Lancaster University women’s front-row seat at Henley Regatta
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Captain Miriam Stewart led her team-mates – Katie Phillips, Sophie Raine, Georgia Rattigan and cox Helena Lee-Boaler – to the final of the senior coxed quad at the Henley Women’s Regatta.
Ultimately, they finished runners-up, beaten by Edinburgh who claimed the Frank V Harry Cup, but considering it was the first time a crew from Lancaster University Boat Club had fielded a team in the competition in more than a decade, it was remarkable performance. The quintet came through a heat, a quarter-final and semi-final – finishing second out of 54 other crews who hailed not just from the UK but across the world.
Nineteen-year-old Stewart, who revealed that she and her team-mates are coached remotely by Stuart Lyons who is based in Austria, said: “We definitely did not expect to reach the final.
"There were 54 crews in our category which I think was the biggest number of entrants in that event ever.
"The top 16 have to get through the first round via a time trial, then after that it’s side-by-side racing."
A time of five minutes and 39 seconds was good enough to see Lancaster through to the side-by-side racing stage.
They eased away from London-based club Vesta in the quarter-finals in a time of 5:31.20 before finishing 10 seconds ahead of Birmingham University in the semi-finals, clocking a time of 5.41.02.
Their time of just six over minutes in the final was their slowest of the weekend as Edinburgh dealt with the conditions better to win by 10 seconds.
"Our initial aim was to get in that top 16,” said Stewart. “We had no expectations beyond that, we just wanted to qualify from the heats.
"But as we progressed through each stage, we kept taking it one step further until we reached all the way through to the final.
"We were completely in shock that we had made it that far. Our coach sent us a message congratulating us but admitted he never expected us to get that far.
"It was really lovely and well beyond any of our expectations.”
While the Lancaster rowers may have surprised a few people, but their success was certainly no flash in the pan. They have trained solidly as a team for the past year, practising diligently on the River Lune as well as taking part in races on the British Universities and Colleges Sport tour.
"It has been 13 years since a Lancaster University crew has entered the Henley Women’s Regatta and so when it was first mentioned that it may be a possibility this year, we were all excited at the prospect,” said Stewart.
"For the past three months, we have been consistently rowing as a crew to make us as strong as possible.
"It’s been the first time in a while where it’s been felt that there has been a strong enough group of people to make it a strong enough possibility to compete at Henley.”
Certainly the four crew members who reached the final representing Lancaster have pedigree.
Indeed, Stewart has been rowing from a very early age and has been on the GB talent pathway which spots promising young athletes who have the potential to be future Olympic stars.
Both Stewart and her team-mate Raine took part in a test event for Team GB immediately after their participation at Henley.
"Even though we were absolutely exhausted after racing all last weekend, we went and did some test racing at GB centre which was really exciting,” said Stewart.
"So that’s definitely a possibility in the future, it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of commitment but a couple of us are definitely keen to take it further.
"As a junior I took part in GB trials but all that got messed up by Covid-19 but since I started university, I have been thinking about it a little bit more.
"I think doing so well at this event has sort of confirmed it to me that there are possibilities in the future and I think it has for the other girls as well.
"The Olympics is definitely a dream for me although I am not sure how realistic it is, but I would love to do it.”
Being only a teenager, Stewart has got time on her hands to realise her ambition especially when she reflects that athletes such as the legendary Sir Steve Redgrave were still competing – and winning Olympic gold – at the age of 38.
The Henley Regatta certainly gave the Lancaster rowers the experience of competing on the big occasion and she paid tribute to the support of Lancaster’s rowing community.
"Past and present members of the club offered their congratulations, reminding us how important the support of the club and the Lancaster rowing community as a whole impacts the results of each crew,” she said.
"The funding for the boat we rowed in came from a variety of sources, including alumni and current members of the club, who joined together to make the purchase possible.
Furthermore the fundraising and donations that are received throughout the year are also partly put towards funding the campaign, making the event accessible to everyone.
"Without the time and effort given by so many to ensure the boat’s success, the whole event would have been so much harder, proving that the result was a win for all of LUBC and it’s fantastic Alumni, as well as the crew itself.”