Oxford University Boat Club's Mike DiSanto Checks in on Winter Training with the Dark Blues

The OUBC Christmas sweater row (Photo courtesy Mike DiSanto)
The following is the second installment of Harvard Alum Mike DiSanto's training log from the 2014-2015 season with the Oxford Blues, this one detailing the Trial VIIIs and their winter training camp in France. From Mike:

Hey everyone,

Hope the winter training is going well. I haven’t been home since Christmas but I’m hearing Boston is currently under about four feet of snow! Sometimes living abroad has its perks and not having to deal with a frozen river and consecutive months on the erg is definitely one of them. When I last checked in, OUBC had just taken part in a successful Fuller’s Fours Head. Since then a lot has happened and I’ll do my best to bring you up to speed.

Bringing everyone back a few months, the team raced the Fours Head on Saturday, November 1st. After a great showing by the whole squad, we were right back in eights the next day, preparing for our second biggest race of the year: Trial VIIIs. To most people, Trial VIIIs is just an intra-squad race over the Boat Race course in even lineups. And although this view is accurate, it doesn’t quite sum up how the guys competing in it feel. As I mentioned, most guys, myself included, think Trial VIIIs is the second biggest race of the year. Aside from Boat Race day, it is the only time we’ll race the full championship course. And to the best of Sean [Bowden] and Andy [Nelder]'s intentions, the boats are completely even. The coaches have done their best to account for everyone’s tangible contributions, which means on the day, it is the intangibles that are on display. In the last week leading up to the race, the boats are kept almost completely apart with Sean coaching one boat and Andy coaching the other. Bragging rights are very much on the line for the entire program. In recent years, the team will name their boats. Some years the names are funny and fairly meaningless, e.g. 'Cowboys' and 'Indians,' but other years the names have a nice story behind them. Last year, as a tribute to Harry’s passing, Malcolm [Howard] decided to name the boats after some of Harry’s favorite words “Stubborn” and “Persistence.” For this year’s race, Iain Mandale came up with the names: Per Mare and Per Terram, the motto of the British Royal Marines. The Latin translates to ‘by sea, by land,’ and pays tribute to the Royal Marines who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and who celebrated their 350th birthday in 2014. And on Boat Race day, the Marines are nice enough to help provide security on the banks of the course.

As most of you know by now, Per Terram went on to win OUBC’s 2014 Trial VIIIs by two lengths. Although I wasn’t in the winning crew, it was an incredible race to be a part of as the lead changed three times and race wasn’t decided until after Barnes Bridge (about three minutes from the finish). Overall, it was a “Great Day” (another Harry Parkerism) for OUBC and probably good for Stan [Louloudis] to get his first Trial VIIIs win. After putting the boats back on the trailer and getting back to Oxford, it was time to celebrate the day at our annual Bosporos dinner. Trial VIIIs isn’t only a big deal to the guys who race in it, but its also important to OUBC as it is one of the three ways of becoming a lifetime member of OUBC (racing in Trial VIIIs, Isis, or the Blue Boat).

Davos, Switzerland (Photo courtesy of Mike DiSanto)
After the festivities of Trial VIIIs, it was back to work. Usually, this would have included a five-day vaca…I mean, training trip to Davos for cross-country skiing in the Alps, but because of the lack of snow, it meant more time at Iffley and Wallingford. Davos is a squad favorite, as the time in the Alps breaks up the monotony of erging and rowing while still providing some incredible training (and scenery). But even though we didn’t end up making it to Switzerland this year, we still managed to enjoy ourselves in England.

Having some time at home for Christmas was incredible. Getting off the flight and seeing my parents and girlfriend (hey Lizzy!) at the arrivals gate was by far the best gift I could have asked for. It’s nice to go back and be surrounded by so much love and support, its something I’ve been lucky to have a lot of throughout my entire life. When I hopped back on the plane for training camp, I felt like a million dollars.

Our training camp in France is important in two very different but equally crucial aspects. Firstly, it allows us to get away from any and all distractions and focus solely on rowing. The technical changes and gains that can be made in France in such a short period of time are unparalleled to any other part of the season. Of equal importance is the time that the team spends eating, sleeping, and living together in a chateau. This year, the more experienced guys were split up and dispersed amongst rooms with the younger guys. I had the privilege of rooming with the tallest member of this year’s squad, 6’7” David Grant. David is an incredibly nice, thoughtful, intelligent, and strong guy, leading the team in max power! A sophomore (or second year if you’re British) at Pembroke studying physics (he’s also single, ladies), he’s fairly new to the sport of rowing, only picking it up after an illustrious sailing career that saw him win a junior world championship. People say this a lot and its usually hyperbole, but in this case, the sky is the limit for David. He has a very bright future in this sport and will be leading OUBC to great heights soon.

By the end of France, provisional Blue Boat and Isis lineups were boated. That is by no means to say that selection is completed, but just to see how certain combinations look rowing together. The training volume this year was NOT small, but with the water as serene as it was, it would have been a disservice not to log a ton of miles. After all, the boats aren’t going to row themselves. The highlight of the week is always the team pantomime (fellow Americans, I’m still not quite sure what this is, but imagine one long skit) where every individual is assigned a character to play and lines to learn. This year’s panto was blooooody hilarious—even the coaches were laughing. Big shout out to Will Geffen for writing. Will, a second year at Keble, is another young guy doing big things. Keep your eye out for him.

After getting back from France, it was time to dive head first into final selection. For this, we head to Caversham to do seat racing. And that pretty much brings us up to speed with where we are in the season. Final selection is ongoing and yesterday we had our third and final 5k test. The team did well but a big shout out to two guys in particular, Tom Swartz and James White. I won’t post their scores for obvious reasons, but Tom is an ex Yale lightweight pulling some big boy times, especially for someone who weighs a fraction of what a heavyweight does. James White is a first year who has been working incredibly hard with Andy to make improvements. Yesterday, it paid off. Also, I have a feeling Stan might be posting a picture of his erg screen once the season is over (and if he doesn’t, I’ll let you know how fast he went—hint: #stupidfast).

A lot of people have asked me to compare last year and this year. Obviously the end goal is always the same: Win the Boat Race. But without the presence of Malcolm and Storm [Uru] there has been a lot more learning on the go. You really can’t quantify what the two of those guys brought to the team. They were pillars that everyone else could lean on. Not having them is a serious loss, but they imparted quite a bit of wisdom on the rest of the returners and me. For me, last year was all about learning as much as I could, both on and off the water. Every day was new and every lesson novel. This year, I’m still focusing a lot on making improvements but also doing my best to pass on some of the lessons I learned. As Sam O’Connor said so eloquently, “We have to make sure the younger guys get to experience winning.” Even though Sam and I have been teammates for six years now, he’s a guy I look up to, and whose opinion I respect. Sam is automatic in the boat and always keeps things in perspective. Having him, James and Will Hakim around this year has been awesome.

Going forward, the fun begins. We have some fixtures (Americans, think dual races over set distances) and the finalizing of crews. Once that’s done, we have the weigh-in, a gala dinner and a few other sponsor activities (but more on that next time). We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a good position but it means nothing unless we finish what we started. We’ll just have to borrow from the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots' “Do Your Job” mentality.

-Mike DiSanto

(Emphasis added by editor.) Thanks very much to Mike for checking in, and best of luck to OUBC with their ongoing preparation—the Tideway Fixtures have been announced, and this year Oxford's Goldie lineup will be taking on Thames Rowing Club, while the Blue Boat battles what will likely be a star-studded crew from Molesey Boat Club (a.k.a. 'The Black Death') on March 21st.


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