Stroked by Emily Shepherd along with two SUBC members of SUBC currently studying at US universities (Sophie Houston and Zara Collison) the Australian U23 Coxed four won gold at the recent U23 World Championships.
The following account of the selection and preparation is written by Emily Shepherd for our website.
U23 Aussie Women's Coxd For - Gold
Emily Shepherd, Zara Collisson, Sophie Houston, Kate Easton. Cox: Nicholas Dunlop
Ever since I started rowing, I have dreamed about rowing for Australia. This year, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Australian U23 rowing team set to compete in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in July. It was a bumpy season for me, initially being ruled out of trials in Australia in March due to a rib injury. I was devastated as this was what I had been training for since August 2022. However, a few weeks later I was informed that there might be an opportunity to travel to America to trial with the Australian athletes who study in the USA. As this was my last year as an U23 athlete, I was stoked. This gave me a second chance to put all my hard training to work, and work I did. After nationals, my coach Alfie Young and SUBC head coach Don McLachlan put together a training program that would prepare myself and my pair partner Zoe McKellar for whatever lay ahead. It was probably the hardest month of training we had ever done but it was all worth it.
In late May we travelled to Princeton University, New Jersey, where the trials were being held. There were a few familiar faces of people I had known when they were still living in Australia, but also a lot of new ones. All together there were 11 of us trialling to make one boat. Before we started trialling, we had two weeks of training that we spend in different combinations in coxless fours and eights. When trials came around, we had to do a 2k erg test on day one, followed by 2 days of seat racing to find the fastest combination of girls to represent Australia. After a big three days of trialing, the team was announced. I was fortunate enough to be selected into the coxed four alongside 2 other SUBC girls, Sophie Houston and Zara Collisson, Katie Easton from MUBC, our cox Nick Dunlop from SRC, and our coach Annabelle Eaton from Mercantile Rowing Club. From here, we put our heads down and started training alongside the US-based Australian U23 men’s 8+ who was also selected at the same trials. Our typical training day would consist of 2 rows and a cardio session.
After two more weeks of training in Princeton, we all flew to Italy to train out of the European training centre on Lake Gavirate. This was an unbelievable experience, being able to train on an esteemed international rowing course and eating pasta and gelato every day. It was here that the rest of the Australian U23 team flew joined us to train at the ETC ((European Training Centre) in Varese . We completed a bunch of group workouts that were designed to push us to the next level, creating some friendly competition to lift the entire squad. We had access to physios, doctors, recovery pools, gym, ergs, bikes, recreation rooms and food 24/7, allowing us
to get the best out of our 2 weeks here.
After a sad goodbye to the ETC staff and facilities, we were off to Bulgaria! Our journey started with a 3am bus to Milan airport, 2 flights and another bus ride to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Our accommodation in Plovdiv was about 50 meters from the start line of the course, providing us with excellent mealtime entertainment. We had a few days of training on the course before racing began to get used to the new course and the new environment.
On Wednesday the 19th of July we had our first race. This was a preliminary race for lanes to determine starting positions for the final later in the week. This was still an extremely important race for us though, as we were able to analyse the other crews race plans and it was a chance to prove to the other countries that we were here to win. In a tough battle with the New Zealand girls we crossed the line in first place in a time of 6:58.46. This was an awesome way to start the regatta, filling us with confidence and motivation to finish the job we had just started. The next two days we spent working through our race plan, perfecting things we could improve on from our previous race, and watching all the other Aussies race, all achieving amazing results. When our final day came, we were feeling good. We had spent so much time going over and over our race plan as a crew and we knew exactly what we had to do to achieve our goal of getting a gold for Australia. We were all feeling the nerves rowing up to the start line, and there were people everywhere anticipating the buzzer of the first A-final of the regatta.
Everything was a bit of a blur after the buzzer sounded but I don’t think I will ever forget crossing the finish line and looking around realising we had won in a time of 6:49.56. Standing in the middle podium, watching the Australian flag being raised and hearing the Australian anthem being sung by all the supporters watching was absolutely surreal. This feeling only grew as well, as Australia had one of the best campaigns we have ever had with every crew in an A-final and no crew finishing below fourth place.
It was a simply unforgettable experience with the most amazing people, without whom we could have not achieved what we did. Returning home as World Champions is still something my crew and I find hard to believe and is something we will always refer back to as one of our favourite memories.