Archives For rowing

Bits and bobs from around the web this week:

Apple Media Event All But Confirmed for September 12th, iPhone Launch Likely
Here comes the next iPhone.

London2012 Opening Ceremony: The power and the might
The London 2012 Summer Olympic games get underway

Q & A: Os Guinness on What Freedom in the Balance Looks Like
My friend Os Guinness taking questions before his new book is release – A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future

‘Not tailored to U.S. audience’: NBC cuts tribute to London terror victims from Opening Ceremony broadcast
American broadcasts try to explain why honourable memorial is cut out from their delayed feed of the opening ceremony

Helen Glover & Heather Stanning win first Britain gold
The first Team GB gold from Eton Dorney, the beginning of something special. My passion for rowing is only increasing with this Olympics.

What’s Your Purpose?

April 28, 2012 — 2 Comments

On Saturday 7th April I sat down in my college common room, with my friends, to watch the Boat Race. Since 1829 this amateur event has captured special attention and it is listed amongst the crowning achievements of any rower’s career. With demanding training for 6 hours a day, for 7 months, alongside full time Oxford or Cambridge studies, there is no sporting event like this on earth.

Oxford loosing a blade in clash with Cambridge

We cheered loudly as the lighter Oxford crew pulled away quickly from the start and held their slender lead through the first part of the course. Then, the interruption of the swimmer, the anxious waiting with the legs full of lactic acid, and of course, the restart.

It was a good restart. Oxford again pulling away – but then the boats came together and with an almighty clash of oars a blade snapped clean off leaving Oxford with only seven active rowers.

The commentators were tripping over their tongues to describe the shambles. At one point they were even suggesting Oxford were silly for continuing on. They should stop, it was suggested. Record a D.N.F. (did not finish) for the record books. But the commentators and the Tweeters simply did not understand what was happening.

The minds of the 8 men and one women in the Dark Blue boat were set on one thing. Their purpose had been established months ago. They were there to race; they were there to race to the end.

It may be an international TV spectacle. It may be a source of pride and honour for the top two universities in England. It may be “steeped in tradition”. But that’s not what a rower sees on race day.

Something almost mystical happens when you get in a boat. The world outside disappears. The noise and happenings around you dissolve into background hum. You focus only on the voice of the cox. You concentrate only on your work with the oar.

The 9 people in your boat become your micro-world. You have trained with these people day in, day out. You have come to know them and to respect them. On race day, you row for them.

The purpose of the Oxford boat was to row the best race they could. To give everything they possibly could. To unleash the sum of the preparation sacrificed together through freezing months. To give it absolutely everything. Their eyes weren’t on the record books. This was their moment.

So 7 men rowed on. They weren’t going to stop. The cox put her hand down and the team lifted their heads up and they rowed, they rowed hard. So hard in fact that the bowman, Dr. Alexander Woods, needed oxygen, an I.V., and a night in the hospital to recover.

And what is your purpose? The world may be full of commentators shouting their opinions at you. But you, what have you resolved in your heart to do; what are you going to live your life for?

Now watch the last video diary entry from Oxford. Helps to sum it all up …

Is Alpha Backwards?

January 20, 2012 — 7 Comments

The Alpha CourseAnd so I found myself on one typically damp and overcast English afternoon, standing on a busy street in southeast Oxford inviting people to come to an ‘Alpha Launch Party’ – step one on the Alpha Course. Aside from the internal moral deliberation/dilemma – is it wrong to invite people to a “free meal” and then hit them sideways with the gospel? – I enthusiastically and creatively tried to grab people’s attention and, with a smile, invite them to the meal.

I was brand new to the city. I was brand new to these people. The experience was actually fairly fun, probably in no small part because everything was so new to me.

Some people came to that launch party. Some even came because I handed them a flyer (much to my astonishment – yeah, that led to repentance). And after our meal and chit-chat a few left and a few signed up for the forthcoming Alpha course. We had our beginning.

Over the next few weeks we did the Alpha thing: food, talk, questions. As a basic format it’s great. It’s informal (helped because we held it in a home – not an awkward church hall), it’s relaxed, and it’s inviting. Alpha has known tremendous success as a programme and is continuing to work well in many places. But it didn’t work stonkingly well for us this time.

For a start, we had students. Now, I’m a student currently so I’d like to think I can see it both ways. The reality is students aren’t like normal people. We don’t hold normal schedules and working out how we prioritise tasks is as perplexing as wondering why the number 1 ranked test cricket side in the world suddenly forgot how to play cricket. So asking students to turn up at 7:30pm every Thursday was never going to work; let alone get them away for an entire weekend.

But one big question about my Alpha experience emerged after a period of reflection and contrast. As you may know, I started rowing last term and have had an absolute blast so far. I’m a bit gutted I came to love this sport so late in life (yeah – I’m only 28, but that feels ancient compared to these freshers). The group of lads I row with are great. Highly committed, motivated and a lot of fun.

There are four of us from good old Wycliffe that currently row for Queen’s. Inspired by Mr. Gwyn-Thomas (remember that name) – who made quite a splash with Queen’s Rowing last year (no pun intended) – we have got stuck in and had a blast. We’re making friends and looking to tell people about Jesus. Naturally a rowing movie, pizza and beer are on the agenda here.

And here is the contrast with Alpha. With Alpha I spent one day getting trying to get to know some people and then 3 months talking about Jesus. With my rowing buddies I’ve spent 3 months getting to know them and we’re going to put on just one day to talk about Jesus. Sure, Jesus comes up in conversation at the boathouse sometimes – but He isn’t introduced through a topic for the evening with bullet points to direct the conversation.

Getting Alongside

My friend Carl Beech has a few good things to say about running an outreach course (be it Alpha, Christianity Explored etc.). One of the key tips – noted especially so for men – is to do stuff that you’re good at. Get alongside people. Keep it real. Carl rides bikes up and down stupidly large mountains in foreign lands. But it works. People talk, they open up.

Now I’m far from a competent rower. But I’m learning all the time and giving it my all in every training session. That builds trust, friendship and opportunities.

It’s well worth asking the question: what are we inviting people to? A friendship with Jesus that manifests itself in programmes without friendship? Or do we seek to build real relationships, genuine friendships and then invite our friends to know our best friend? Life is relationships. We reflect God be being made for relationships. Let’s keep this in mind as we build our programmes.

Alpha is a fantastic course but for God’s sake, make it work for your friends rather than stuffing your friends into your programme. Let’s make sure our evangelistic efforts mirror the relationship that’s transformed our lives in the first place.

And finally, please pray that we have an opportunity over the beer and pizza coming up to show Jesus to our rowing friends well. It’s part of the wider Oxford University Mission Week coming up. Thanks! For more see

Rowing in Oxford. Image from National Geographic.

It is pitch black outside. It will be dark for the entire session on the water. The morning light will only begin to infiltrate the gloom as you hoist the boat back to the boathouse. The sweat threatens to freeze on your ears as your thoughts turn to coffee. Your friends are only just stumbling from their beds to join the day you greeted hours earlier.

When I started my studies in Oxford I did not think that I would find myself this close to the River Thames at this hour of the day. Yet deciding to row with Queens College (Wycliffe’s sister college) has been a wonderful addition to my time here.


I have just started rowing. I am not going for the top boats. Yet still to do well I, along with the rest of the crew, need to train. There are the early starts on the river. There are sessions in the boat house on the “ergs” (rowing machines). And whilst we are at it let’s chuck in a few sessions at the gym for general strength training too.

If I was taking this uber-serioulsy (as the guys in the best boats do), I would triple the above.

When that alarm clock rings at 5:30 I have two options: get up or ignore it. My body argues for the latter, my mind struggles to win with the former. Across Oxford, 8 others are going through the same thought process. It is an act of discipline to kill the desire of my body.

It is not easy to get up but I can tell you, strolling through town afterwards – celebration coffee in hand – it is totally worth it.

The benefits far outweigh the immediate rush of endorphins too. The discipline focusses my day, structures my efforts and even bleeds over into other tasks. Busting out an extra couple of hours study one night, or getting up to read my Bible, are both made slightly easier by the ‘wins’ I’ve been experiencing in my training.

You Go Further In A Team

When we row we are in a boat with 8 guys and one cox (little shouty person who’s in command that we all love). With 8 in a boat, pulling hard, we go places. We fairly zip across the water.

We go further and faster, yes. But it is not on the water that I’ve felt the teamwork the most, it is in the boathouse. A few weeks ago I attempted a ‘2k’. The goal is simple – how fast can you row 2 kilometres? It is an absolute killer.

I boarded my rowing machine next to a few other guys, ready for the command. The music starts – it’s fast and hard and forces you to row to the beat set. 1km in and the legs are burning, your lungs are bursting. 1.5km and it is agony. But then the guys in the boat house will crowd around and start shouting at you. The shouts turn to screams. “COME ON.” “PUSH IT.” “KEEP IT UP.” And some other choice phrases.

With each yell there comes an injection of motivation. You find another gear. You tap into a reserve of energy that you would have bet your last power bar didn’t exist. Finally, wrecked, you reach 2k and collapse.

The entire experience requires absolutely everything that you have but it requires everyone around you to help you to give your all.

How can I apply the same level of motivation to my brothers and sisters in the church. Just think, if we were to adopt this, what results would we see?