Inspiration can come from the strangest of places, for one Northern Irish cox, it was a comment from her cousin that got her hooked on rowing.
But then it’s quite sensible to listen to the advice of a medal-winning Olympic rower.
Alison Torrens (20), an Anthropology with International Relations student at the University of Aberdeen, took up rowing five years ago in Coleraine, following the advice of her cousin – Team GB Olympic medal winner Alan Campbell.
Now, half a decade later, Alison is following in her cousin’s footsteps – or, perhaps more fittingly, stokes – by rowing competitively. She hopes to be selected to represent the University of Aberdeen at the hotly-contested Aberdeen Asset Management Universities’ Boat Race, Scotland’s answer to the famous Oxford-Cambridge battle on the water, on Saturday March 12, 2016.
Alison said: “I remember Alan looked at me and said, ‘You’re a tiny person. You could do well as a cox.’ And the rest, as they say, is history!”
Alison took her cousin’s advice and began rowing at school. Before long she discovered that he was right – her height and talents leant themselves to the demands of being a cox. At 1.62m tall, it’s the position Alison hopes to bag in the Aberdeen Asset Management Universities’ Boat Race this March – working alongside hopeful rowers like Belgian Jonas Marks, who towers over her at 1.95m
She continued: “I didn’t compete much while I was at school, but now I’m at university I’ve become much more involved in rowing and have won a few medals. I feel a real sense of achievement every time I cross the finishing line.”
For Alison, rowing has become her biggest passion in life and she would love to join her cousin in the ranks of Team GB rowers. But, she says, it can be difficult for coxes to gain the recognition they deserve.
She explained: “It’s hard for coxes to get recognised, as they’re not the ones doing the obvious physical work, but when I come off the water I feel just as battered and bruised as the others in the boat. Being a cox is mentally exhausting, as you’re constantly having to give instructions to the crew and plan ahead – plus there’s a lot of shouting involved.
“Being out on the water is the biggest rush I have ever experienced. That moment before the race starts – when everyone is silent – is really tense and exhilarating. I love being depended on, and although I don’t have a blade in hand I know I’m a valued member of the crew.”
Alison is one of many rowers hoping to be selected to represent the University of Aberdeen at the Aberdeen Asset Management Universities’ Boat Race on March 12. The race will see the university pitted against rivals Robert Gordon University on a gruelling 3.5km stretch of the River Dee.
The final crews will be selected by each club’s president – Erin Wyness of reigning champions Robert Gordon University Boat Club (RGUBC), and Ian Walker of Aberdeen University Boat Club (AUBC) – who will take performance, ability and determination into account.
Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen, said: “Every year I am impressed by the skill and tenacity of the rowers competing in the Aberdeen Asset Management Universities’ Boat Race. The boat club presidents have a difficult task ahead of them selecting their crews, but whatever the choice I know that the race will be an exciting day for both the rowers in the boats and spectators on the riverbank.”
Last year, RGUBC won their fourth consecutive title race by one and three-quarter lengths in a time of eight minutes and 30 seconds. With AUBC eager to reclaim the title, spectators from across the city are expected to line the river to cheer on the crews as they push themselves to the limit to cross the finishing line.
Follow the 2016 Aberdeen Asset Management Universities’ Boat Race on Twitter @2016boatrace, Instagram @AAMboatrace and Facebook at www.facebook.com/AAMBoatRace