a 'good feeling' about today, and I felt exactly the same way. We had worked so hard for this moment all term, we knew were were the fastest crew on the river, and all we needed to do was execute our race plan.

We had another explosive start around rate 42, drilled into us by Jon Glass, which immediately created distance off Emma. Our wind was clean and powerful, and we strode into our efficient, magical rate 34. We steadily widened the gap to outside two lengths, gaining confidence every stroke. We were fast, strong and technically sound. Coming round our beloved Ditton, I became certain the headship was ours as long as we remained consistent.

Halfway down the reach, Emma began to sprint, but our boat remained calm and we continued to row at our best rhythm. We knew that we could take the rate up if need be, but despite an impressive attempt by Emma to catch us at the end, a sprint on our part was never necessary. We crossed the line comfortably clear of Emma, let out a collective cheer of joy, and allowed the moment to sink in.

It is a very profound experience to set a goal as a team, work incredibly hard for it over a sustained period, and finally see that goal realized. Each girl in this boat committed to every aspect of our training, getting personal bests on the ergs, improving our strength, and always remaining dedicated to a very high technical standard at both an individual and collective level. There was no weak link and no wavering commitment. Girls, thank you for your heart, your ambition, your friendship and your passion. It has been a privilege to row with you all.

Many people played a part in this victory. Every step of the way, we were supported by our devoted and talented coaching staff, who created a training environment conducive to excellence and shared endless wisdom on rowing technique, teamwork, sport and life. We also felt the tangible support of so many others: the rest of First and Third, alumni, family, friends and others in the Cambridge community.

Looking back at my first week in Cambridge, when I rather nervously stepped in a boat on the Cam for the first time, I had no idea I would be racing for the headship, rowing a victory lap with Yining proudly holding our flag, or jumping over a burning boat several months later. I did not expect to feel so deeply embedded in this community, receiving support and congratulations from people I had only met days before. I couldn't ask for a better start to my rowing experience at Cambridge and I am already looking forward to seeing First and Third achieve more success in the future. Let's show everyone why we are back where we belong. (Kate)

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