Wolfson W1 in action at the Xpress Head RaceBjoern Alexander Zeeb

“Winning a blade is definitely a real driving ambition of mine. My ultimate ambition for my time at Cambridge is to leave with blades and a good degree”. Anyone questioning the seriousness of college sport would be sharply taken aback by the zeal with which Michael Donnelly, a second-year Classics student and Coxes’ Captain of Wolfson College Boat Club, discusses May Bumps, the set of rowing races held annually on the River Cam.

When pressed on why the May Bumps is so important to his crew, Donnelly explains: “From day one of our training in Michaelmas, we talked about how this was day one of our May Bumps campaign. May Bumps represents the culmination of a year of hard work – you have had a full year of development and May Bumps really shows how far everyone has come after a year of bonding and hard training”.

Indeed, the intensity of Wolfson’s training schedule is indisputable. At the beginning of Easter Term, the crew trained six times a week, including a double session once a week. As the Bumps approach, however, the crew have ramped it up to training seven days a week, with double sessions twice a week. Training sessions typically involve a mixture of water-based sessions, strength and conditioning work in the gym, and ergs training.

Wolfson's M1 hope to win a blade to celebrate the club's fiftieth anniversaryFiona Gilsenan

How, then, do the crew balance such a demanding schedule with the business of Cambridge life, especially in the middle of the infamous Exam Term? Donnelly points to the benefits of a high-level of commitment to sport at such a period: “physical exertion allows you to take your mind off your studies for a couple of hours a day. Besides you can’t sit in your room and study all day, so you may as well go out, do some exercise and do your studies feeling refreshed”.

More generally, he describes how his commitment to rowing has complemented his studies throughout his time at Cambridge: “Rowing forces you to be disciplined. While you’re in the boat you must be disciplined and you have to be disciplined to get up so early in the morning. This discipline and a regular schedule helps you to plan and be more productive when you’re not rowing. Instead of rolling out of bed at quarter to nine and still being half asleep when you arrive for your lectures, when I arrive at the Faculty I’m fully awake, I’ve been up for hours and I’m ready”.

May Bumps takes on especial importance for the Wolfson Crew this year, as the club celebrates its 50th anniversary. In fact, the quality of this year’s crews allows the club to dream of the “perfect end to the 50th anniversary of the Boat Club” at the May Bumps. The Wolfson Men’s Crew sits third in Division Two, its highest ever position and Donnelly is keen to stress the strength of this year’s crew: “The crew has some seriously experienced rowers and that makes it all the more exciting”. Wolfson is indeed blessed with a vastly experienced crew this year: as well as Zenas Van Veldhoven, a member of the Cambridge University Blues Lightweight crew, the crew also contains rowers who have represented the Imperial Medics Boat Club, King’s College London, and the Oxford University Reserve Boat.


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The women’s crew, lying 11th in Division Two, is also confident of a successful May Bumps campaign, having won blades at last year’s May Bumps and last year’s Lent Bumps. The crew will be boosted by the availability of two members of the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, Kate Shipley and Larkin Sayre. Perhaps emboldened by the strength of the crews, Donnelly sends out a strong warning to his rivals on the river: “I’m fully focused on getting St Catharine’s, getting Girton, getting Churchill. We are going for it and they should know that we’re going for it”. The Wolfson Boat Club is certainly hopeful of making waves at this year’s May Bumps.