Like so many people in our sport, Will didn’t start out as a rower. Rather, he played football (soccer) and rugby – “not especially well,” as he tells it – in addition to running cross country. After his first year at the University of East London he came to the conclusion that he was too small to keep playing rugby and decided to try rowing because “size doesn’t matter in rowing,” or so he thought. Will figured that the worst thing that would happen is he’d fall in the water and have a laugh about it.
Will took to rowing quickly, going from one training session each week to seven then ten. He loves the team ethos of the sport and found his teammates to be incredibly supportive and motivational. The rowing club at UEL was only about a year old when he joined, but was blessed with a lot of resources from the university to help them develop the program. There were even current and former Olympians who had been recruited to row for the university! As a novice, Will got to train alongside them and became fascinated with their determination and focus and decided that he would exhibit those same traits, even if it didn’t lead him to the Olympics. The discipline and structure of rowing helped Will thrive.
One of Will’s favorite things about rowing is the dedication of rowers, particularly because it’s a sport with very few extrinsic rewards (and a lot of early mornings). He also loves the team aspect, as a boat is truly only as strong as its weakest link. Will knows that the patience and guidance of the more experienced rowers vastly sped up his learning curve, which is part of what motivated him to become a coach after his novice year (earning money to help pay for school didn’t hurt either). He first coached with London Youth Rowing, an organization with a mission to expand access to rowing for underprivileged youth and help them develop critical life skills. In particular, Will focused on classes that replaced the normal P.E. requirement.
After finishing university, Will moved to Putney, kept coaching, and joined London Rowing Club to stay active in the sport. He even got to live above the London Rowing Club, a unique opportunity which he enjoyed immensely. Will joined the TopRow Team when we partnered with LRC to establish TopRow London in 2018, and would still be coaching with us there if not for his 2019 move to Melbourne, Australia.
Although Will’s not entirely sure who suggested it first, a conversation with Jasper (our founder) at Henley began a joke about starting a TopRow Melbourne location, which slowly became more serious. Once Will moved and got to check out the rowing scene on the Yarra River, he realized it was a perfect location for a TopRow site – easily accessible with beautiful scenery and placid water that is much more friendly for novices than the Thames back in London. Will helped establish a partnership with Richmond Rowing Club and developed plans for TopRow Melbourne to open in 2020. However, the COVID pandemic struck right as the program was supposed to start, so plans remain paused while Victoria is in lockdown. RRC have been fantastic and supportive partners while navigating all the uncertainty, and Will is excited about the opportunity to build something special for the people of Melbourne once it is safe to do so.
Will had a hard time selecting just one rowing memory as his favorite. Between his award-winning work helping to develop and lead the UEL club and the joy he experienced bringing people together as social chair, he’s got quite a few to choose from. All that said, Will landed on his first race at Henley Royal Regatta with London Rowing Club. He’d never been to Henley or seen videos, so to arrive and see the size of the crowd, hear the cheers, and know their race would be filmed live by a drone was a lot to take in. “Henley is the peak of what you can achieve as a club rower, so to have qualified and made it through the first round feels quite special.”
“People should row because the community is so welcoming!” Will says. He acknowledges there’s still a stigma attached to the sport based on its roots in elitist institutions, and it can still be prohibitively expensive if you go it alone. On the flip side, joining a club can give people “access to so much, not just rowing but gym equipment, community, and a meditative experience on the water, often for less than the cost of a gym membership.” While there are certainly some people or institutions that maintain the old elitism, most rowers and clubs are incredibly welcoming and want to see new people experience the joy of rowing.
“I’ve grown so much in my communication, my teamwork, my leadership, and made so many friends that I wouldn’t have met elsewhere,” says Will. Outside of personal growth, Will also appreciates the physical and mental health benefits of rowing: “you can’t focus on anything else except what you’re doing – the boat will let you know if you lose focus – so it becomes very meditative. Plus it’s a low impact whole-body workout you can do for your entire life.” Best of all, the benefits are the same whether you’re a recreational or elite rower!
Will’s big desire is to have more rowing opportunities for everyone at every level, which is why every job he’s had has been in an access-oriented program. “TopRow is all about getting more people from all walks of life into rowing, and I love that.” He’s seen himself and others develop so much from the consistency, dedication, and reliability required to be a rower. Rowing has brought Will friends, experiences, and opportunities he never imagined for himself, and he can’t wait to share the many gifts of rowing with Melbourne.
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