CONNECTED catches up with Will Rand, Director of the Reading University Boat Club (RUBC), to find out more about how the club’s rowers have stayed mentally and physically fit during a challenging year, and their joy at getting back out on the water after lockdown.
Following Will’s chat with CONNECTED about how the RUBC supports aspiring athletes, including future Olympians, we caught up with the Reading graduate once again to share how the club has guided current students through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Will reflected: “It has been massively different to what we’re used to, but thankfully the support of the team and the University has been really great.”
Following the government’s decision to go into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, students had to switch their early morning training sessions for a long stretch at home.
Will said: “It was the mental toll, rather than physical, that was the most noticeable in our students during lockdown. Rowing is big part of our students’ lives – it’s where they see their friends and connect with one another.”
Around the World in 80 Days
The club did offer training that students could do at home, but they wanted to find another way to bring the team together which led them to their Around the World in 80 Days challenge.
The challenge involved members of the club rowing on machines and recording the number of miles they had completed, between March-June 2020. Each day they combined the miles completed and checked how far around the world they had travelled.
Will said: “It was really engaging. All our students and coaches took part and every day we talked about our current location together.
“When we got to Japan – this was before we knew the 2020 Olympics would be postponed – we had a great time talking about the landmarks around the stadium and looking at the locations Olympians might see.
“We knew that some Reading alumni – such as Mathilda Hogkins-Byrne – would be competing at the Olympics this year, so we were also able to talk about their achievements and past roles within the club which was really uplifting.”
In order to resume training in line with social distancing guidelines, the club decided to adapt one of the two existing boat houses into a functional training space. The move included changing the layout of both boat houses and splitting training equipment into cardio and weight training sections.
“We wanted to make the most of the space we had, while still following government guidelines. For years, we had used one boat house for training and socialising, while the other acted as a storage unit,” Will said.
“We decided to clear out the other house and split the training equipment between both. The change worked really well – we could give the teams more access to train together and to the equipment they needed, while maintaining social distancing.”
The club has decided to keep using both houses moving forwards and has invested in renovating the space to make it safer and more functional, thanks to the University’s support.
An all-star staff
The boat club is supported by three other coaches, alongside Will, all of whom worked straight through the pandemic.
Will said: “The staff team were amazing. I can’t stress enough how much they held the squad together. They took on pastoral roles above and beyond physical training or coaching.
“Some of our students faced some really challenging circumstances. We had students grieving, students in extended isolation, students whose financial circumstances had changed, and students who couldn’t go home due to vulnerable family members. On top of all of that they couldn’t get out on the water or see their friends from the club.
“The staff stepped up to support them through it all. They made regular phone calls to members and helped guide them through rough patches. It wasn’t an easy time, but they supported the squad and one another. I really owe a lot to the strength of my team.”
As strong as ever
Thanks to the generous support of University donors, the club now boasts a number of excellent boats and a wide selection of training equipment.
Will said: “We were really pleased to see that, despite the pandemic, just as many students signed up to be a part of the club this year as in previous years. The standard of our equipment and the strength of our community plays a huge part in that.
“We are really fortunate to have the financial support to make all this possible. I’d like to say a special thank you to the Friends of the University who have been consistent supporters of the club.
“It makes a huge difference, not only because of the physical benefits of having specialist equipment, but to the morale of our members too.
“The University community truly supports what we do, and it shows, in the quality of our team of staff and in the quality of our squads.”