Champion sculler Vicky Thornley has been elected captain of Leander, to become only the second woman to hold the position in the 200-year history of the club.
“It’s a big honour and something I never really expected, but to have this happen in Leander’s bicentenary year is very special” she said.
Thornley was a natural choice for the appointment and, since moving to Leander exactly eight years ago, she has amassed an enviable medal haul on the world stage.
After winning an Olympic silver medal in the double scull with Katherine Grainger at the Rio Games in 2016 she climbed into the single scull, the boat in which she has now won GB senior trials on four successive occasions.
During the 2017 season she added two more World Cup silver medals to her tally, as well as the European title, before the climax of the year – another silver at the World Championships in Florida.
Thornley came to rowing as a student after being recruited into the national Sporting Giants programme, which sought to identify young men and women with the right physical attributes for rowing.
At 6’ 4” Thornley stood out from the crowd, but her height had not always proved an advantage during her previous careers as an equestrian rider and a brief dalliance with modelling.
“Riding was my life from age 14 to 17, and I competed at national championships, Hickstead, and the Horse of the Year Show, but I went into seniors a year early because I was too big for the ponies” she explained.
“I had to flip my feet back to avoid kicking the fences over” she laughed.
The support of her parents, Andrew and Gina, was crucial during this formative period at the family home in Wrexham, North Wales.
“My Mum and Dad took me all round the country, every weekend they left their social life behind, and that enabled me to live my dream of riding at that level and get on the treadmill of wanting to do better and better” she explained.
But in the knowledge that she would never ride as a career, and with A levels looming, the family sold her horses and she passed her exams to read a business degree at Bath.
A gap year gave her the chance to try modelling, but once again her height proved a disadvantage.
“I went down to London to the big agencies and they said ‘you’ve got a great face but fundamentally you’re too tall, and once we put you in heels nothing’s going to fit you’ ” she explained.
“I thought that was what my height was going to be for – what was I going to do now?”
As a member of the World Class Start rowing programme at Bath she came under the eye of GB coach Paul Stannard and within eighteen months had won her first title as a member of the GB women’s eight that took gold at the U23 World Championships.
While training at Caversham she met former Leander captain Rick Egington, who introduced her to Leander, where she arrived in early 2010.
Egington is now her long-term partner, but has yet to offer any special advice on the captaincy.
“I haven’t asked Rick about it yet – he doesn’t get too excited about many things but I think he’s happy about this. I’m sure he’ll give me some useful advice and he knows the club inside out” she said.
She also paid tribute to her predecessor, Nick Middleton, who announced his retirement from rowing after six Henley wins and a clutch of GB vests.
“Nick has left big shoes to fill, and I want to help continue the athlete mentoring scheme that he has helped set up – it’s an important part of the athlete transition back into real life, but it also helps produce more balanced athletes while you are still rowing” she said.
“I want help promote the number of women at Leander and make it the go-to club for all women who are looking to succeed at the highest level. It’s question of helping women carry on rowing after they’ve left school or university, if they can see a clear route to progress, that will hopefully help keep more women in the sport” she added.
And despite the high pressure environment at Leander she relishes to the special atmosphere that pervades the world’s most successful rowing club.
“It’s high performance, everyone wants to be the best, yet it’s very comfortable to be there – it’s got a good balance of relaxed enjoyment” she said.