Every year the Boat Race is watched by 250,000 people from the banks of the Thames and fifteen million watch it on television. The College is extremely proud to have had an exceptional five students taking part in the trials process for a coveted spot representing Cambridge in one of this year’s squads!

The triallists include three openweight hopefuls; fourth year NatSci student Iris Powell (U20), who represented CUBC in the winning Blondie crew in the 2023 boat races, third year Maths student Thomas Connor (U21) and second year Engineer Seth Delap (U22). In addition, for the first time in years, we have also had two lightweight triallists; third year History student Molly Cushing (U21), and PhD student Chris Hughes (G19) who took part in the process until late 2023.

Rowing for Cambridge University (CUBC) requires a unique combination of academic and sporting excellence with an intense trialling process starting each season in September. The squad train every day and take part in at least 6 sessions on the water, 2 indoor rowing sessions, and 3 strength and conditioning trainings during each week. This term they also travel to London every other week to race in side-by-side fixtures against other clubs in preparation for the Boat Race.

Triallists are also required to fund all their training costs personally, and there is limited existing funding from the Hawks’ Club to support these. The costs are currently over £2,000 for each student but thanks to the generous support of Churchill alumni, our triallists were each awarded a grant of £500 to help cover their costs in the Michaelmas term with a further £500 awarded for those still involved in the squad this term.

As the trial period draws to a close – final Boat Race squads will be announced in early March – we asked them to recall their favourite memory or challenge from their trial experience, what makes rowing special to them and the impact of College support.

Meet Iris

Perhaps predictably, my favourite memory from my time with CUBC so far has to be winning the 2023 Blondie-Osiris boat race. The entire race week is so special, and experiencing the magnitude of the day itself is something I’ll certainly take with me for the rest of my life.


I tend to find the start of the season the most challenging part of the trialling process as there is a huge pressure to be constantly proving yourself, both on and off the water… including lots and lots of hard ergs!

Rowing, and the trialling process specifically, has taught me the more about myself than any other experience I’ve had. You live and perform always at the very edge of your capabilities, face new challenges every day, and push yourself further than you ever thought possible. It has genuinely changed the way I view and interact with the world.

In addition to the evident costs of club fees, accommodation, and training camp, there are also more day-to-day financial burdens to trialling, such as being able to afford good quality, nutritious food (in large quantities!) to support the volume of training we are doing. Not having to worry about these everyday costs has unquestionably improved my athletic performance. It would mean the world to me, with the support of the college, to be the first blue boat rower from Churchill college in nearly 35 years.

Meet Tom

My favourite memory of the season so far is the January training camp to Avis, Portugal. The eleven-day camp to kick off the Lent training block provided ideal conditions to row: beautiful, long stretches of flat water, warm evening sun, excellent food and a chance finally to catch up on some sleep. Throughout the 400km of rowing in Portugal, I made steps on technically and produced some good power on the water. Towards the end of camp I was promoted to the Blue boat for a day. Whilst all of camp was enjoyable, this day I will cherish for a long-time and one I could never have imagined when I learnt to row in CCBC about 2 years ago.


The £500 grants in Michaelmas and Lent have been invaluable in covering the increased costs of trialling. A good proportion of the fund was used to pay for the training camp to Avis, Portugal.

Whilst the highs are high in rowing, the lows are also low. My most challenging moment was Trial 8s at the end of Michaelmas. Blustery and choppy conditions made it difficult to row and, after hitting the wall early in the race, our boat lost by about 2 lengths.

Rowing provides a unique balance in sport of individual struggle, technical prowess and team-work. I also enjoy how direct the payoff is for the work you put in. Effort in training, diet or sleep leads to faster times on the erg, more watts on the water or, ultimately, faster boater speed.

Meet Seth

The biggest challenge has definitely been dealing with injury. I managed to do my lower back in a couple months ago and have only just returned to on-the-water training. This meant months on the bike and doing physio away from much of the squad. While this was very grim, the less rigid schedule allowed me to train with some of the Churchill boat club guys and go along to some of their outings to help get through the long winter milage. Now that I’m coming back to training the focus is on the 3rd eight going to HORR.


Rowing is a nice balance of raw physical power and technical skill and ability. More important though are the people and squad around you. I think if everyone had to always train alone, you’d find a lot less people in the sport.

Support from College has been critical to training this year. I rack up quite the food bill even shopping exclusively at Aldi, and it means I don’t have to compromise eating enough with money troubles. Because as we all know, food is fuel. Also, the increased training load means the need for more kit and that wouldn’t have been possible on just my student loan.

Meet Molly

One of my favourite memories is also one of my most challenging moments- the Trial VIIIs race in December. This is the first and only time in the season we get to row the Boat Race course in race conditions, in matched VIIIs. As we were racing our own squad members, there was a great feeling of friendly rivalry leading up to the race, and it was really fun to see the development of a crew identity in a short space of time. In terms of the actual race, we faced some of the worst conditions most people had ever seen on the Tideway, with white-cap waves meaning that we were taking on a significant amount of water from the start. Despite this, and a restart after Hammersmith to give the crews a better chance to practice in slightly calmer conditions, my crew (Nala) was able to pull ahead to a win of several boat lengths. It was amazing to feel the crew pull together despite the external challenges and to get my first taste of racing the course!


There is something really special about the feeling of a boat moving well- the ability to come together as a crew to create speed is so satisfying, and when you get it right it feels like you could keep going forever! I also like that rowing is a mixture between power and technical ability, meaning that simply being tall isn’t the be all and end all- we are constantly trying to improve over thousands of strokes each outing to perfect the ideal stroke, made even more complicated by having to do it at the same time as 7 other people.

The financial support from the college has allowed me to trial without worrying about the cost; the funding I have received was vital for me to be able to go on training camp over the holidays, where we made great progress as a squad over 11 days in Sabaudia, Italy. There are a lot of hidden costs to trialling that really add up so the fact that I can make the most of this amazing opportunity without having to worry about finances is something I am so grateful for.

Meet Chris

My favourite memory from my time in trialling process was the first few weeks of the in Cambridge/Ely back in September. The excitement was akin to that `first day of school feeling’ and after months of erging all summer by myself to step into the boats in Ely (or even the erg room at Goldie) and link up with the squad made everyday feel like such an event. The fact the temperature was consistently around 30 degrees and we didn’t have any early mornings for the first month really helped too! The races and more showpiece events that came later in term were of course exciting and an honour to be involved in, but I could do one month again it would be September for sure.


The most challenging part of the trialling process for me, as a lightweight, was definitely managing weight. Half a year of training 12 times a week while staying in a calorie deficit is not fun and required a lot of planning and monitoring to make sure I was not under fuelling all of the time. It was another reason I am grateful for the college’s financial support though, eating and supplementing in a way that allowed me to hit my weight targets while still performing comes at more expense than the normal college student’s diet (even with all the beer money saved!)

During my time in the sport I have really moulded into someone who’s athletic ambitions and goals are well complemented by the challenges rowing offers. I grew up playing team sports but threw myself into running for the year in 2020 during the COVID lockdowns and enjoyed both for different reasons. People often describe rowing as the ultimate team sport – I disagree. I view (and enjoy) rowing as somewhere in between a team sport and an individual pursuit and it gets the best out of both as a result. It has the community and sense of ‘we are in this together’ of team sports (and of course ultimately you win or lose as a team) but the training is largely individual – you are solely responsible for what your blade is doing and the erg scores are representative of the work you have done. I think very few other sports bring the two aspects together like rowing. The two sides also help to keep me motivated, if one side is not going well at a given time that doesn’t mean the other has to suffer.

The biggest concern about trialling has always been how to accommodate the extra time commitment from all the sessions while not falling behind on your degree. For me, as a PhD student, the funding has been of huge benefit as it has replaced money I would normally have raised from doing undergraduate supervisions or other teaching works. This has allowed me to not have to sacrifice time spent working on my degree to juggle training, teaching and research.

Support our Churchill rowers

Triallists are required to fund all their training costs personally, and there is limited existing funding from the Hawks’ Club and the College to support these. The costs are currently over £2,000 for each student. To add your support please use this link and choose ‘other’ adding CCBC in the comment field. All gifts to the Boat Club, as with the College are tax-efficient and therefore if you are a UK taxpayer will increase by 25% at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support! To find out more about how you can get involved in supporting the Churchill College Boat Club, please get in touch with Fran Malarée, Development Director, by emailing development@chu.cam.ac.uk.


The Boat Race

As noted on the CUBC website, this famous race is in fact two races, featuring the men’s and women’s Blue Boats of Oxford and Cambridge. The Blue Boat is the name given to the top crew from each university, whose members win the coveted Light Blue colours of Cambridge or Dark Blue of Oxford. The openweight reserve crews are raced between the Boat Races (after the women’s race and before the men’s). The men’s reserve crews are Isis, for Oxford, and Goldie, for Cambridge. The women’s reserve crews are Osiris, for Oxford, and Blondie, for Cambridge. The 2024 Gemini Boat Race Crew Announcement will be made on Wednesday 13 March and we wish our Churchill rowers the very best of luck!

Read more: Churchill rowers aiming for The 2024 Gemini Boat Race – Churchill College (cam.ac.uk)

Headline image photo credit: @allmarkone