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The Leander Women's VIII preparing for the Women's Eights Head of the River Race in March, taken before the lockdown

For the next few months, until life is more certain, we will be publishing a shorter monthly online newsletter for Members in place of our biannual printed editions.

Articles, photographs and ideas, as well as news of our Members, are always welcome and should be addressed to the Editor, Barbara Wilson at

From the President

We are currently living in extraordinary times with most of the world’s population operating under a variety of constraints. The Clubhouse is closed, the regatta season has been devastated and there will be no Royal Regatta this year.

In these difficult and challenging circumstances the Committee has decided that the biannual, printed newsletter will not be published this Spring. This has given the Club the opportunity to look at a different format by creating a new page on the website. For the next few months, until life is more certain, there will be a much shorter monthly online newsletter – this is the first edition. This will also help the Club financially, as the production costs are much reduced.

Ted Bainbridge had been our newsletter editor for the last three years and the Club is immensely grateful to him for all his hard work. Two editions each year might not seem to be too onerous a task but I can assure you that the effort behind the scenes – particularly the chasing up of all the various contributions – is monumental.

I am delighted to be able to announce that Barbara Wilson has agreed to take over as the new editor – albeit that with the world changing around us, she is facing a quite different task to that which she thought she would be signing up for last December.

Barbara will be known to all our Dark Blue members as she was the OUBC Administrator for over 14 years, only retiring fairly recently.

She is thoroughly steeped in rowing with a host of key roles including Deputy Chair of British Rowing’s Sport Committee, Deputy Chair of the Junior Inter Regional Regatta and chairing the organising committee for the British Rowing Offshore Championships and the British Rowing Beach Sprint Championships.

On another positive note, Mark Banks and his coaches have been remotely supervising our squad of 19 men, 20 women and 6 juniors and, when required, supporting our 35 squad athletes at Caversham – setting training programmes, contacting each rower individually on a regular basis – motivating and supporting. Their feedback is really encouraging – our rowers are delighted to be given schedules and targets – this provides real purpose to otherwise very long and empty days.

The Committee is aware that due to the current situation it may not be possible to hold the AGM as scheduled on 28th June. We are considering the most appropriate option and will confirm arrangements with Members next month.

In May, the ‘Remembering our Members’ section will move online to a new link on the Members’ page of the website.

The Committee would very much welcome your feedback on this new format of the newsletter – comments, please to Barbara at

Stay safe and well. We look forward to welcoming you back at the clubhouse as soon as we possibly can.

Mike Sweeney CBE

Club Captain’s report

It was a great honour to receive a letter from the Leander Committee at the end of last year congratulating me on being elected Captain for 2020. I have been a Member of Leander since 2012, but for me, my story at the ‘Pink Palace’ goes back a lot further than that.

I was first brought to Leander as a young boy by my father Peter, who rowed at the club in the 1980’s. The Clubhouse would often be the starting point for riverside walks, picnics or trips to the River and Rowing Museum. My dad was always proud to show the Club off to me and my siblings. He would particularly like to show off the photo of his Olympic crew of 1988, who won the Grand, and the honours board with his name on it.

My most lasting childhood memory at Leander was at Henley Royal Regatta in 2004. I was a ten-year-old novice rower when I met the Olympic four of Pinsent, Cracknell, Williams and Coode (along with coach Jürgen Grobler), fresh off the water after winning the Stewards challenge cup. I fondly remember Steve Williams asking me to hold his water bottle and banana while he signed his autograph for me on a postcard and comparing blisters with the other three members of the crew.

I joined Leander in September 2012, straight after a successful final junior season in which I won the Fawley challenge cup with my school, Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School. I was so inspired by Team GB’s exceptional performances at the London 2012 Olympic Games. This inspiration was doubled when during my first week, I ate lunch in the crew room with one of my boyhood heroes, Pete Reed. The ability for Olympic champions to mix with young and upcoming rowers contributes hugely to the success of Leander and is something which I would like to develop further as Captain.

During my time at Leander so far, I have had a rollercoaster of a career. I have had some tough days! During the lead up to the World Championships in 2015 on a training camp in Portugal, my double scull had a ‘head on’ collision with the eight. As you can imagine, the world’s fastest eight came out from this a bit better than I did. I spent the next week in a Portuguese hospital with many fractured vertebrae before having a medical evacuation back to the UK for further treatment. This was a very uncertain time for me, as I wasn’t sure if I would make it back to being able to function normally, let alone row. Throughout this time, it was the Committee members, the coaches, the other athletes, the staff and the Members of Leander Club, who were sending me messages of support, and offering help. This has never been forgotten, and the support from each of you helped me to get back on my feet and back in a boat.

On a lighter note, I have also had some great successes including eight consecutive Henley wins, two European championship Bronze medals, a World championship silver medal, and even a last-minute call up to the Olympic Games in 2016.

When I look back to exploring Leander as a young boy, seeing all these giant Olympians walking around the place, and seeing my dad’s photos on the wall, I would never have believed that it would be my name on those honours boards. I now understand my role is to inspire others, like the rowers before me inspired me. I can also tease my dad now as I have won more Henley medals than him. However, he always comes back with a low blow and tells me that my medals don’t count as they are for the lesser discipline of sculling. “Come back to me when you have won the Grand!”.

I am looking forward to supporting all the athletes this year, which is a particularly strange year with the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, more than ever, each and every one of us Leander Members need to pull together and support our Club and our world class athletes.

Jack Beaumont, Leander Club Captain 2020

A bump in the road

“Anything worth having is never easy to get”. I’ve heard that said quite a few times during my rowing career so far, but I can tell you I didn’t see this bump in the ‘road to Tokyo’ coming.

This will be my 7th season on the GB senior team. I came from Hollingworth Lake Rowing Club and moved to Caversham after completing my A-levels, where Leander helped me find my feet in Henley and Vicky Thornley taught me how to cook pasta. After those early massive learning curves, I had many, many more in my first two seasons on the team where I was part of the women’s quad. After two attempts, we failed to gain qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics Games. Although there were tough lessons, I wouldn’t change having had this experience, it opened my eyes to senior racing and the standard that we needed to reach.

I came into the 2017 season knowing we had a mountain to climb and only a bit of an idea of how we were going to begin. We started the Olympiad well, with a lot of determination earning ourselves a bronze medal. Illness and injury plagued us. We had another lesson to learn – to respect and listen to your body.

Back on track, we managed to qualify the quad for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This was huge for me. I didn’t realise how much it meant to me until we crossed that finish line. We had achieved what we couldn’t quite do last time around. The monsters were definitely out of the cupboard and put well and truly to bed.

Having achieved qualification for the boat and managing to earn a seat over an extremely taxing year of trials, to hear that the Tokyo Olympics would not be taking place in 2020, was quite hard to take.

However, with everything going on in the world, how devastating Covid-19 has been so far and what we are all facing perspective was quick and easy to find.

We are all at home, training hard, trying to find a new normal, supporting each other and trying to do our bit to help. We aren’t able to train properly and different teams are affected in different ways in varying amounts all over the world, so it wouldn’t be right to hold an Olympics even if it were safe to do so. We want to be part of a fair Olympics with everyone at their best facing off shoulder to shoulder. I’m looking forwards to trying to earn my place again and be a part of Tokyo 2020 next year.

Jess Leyden

Keeping the positivity flowing

JAMES STANHOPEI remember sitting on the Leander pontoon, having lost the Henley semi-final of the Ladies’ Plate, drained and exhausted with an overwhelming emotion of wanting to set things right.

It was my first loss at the regatta in four years. The regatta is used as a defining variable between a good season and a bad one. You either win and it’s a great season, with all previous failures fading into a distant memory, and the sacrifices made become validated. Or, you lose and the decisions you made, as well as your own ability, are questioned. There is limited middle ground, no second place or silver medals. This is what makes the regatta so appealing to spectators and rowers alike.

Amidst the rumours of an impending pandemic, the Club had gathered great momentum on training camp in Banyoles, with our training routine remaining normal and focussed on the upcoming competitions with a win at the regatta the goal for the year.

My naïvity and stubbornness refused to believe the virus could penetrate the British Isles, but this was quickly proved wrong. As the number of new cases rose and the death toll followed, the cancellation of HRR became more and more probable. The goalposts you have been using to validate the fact that you are on the right path to achieve your goals, don’t look like they are just going to be moved, but pulled out the ground all together. With the lockdown finally in place the week before the works were meant to start on the regatta course, it was only a matter of time before the news broke. The tweet started “we are sorry…” and nothing further needed to be read. Although an understandable and necessary action,a sense of frustration still lingered.

We had a very strong squad this year with a great mix of experience, power and a good culture, which we had been developing throughout the year. An Olympic year is always slightly strange and will sometimes offer opportunities in open competitions for club crews to prove their speed against international crews, which we were hoping to do. With the cancellation of the regattas as well as all the other summer races, there will be no validation of our winter training, no assurance that the changes we have forced through repetition have improved us, and no chance to right a nagging loss from the previous year.

Being forced into lockdown and being left with your own thoughts could exacerbate the feelings and compound the frustration felt. Thankfully we’ve been keeping close as a group via weekly House Party and WhatsApp group chats keeping the positivity flowing.

Personally, I understand how exceptionally lucky I am during this period. I have moved back to my parent’s house with a garden and have been provided weights and an ergo by Leander, which are keeping me sane. This allows me to work on my weaknesses and in a time like this, turn negatives into positives.

Although this year’s goal posts have been torn out the ground, they will be eventually rooted back in and the focus switches to starting September with fewer weaknesses than before.

James Stanhope


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