Corporate VIIIs with Freeths

One of the highlights of many Olympics over the past twenty to thirty years has been the GB rowing team powering to Gold – seemingly always early on a Saturday morning – leaving plenty of defeated crews in their wake. What a sight it is to behold, eight rowers in perfect sync, gliding over the lake, relentlessly in pursuit of their prize.

So it was an easy decision to take part in this summer’s Corporate VIIIs….’yeah, I can do that, no problem.’ B4’s Richard Rosser recaps his rowing experiences….at least he didn’t capsize the boat!

When the e-mail dropped one Friday afternoon, I immediately thought ‘that’s for me’. Training twice a week after a day in the office was quite appealing and having rowed in Abingdon School’s novices some thirty years ago, I naively accepted the challenge! ‘You’ll be fine’ claimed Freeths’ Stewart Elliston, with absolutely no foundation for such a bold statement.

Under the expert tutelage of our coach, Caitlin Armstrong, cox, Keith Hollis, and assistant coach Paul Roworth – all eight of us were taken, step by step, through the minutiae of rowing, the intricacies, the secret to balancing the boat, the need to keep in time, the implications of slight movements here and failing to square the blade there…..each and every session! As the finals of Corporate VIIIs approached, we seemed to go forwards one session and then two steps back the next.

But, it was great fun…I think we all quite enjoyed seeing poor old Keith getting exasperated as each week went past, but credit to Keith, Caitlin and Paul, they all gave us something we never deserved to have…belief. We actually went into that first race thinking we could win the whole damn thing!

So, after over ten outings on the river at City of Oxford Rowing club, two visits to ‘the tank’ at Abingdon School (an indoor rowing experience for those of you wondering what on earth I’m talking about) and some very smart t-shirt printing, we thought we were ready.

We’d practised the course, not a lot, but we’d managed to improve on our initial time for the 300 metre course of 1 minute 49 by a good 22 seconds. Come the day of the Regatta, we walked the course (well the towpath), to get a feeling for the start ‘up river’ so it wasn’t such a surprise. I’m not sure if it helped the others but I was as nervous as a five year old at the dentist when it was our turn.

We came level with our opponents and before we knew it, we were off. A very messy start by both crews but we were in the lead! But we were only half way and things started to go wrong. Watching the Olympics, you see that point where the two boats are neck and neck but somehow parallel (depending on the camera angle)…well our lead was slipping and their boat was pulling away. As we got close to the boathouse, the cheers of the two to three hundred crowd came into earshot, but it wasn’t enough….we’d lost our first race and poor Cassy (at stroke – the front of the boat) had injured herself.

Race two and I was thrust into stroke…I was to set the pace, basically like asking a five year old to hold a US Presidential Press Briefing…hang on…!?

Anyway, back to the race and we were up against the eventual runners up, Perspectum Diagnostics and the fact that we didn’t win the competition is all the evidence you need that we didn’t win the race, despite the support of one of the Reaction Engines team – thank you. Our third and final race was much the same, a loss, but we got a rousing reception from the crowds on the river bank…thank goodness the Brits love a trying loser!

Despite our clean sweep, it was a great experience, making new friends and finding out our own individual strengths and weaknesses. My advice is to give it a go…just don’t let me anywhere near your boat!

Thanks to the coaches, Freeths, City of Oxford Rowing Club and the rest of the crew.


“One of the joys of coaching a group of beginner rowers is seeing how they progress as a team and how each individual brings different attributes and skills to the boat. It reminds us that while each oarsman has their individual strengths and weaknesses, it’s how they use those as part of the crew which will ultimately make the boat go fast.”
Caitlin Armstrong, Research scientist at Oxford Biotrans and volunteer coach, City of Oxford Rowing Club

“Freeths Solicitors has taken part in the Corporate VIII’s Rowing Challenge for many years. We use the Challenge as a team building activity for staff and the intermediaries we work with. We find that through rowing, people develop much stronger working relationships with their colleagues and intermediaries. It’s because of this inclusiveness, Freeths is proud to be part of this annual event.”
Stewart Elliston, Principal Business Development Manager, Freeths

“What a fantastic experience – training twice a week for 5 weeks (on the River Thames), blessed with an outstanding team, great weather (on the whole), and a very patient coach and cox.”
Balvinder Jaj, Partner, Freeths

“Rowing is about working together and having fun at the same time. No individual can win on their own, but they can be detrimental if left unchecked.”
Keith Hollis, Finance Systems Manager, Oxford Policy Management Limited and volunteer coach, City of Oxford Rowing Club

“The rowing was a fabulous way to be on the river in our beautiful city. It was great to be part of a team all pulling together in the same direction with the same intention, I loved it and miss it already.”
Michelle Arnold, Individual Banking Manager, Handlesbanken

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