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Row row row your boat

PUBLISHED: 14:51 17 June 2013 | UPDATED: 14:52 17 June 2013

L-R  Helen Cooke (cox), Hilary Strickland, Laura Cowan, Claire Smith, Sue Lees,  Hayley Sewell, Jocelyn Nicols

L-R Helen Cooke (cox), Hilary Strickland, Laura Cowan, Claire Smith, Sue Lees, Hayley Sewell, Jocelyn Nicols

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In the chic heritage city of Bath in Somerset there is just one rowing club, behind the park and ride at Newbridge on the banks of the river Avon, so hidden away you might not know it existed.

Head down to The Boathouse pub on the weekend mornings though and you’ll see the constant activity of boats and people taking to the water for race practise and social rowing up and down the four miles of river from the outskirts Bath to Saltford.

‘Sport for all’ has been a great tagline for some time now but ask most people who that includes and you won’t often hear anyone say sport for women over 40, but this is a demographic who are quietly staging a comeback.

Like the famous Boat Race on the Thames, veteran rowing and racing tends to be male dominated; it was not until the Montreal Olympics of 1976 that women were able to participate and as so many give up their sport to have families it is little wonder that women’s veteran racing tends to take a back seat.

At Minerva Rowing Club Bath there is a different story taking shape.

Two years ago Jane Turner returned to rowing after a tennis injury, rowing and sculling in whatever boat needed a ‘sit-in’ until she decided to see if she could recruit a serious women’s veteran squad.

Jane, who rowed at university in the 1970s, says: “I was very serious about it at uni, we trained five or six times a week.

“But to be honest it didn’t occur to me that I could continue, as I had never heard of a woman rowing, except at university.

“At that time, women were not allowed to row at Henley, and women’s rowing

had only just been included in the Olympics, so it was very much a minority sport.”

She started asking around friends who used to row or might know someone who did.

That was five months ago.

She now has recruited a 12-strong squad to the club, all of whom have similar situations, juggling childcare, looking after parents, having full-time jobs, most of whom rowed when they were younger and all of whom have remained keen to stay fit.

But if you think these women might just be wanting a gentle social row on the river, think again.

It is not just rowers that have returned, Jane has persuaded Helen Cooke (wife of Arnold, the club’s president and Olympian) to step back into a boat to coach and cox the crew.

Jane, like the others, loves the physical and mental challenges that rowing presents, She is determined to make sure the squad stays injury free and gets to race

at all levels.

“We are very careful about things like lifting the boat (or the motor to the launch) and getting technique right.

“I also think we are better at listening to our bodies - it also helps that we have several physios in the squad,” she says.

“How do I feel about racing?” continues Jane, “Sick actually, every time I think about it! However I can think of nothing more satisfying than crossing the finish line having rowed a good race.

“I don’t think that sort of joy should be reserved for the young and I personally don’t intend to stop.”

The club has very basic facilities, no showers and only one portaloo, but Sport England has just granted it a £50,000 award towards the building of toilets and showers, which could transform the club for the future.

Access to fresh water is still being determined but the club has been helped by Brains brewery, neighbours at the Boathouse pub, Wessex Water and MP Don Foster and it is hoped work will start very soon on the project.

Interested in getting back into rowing or coxing? n

Contact Minerva Rowing Club, voted Sports Club of the Year in Bath and North East Somerset Chairman Awards, 2013, at www.minervabathrc.org.uk

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