Parker emphasises that success isn't down to individuals, but to working as a teamCUWBC

Sitting in the clubhouse of the Goldie Boathouse after training, surrounded by plaques detailing the Boat Race results of every CUBC and CUWBC crew over the last century, 24-year old zoology PhD student Abigail Parker seems relaxed ahead of what will be one of the biggest and most high-profile races of her rowing career.

“I think that it’s looking good ahead of the Boat Race and I think that the amount of effort that everyone’s putting into it will pay off. We’ve got really great people on the team, and there’s a really good squad atmosphere. There’s a tight bond between everyone and we’re all focused on what we can do to improve.”

As one would expect of the CUWBC President, Parker has plenty of rowing experience to draw on ahead of the big day, having learnt how to row at Winsor school in Massachusetts before becoming captain of Harvard University’s Radcliffe varsity heavyweight crew in 2016. Pressed on the key ingredients of a winning crew, Parker is particularly insightful:

“When you get to race day, you’re more prepared for anything than you’ve ever been in your entire life”

“It doesn’t come down to the individuals. It’s about how you can work together and that’s something that we’ve been really focused on - getting eight people plus the cox completely on the same page. Making the same technical changes, taking a push at the same time, setting the same rhythm because even if you have eight people who are incredibly strong, if they’re not doing it together you’re not going to go fast and you’re not going to win. So, it’s all about trusting the people around you and moving with them”

As we begin to discuss her time at CUWBC more generally, it is hard to ignore the fact that Parker is President of CUWBC (Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club), a separate entity from the men’s boat club, whose name does not even allude to gender - Cambridge University Boat Club. Intrigued, I ask about gender equality in the world of Cambridge rowing, and it soon becomes apparent that this is an issue close to Parker’s heart.

“It’s really apparent in where we are now that we live in a society that has been biased towards men for centuries. And that’s where we are with the Boat Clubs - the men’s club have been going for longer, they’ve been doing the Boat Race since 1829, whilst we’ve only been on the tideway for 5 years. Right now, we get equal support from funding and sponsors but there is a very different background. For example, we have great alumni from the women’s club who do so much for us but we don’t have the same alumni network or financial security that the men’s club has in many respects so I think that going forward there are active plans to improve that, and equality between the clubs is improving every year.”

An encouraging step in the right direction did indeed take place this year, with the joining of performance programs across openweight women, lightweight men and lightweight women. In effect, CUWBC merged with the Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club. CUWBC does, however, remain a separate entity from the CUBC, and the performance programs of the openweight men and openweights women’s crew are not formally joined. Asked whether she’d be in favour of merging with CUBC, Parker remains coy, instead stressing the benefits of CUWBC’s merger with the lightweights crew:

“The lightweight men and women now train with us - we share facilities, boats, coaches. What we’ve learned from merging with the lightweights is that there are big advantages to having bigger groups training together. Our women’s Blue Boat now has a boat that is faster than them in the lightweight men’s boat to train with, and you can get more varied racing experiences within the squad, and just having a wider support network where it’s not just you training with the same twenty people that you’re competing with, but you also have another twenty people that are on the same journey as you.

“It’s been an interesting experience and really helpful for us. But we’ve been getting along really well with CUBC and we have great relationships within the squads - there’s a great mutual respect.”

The discussion of the structure of the different rowing clubs at the University leads me to question the structure of the season itself, a season which is entirely defined by a single, unpredictable race against a single university. Parker is similarly progressive on this issue, and is open to potential changes.

“I do think that it is great how focused we are on the Boat Race because when you get to race day, you’re more prepared for anything than you’ve ever been in your entire life. You’ve had so many months of working with the same people improving in the rowing but also in other facets like sports psychology - everything is designed so that we hit our peak for the Boat Race. And that’s a real strength of the Boat Race.


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“But at the same time we do also want to continue our season past the Boat Race - how we make sure that we’re also performing at BUCS regatta, and in a position to send boats to Henley and the European University Games. Making sure not only are we faster than Oxford every year but also faster than as many people as we can be. And that’s something that we’ve been thinking about going into the future.”

For now though, full focus remains on the Boat Race on 7th April. Asked to send out a message to the Oxford crew, Parker displays her characteristic refinement and sportsmanship: “I wish them good luck and I hope that it’s a great race. We really respect everything that they’re doing - they’re training for the same thing as us and, although we hope that we come out on top, there’s a lot of mutual respect.” Whatever happens on the Tideway on 7th April, rest assured that Parker will lead her crew with dignity.

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