In the final hours before racing began, the international crews at Henley Women’s Regatta were given a warm welcome at the River and Rowing Museum. On Thursday evening, the athletes set aside their rivalries to gather together and meet the team behind the regatta.
There were eager smiles as they were greeted with handshakes by just a few of the volunteers running the event – Chairman Miriam Luke, Helen Brawn, Gilly Watt, Ann Buckingham, and guest speaker Morgan Baynham-Williams. The Wild Fork Cafe provided refreshment in the classic form of Pimms (including a non-alcoholic option for those racing). Surrounded by the history and heritage of their sport, the rowers mingled, sharing feelings of enthusiasm and apprehension. “We don’t usually race two down the course at the same time,” commented one rower, Sarah Wutka from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts. “It’s very intense, but it’s exciting though — there’s lots of adrenaline.”
This excitement was certainly indisputable, as Reama Shearman, Head of Fundraising and Development at the museum, announced to the rowers that she could feel the determination feeding off them. As she addressed the crews, Reama was insistent that one thing was made very clear, declaring, “We would like you to know that you are always welcome here in the home and heart of rowing.” Chairman Miriam Luke also thanked the teams for travelling to Henley – some from as far as America, Switzerland, and Germany – passionately echoing Reama’s hospitality.
The highlight of the evening for many was a hilarious speech from Morgan Baynham-Williams. The 2016 Oxford Women’s Boat Race cox revealed that she had not planned what to say, yet she spoke eloquently and effortlessly about her experience in rowing. With no notes to hand, Morgan’s off-the-cuff humour had her audience giggling. There were tales of the boat race, as she recalled, “It was biblical. I have never seen conditions that bad in my life.” Despite the dreadful conditions, the Oxford boat won by 24 lengths. Morgan shared her insight into what makes a crew successful. “Being present, having your eyes wide open, that’s what gets you the win,” she enthused. “Henley Women’s Regatta is Gladiatorial, like the boat race — you win or you lose. But if you can harness your individual personality, what makes you you, and use that, that’s how you win.”
If Morgan’s inspirational speech wasn’t enough to spark ambition, the crews also heard from Jennifer Kelly, Head of Marketing at Bremont. To mark their first year in partnership with the Regatta, Bremont introduced the Bremont Award for Outstanding Performance. The single, double or pair achieving the highest percentage of record time would win specially engraved watches, which were on display for added motivation! “We’re delighted to be a partner,” stated Jennifer. “Our roots are here in Henley-on-Thames. It seems only fitting to put on an award to really honour that.”
Though there was racing to be done in the morning, Henley Women’s Regatta got off to a roaring start with a captivating evening for all at the International Crew Reception.
Full report of the Henley Womens’ Regatta will be published shortly.