‘This day will stay with me for the rest of my life’

Two Trinity students rowed to victory in the Cancer Research UK Boat Races this year. MPhil student Ali Abbasi was No. 2 in the Cambridge Men’s Blue Boat and medical student Imogen Grant was stroke in the women’s reserve crew, Blondie.

Ali Abbasi
Ali Abbasi

The Cambridge Men’s Blue Boat beat Oxford for the first time since 2012 in a race frought with challenging conditions. Ali Abbasi, former Captain of First and Third, Trinity’s Boat Club, reflects on his CUBC experience and his plans for the future.

What does it feel like to be in the winning Blue Boat?

The Boat Race has been the singular focus of my rowing career, so crossing that line was a feeling unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m so proud of the crew for what we accomplished this year and I know this day will stay with me for the rest of my life.

When did you realise during the race that Cambridge was actually
going to win?

Anything can happen in the Boat Race, so you can’t assume anything until you actually cross the line. That said, I knew at Barnes Bridge that it would take a mistake on our part to change the outcome.

Rowing training is hard work: do you endure that or actually enjoy it?

While training is not always enjoyable, I love showing up every day because of the other guys on the team. We go through ups and downs together, push each other to become better athletes and we share a lot of laughs.

You have said you trialled for CUBC because it was the hardest thing, alongside studying, that you could do. What are you going to pit yourself against next?

Thanks to Trinity’s generous support I previously spent a year at the University of Chicago, where I worked as an advocate for low-income families on the impoverished South Side. Working in the clinic was challenging in completely different ways from rowing or academics, yet incredibly rewarding because of the daily interactions with the patients. Based on this experience I decided to apply for graduate medicine programmes, and I am currently deciding between Yale and the University of Chicago.

What are your rowing plans going forward?

Rowing at Cambridge is incredibly special because you can row with athletes who will go to the Olympics one day and a few hours later, study with some of the brightest minds in the world. It’s that combination that made me love rowing, so I don’t think I will continue rowing post Cambridge.

Will you remain involved with First and Third?

I owe a huge amount to First and Third, where I learnt to row five years ago. The club can only run thanks to the dedication of our alumni, who come to coach us and donate to the club. So I’ll definitely do my part to help future generations of Trinity oarsmen and women succeed.

‘Winning was one of the best feelings in the world’

Imogen Grant
Imogen Grant

Those who watched the televised coverage will have seen the Cambridge Women’s Blue Boat taking on water in some of the worst conditions endured by crews for years. The women’s race ended in decisive victory for the Dark Blues, with a valiant performance by a determined Cambridge crew who refused to give up. But viewers won’t have seen the performance of the Cambridge women’s reserve boat, Blondie, an exciting race between well-matched crews that was hard to call.

Imogen, who also rowed in the Lightweight Boat Race the previous week, explains what it is like to row – and win – for Cambridge.

Facing two consecutive race weeks was pretty daunting especially coming into the second week having narrowly lost a hard-fought Lightweight Boat Race by a canvas (six feet). Nevertheless, training continued and a nervous Blondie crew lined up on race day.

How does it feel to win?

Winning the Osiris – Blondie race was one of the best feelings in the world. Although we had been ahead for the last 10 minutes of the race, it was still a feeling of shock to cross the line first. I had to check to see the finish post before I began to believe it!

During the race when did you realise that Blondie was going to win?

We were down off the start, and about three minutes in we had to make a big move to stay in the race. We had to make sure Osiris couldn’t take our water before we had the advantage of the Surrey bend. The move worked and once our cox told us we were moving, I knew we had the momentum to move through them and win.

Rowing training is tough: do you endure it or actually enjoy it?

Rowing is one of the most rewarding sports I have ever played. It’s the perfect balance between team and individual, and caters fantastically for perfectionists – you repeat the same action again and again trying to always make it better! It’s also totally absorbing. When I’m on the water I think of nothing else.

How do you combine training and studying?

It’s definitely not easy and there are some days where I’m on the go from 5am until 9pm. Having so little time, you learn to be efficient with what you have, and I make sure I always have a snack if I’m flagging.

What are your rowing plans going forward?

Next term there are multiple opportunities to race with CUWBC in England as well as further afield in America, but Bumps is just as important to me! Further on than that, who knows? I want to learn to scull so that I can trial GB U23 Lightweights next year and I don’t want to put a limit on how far I could go yet.

Will you remain involved with First and Third Trinity Boat Club?

I owe everything to First and Third. I wouldn’t have touched a rowing boat and if it weren’t for the dedication of the coaches at First and Third I wouldn’t have been of a standard to trial for the university, or even realised it was something I could do. The club and the people in it have shaped my experience of university more than any other group.

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