Four Cornish gig rowers took Loughborough by storm last weekend when they were picked to represent the South of England at the School Games Finals. Billed as the Olympics for school sport, the multi-sport event held over three days at Loughborough University saw 1,000 athletes from across the UK descend for three days of fierce competition. With opening ceremonies, athletes’ villages and Olympic athletes as mentors, this really was an incredible occasion and a huge honour for every athlete chosen.
The Schools Games is the culmination of many months of hard training and regional competitions for each sport before final selection is made. Indoor rowing, a breeding ground for GB Rowing, is acknowledged as one of the hardest sports going, with competitors going head to head in front of a packed house of passionate supporters. 22 rowers across 3 year groups, split by gender, were selected for the South of England, with 6 of them coming from Cornwall and 4 of those being Gig Rowers!
With music blaring, flashing lights and MC’s with Olympic pedigree calling the rowers into the lions’ den, this really was the stuff of legends.
Ellie Dash from Pendeen Pilot Gig Club was the first out and she took the girls year 9 competition by storm, posting a PB and proving too strong for her counterparts in the A final. Bringing home an impressive gold Ellie dominated the race from the start and was always in control.
Archie Rolls from Fowey Gig Club then demonstrated true grit with an impressive PB in the year 9 boys A final, in a very close fought race which saw the positions for 3rd to 6th constantly changing.
Jenna Kempster-Taylor from Rame Pilot Gig Club then produced a strong PB performance in a very competitive year 10 girls A final, finishing 5th with great style and competitive spirit.
Jack Austin from St Mary’s Pilot Gig Club on the Isles of Scilly finished off the impressive performances from Cornwall and IOS gig rowers with a lesson in ergo rowing that would not be out of place in a GB rowing camp. Jack’s control of the race saw him romp home to an assured gold in the year 11 A final.
Mention should also go to two other Cornish athletes, Ben Grubb from Wadebridge who outlined his dominance in the Year 10 boys A final with a blistering start that never relented and brought home a 3rd Cornish Gold and Izzy MacPhearson from Falmouth Greenbank Rowing Club also brought home the Yr10 girls Gold with an equally impressive victory.
Day 2 saw the team relays and Southern England, headed up by the Cornish contingent, asserted their dominance bringing home a cluster of silver and gold medals, although not without incidence as the Tier 2 relay team broke the machine half way through and had to row again in the Tier 1 final.
Archie Rolls and Jenna Kempster-Taylor rowed for the Tier 2 relay team with Archie leading off the race with a blistering 500m that kept pace with the older age groups he was pitted against, swiftly followed by Jenna who settled into a great 500m stretch, maintaining the Tier 2 teams position which would go on to seal a Silver at Tier 2 level but also a second place in the Tier 1 race!
Ellie Dash, Jack Austin, Izzy MacPhearson and Ben Grubb then made up two thirds of the Tier 1 Southern England ‘Dream Team’, which pulled its way to a huge victory over the rest of the field and a gold medal for all.
Reflecting on the weekend Archie Rolls said, “It’s been a great opportunity to gain an insight into professional sport and an amazing experience, but I’ve also made some great new friends… it’s been a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
With so much talent emanating from the sport of gig rowing, Shane Sullivan, Chair of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association said “Congratulations and well done to all those junior rowers who have represented our sport and ethos so well. It’s easy to under estimate the talent our sport generates and we need to ensure all our athletes are given the opportunities and recognition they deserve. “
So what next for these amazing athletes from Cornwall? Well, with the rowing season coming to an end, most of them will be back to the gym to get ready for next year’s season, both indoors and, more importantly, out on the sea. Such has been the impact of this event on their lives, they all want some more.
And the last word goes to Ellie Dash who sums up what this incredible weekend has meant to her and her Cornish companions; “ The National School Games Final was a great experience, it was amazing to be a part of such an awesome team as England South.
The friendships I have made, the experience of the competition format and the education classes we attended will really help us to keep progressing within the sport.
It was truly inspiring to be amongst such strong competitors. It proves that if you are determined and dedicated then it doesn’t matter where you live, there are opportunities you can take and people will recognise your effort and talent. Thanks to everyone who has helped us this far. I can’t wait for the next challenge to start!”