Boat Race hailed as 'once in a lifetime' experience for youngsters

Isle of Ely Rowing Club members ahead of Boat Race 2021

Members Olive Cooke, Eleanor Elsey, Isobel Elsey, Katie Jugg, Millie Hurrell and Ted Roberts of Isle of Ely Rowing Club offered a helping hand at this year's Boat Race on the River Great Ouse. - Credit: Isle of Ely RC

Youngsters who offered a helping hand at this year’s Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford have described the “once in a lifetime” experience of being a part of history. 

After Isle of Ely Rowing Club was asked by event organisers for help on Easter Sunday (April 4), the day of the races, six junior members jumped at the chance. 

“My family always watches the Boat Race, so I knew it was a big event. I was excited to be part of something that is globally important,” one member said. 

Members Olive Cooke, Eleanor Elsey, Isobel Elsey, Katie Jugg, Millie Hurrell and Ted Roberts were tasked with roles on pontoons and holding the sterns of the boats to make sure they were aligned. 

Some members, ranging from 14 to 17-years-old, also had to ensure crews’ kits were collected and delivered to the waiting transport section so it arrived at the finish line in time. 

Isle of Ely plaque marking 1944 Boat Race

Volunteers from Isle of Ely Rowing Club placed their hand on a stone plaque at the Queen Adelaide river bank, the start of the 2021 race and finish of the 1944 event. - Credit: Isle of Ely RC


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After being told of the links between the Boat Race and Ely, volunteers took to the River Great Ouse on Good Friday to rehearse their practice starts ahead of race day. 

“I felt nervous; I didn’t sleep much the night before, but was really looking forward to the day,” one member said. 

Isle of Ely rowers practice ahead of Boat Race 2021

Volunteers take to the start line on the River Great Ouse ahead of race day. - Credit: Isle of Ely RC

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“I was worried that I might get pulled into the river as the boats zoomed away at the start,” another added. 

Luckily for the volunteers, there were no slip-ups on race day as Cambridge triumphed in both the men’s and women’s races, the first time the event has been held on the Great Ouse since 1944.

It was a day these volunteers will never forget. 

One simply said being a part of the 2021 Boat Race was “a once in a lifetime experience and something that I will never forget”, while another thought “the feeling that I was holding such a powerful boat was exhilarating.” 

Isle of Ely rowers help out Oxford crew before Boat Race 2021

The Oxford women's crew preparing for a practice start ahead of race day. - Credit: Isle of Ely RC

Vicky Parry, founder member of Isle of Ely RC, could not fault the volunteers for their efforts. 

“Their enthusiasm was inspiring; they did a brilliant job and the club is very proud of them,” she said. 

“To see what the Boat Race is all about and the people involved in organising an event will give them inspiration to say ‘I could do that’.  

“People think rowing is just an elite sport, but our rowing club is community-led and all sorts of people can be involved.” 

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