Ride the River

By | April 8, 2019

For the past few years I’ve had the privilege of serving London Youth Rowing (LYR) as a volunteer photographer. Photography was in my background: rowing wasn’t.  

London Youth Rowing is a remarkable organisation that works to:

  • Encourage disadvantaged young people to be active, and improve their physical, social and mental wellbeing
  • Help develop crucial life skills, which are necessary for success in the classroom and the workplace
  • Enable young people to participate in the unique sport – indoor and on-water rowing – across London, regardless of background, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability or ability
  • Nurture determination and success in a new generation of rowers

I grew up with football: it felt as if it was in my DNA.  It was easy – if you had a ball and a bit of space, back garden, local park, or a brick wall, you could make up a game.  I didn’t get in to rowing.  We didn’t have a river, or a lake in my back garden, or in the local park, or anywhere else nearby.  Oh, and I didn’t have a boat either.  Sadly, my potential as a rower fell at the first hurdle, but nowadays, thanks to organisations like LYR, football isn’t the only sporting option available to youngsters.

There’s absolutely no logic therefore to how I found myself working with London Youth Rowing, other than seeing the opportunity to take photos of youths rowing: or so I thought! Remarkably, I find myself now reflecting on the fact that LYR have given me the most amazing and unexpected opportunity to meet, talk to, and photograph a number of Olympic rowing medallists and world champions.  And what amazing people they are: talented, hardworking, disciplined and humble, and grateful that their sport gave them the confidence and self-assurance to tackle all aspects of life.

This past weekend was the annual University Boat Race – Oxford v Cambridge, an established British sporting institution.  It’s one of those events, alongside the Grand National, Test Matches, Wimbledon, the Cup Final that provokes a general stirring of interest among most of the population, but sadly draws invective from those who have no understanding of the power of sport. The media focus this weekend, predictably, was on two times Olympic gold medallist and six times world champion 46yrs old James Cracknell, in the Cambridge boat.  An amazing story, enhanced by Cambridge winning the race, but due to the nature of media coverage, the other guys didn’t get much of a look in, but hey ho, that’s the media.

So, let’s get back to London Youth Rowing: pop back up to the top to check on their mission.  In seat 5 in the Cambridge boat this year was Callum Sullivan, a young man who had been inspired by the rowing successes in the 2012 London Olympics, he looked for opportunities in his local area. He came across Globe Rowing Club (GRC), run by London Youth Rowing coach, Maurice Coughlan. Though he testifies that he was not a natural and struggled to pick up the technique, he persevered, worked hard and was given the facilities he needed through LYR.  And on Saturday he was a member of the victorious Cambridge team Check Callum’s story here.  

This is an enormous tribute to London Youth Rowing, whose work in engaging with all communities, including BME, disadvantaged, and disabled, through the power of sport, is breaking the traditional assumption that rowing is the preserve of the elite.  That Callum should work his way in to the Cambridge boat via his LYR roots is great testament to their mission.

My connection with London Youth Rowing has been by chance, but the opportunity to photograph some of their events has brought me in to contact with their brilliant staff, some remarkably talented World and Olympic champions, and opened my eyes to the opportunities that LYR are giving to numerous children to follow in the footsteps of these champions. What LYR is doing is remarkable, but sadly, it falls below the radar screens of the media, whose obsession with negativity and celebrity misses out on so many heart-warming stories, such as that of Callum.

Every year since 2007, LYR have organised and hosted the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships (NJIRC). In my opinion, whilst armed with a camera, it’s one of the most manic, exciting, noisy and photogenic events of the year.  Who knows how many future champions we may have seen giving everything, being cheered on, or screamed at by classmates, teachers and coaches? Take a look.

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