Finally! After 4 agonising years of near misses, I once again felt the joy of crossing the Dublin 'Colours' Boat Race finish line ahead of our great rivals UCD on Sunday.
We last won this race back in my first year in Trinity in 2010 and it was beginning to look like that may have been the one and only time I would get my hands on the coveted Corcoran Cup. We had fought bravely every year since, but as the 2014 race day approached I admit there was a part of me that was resigned to another loss. The UCD crew were favourites, we had seen their erg scores from trials and knew their record - it's probably fair to say that very few people thought we had even the smallest chance of winning. We were 100% the underdogs.
Of course we knew different, logically. Our boat had been going very well in the last few weeks of training, we felt far faster than we had been coming in to the previous year's race, we had performed well in our only other test of the season: Lagan Head of the River in Belfast, but still, it had been four years since we had beaten a Senior UCD crew. The year has flown by with the pressures of writing up my PhD and organising and training for the Pacific Row, I couldn't believe how quickly Colours week had arrived. We had the last minute drama and bad luck that we had come to expect over the preceding years - the threat that an injury would require a full reorganisation of the crew we had pulled together so neatly over the final few weeks of training. The wind had come up again after a brief respite from the winter's howling storms; and it was a head wind straight down the course on our backs. Of course both crews row in the same conditions but we were lighter - a fact I'll take no credit for at all, but more than half our crew could race at lightweight if they chose - and therefore likely to find it harder to keep momentum and battle our way against the wind. It didn't look good for us but we knew we had nothing to lose and would at the very least be able to go out, row well and know we had given everything.
The races ran late, the novices struggling a little to position themselves on the start in the wind and flow. We reached O'Connell Bridge and had to laugh at the annual appropriate/inappropriate choice of music blaring out and mispronunciation of names. This year we had Riverdance and as it flailed to its racing crescendo I hoped our first strokes wouldn't quite echo its galloping rhythm. Then we were off. The roll call of our crew hadn't finished, we weren't in a position to see the Umpire's flag drop, perhaps it was a good thing - we avoided the tension of the last few seconds before the start and were a few strokes in before we realised. A few strokes in and already, slowly, inch by inch... gaining. Gaining? Follow the plan, push ten on the legs. The pain, instantly there and no hope of relief until the finish line, can I do this? Are they pushing through? From the corner of my eye they looked level but from behind me "I'm on their 3". So we're up. We're ahead, already, and still most of the course to go. Stroke by stroke just push on, look up at the bridges and push on. Into our advantage, push on again and make the most of it, increase the lead, it's not enough; they could still come back from this couldn't they? Bridge after bridge, how long is this course? Why aren't they coming back at us? Have they changed their race plan? Perhaps they're waiting, waiting to sprint at the end! Push on, lift it again, we have to get away, just keep the arms loose and push. By the time we reached the final straight we were lengths ahead, the longest winning margin the Corcoran Cup had seen for years and still we raced every single stroke to the line not quite believing we had done it, until suddenly the utter relief as the flags passed over our heads and we had won.
For two of us, veterans of the 2010 crew, it felt like vindication. For others it was payback for last year's painful defeat and for the rest it was 1 from 1 - a sign that rowing at Trinity could bring the same rewards as rowing for successful clubs back home or in their junior days. The end of the race, but hopefully the start of something. Later when we were dressed up in our club blazers, surrounded by friends and family and holding the hard won silverware, it hit home how much I'll miss it. The Pacific will be a great adventure, the great adventure of a lifetime perhaps, but in that moment I wanted so much to stay - to race out the year with these fantastic friends and this wonderful club. I'll be somewhere on the way to Hawaii when they race the National Championships this year and it will be hard, very hard, not to be with them. I'm just glad there's a few more races to go before I have to hang up the black and white and pink for good!