On 11th April, 2015, one of Greene’s tutors will be making history. Shelley Pearson, a tutor on our U.S. SAT preparation courses, will row for OUWBC (the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club) in the 70th Women’s Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.
Shelley rowed at Harvard University and competed at the World Junior Championships twice, winning a gold medal in the 2009 U.S. junior women’s eight. She is now studying for a M.Sc. in child development and education at St. Cross College in Oxford (and is second from the back (the front of the boat) in the photo below).
Greene’s has seen its fair share of international sports women and men (as well as a number of other distinguished people in different fields) who have been tutors or students at the college. I haven’t checked the archives to count the number of Blues, internationals and Olympic medallists (tutors and students alike) who have been associated with Greene’s over its 50 or so years – although there have been quite a few. So the distinction for Shelley is not solely the achievement of representing the Dark Blues that enables her to make her mark in rowing records.
The historic moment comes because, on 11th April, Shelley will be part of the first Blues women’s crew, since the race was instigated in 1927, to race on the Tideway: along the same course as the men’s race, and on the same day. Women’s rowing at Oxford has had a long struggle for recognition, equality and funding, but this year a milestone has been reached.
As to whether Shelley will be in the winning crew, who knows? It’s generally acknowledged that the heavier crew has the better chance; and this year the Cambridge women’s crew were announced as being two pounds heavier than Oxford. Despite this, William Hill has backed the lighter Oxford crew as favourites. Perhaps a few strategically consumed hamburgers before the race may change all that. However, weight apart, wind and tide can combine to make treacherous conditions, and having rowed the course myself (sadly not as a Blue) I know a little of just how gruelling and unpredictable the race can be in the early spring weather.
The Oxford crew enjoyed some early success in the first few years of the race, winning all six held between 1930 and 1941. Not so successful in the decades between the 1960s and 1990s, OUWBC has found a winning streak in recent years, winning 10 of the 12 Women’s Boat Races between 2001 and 2012. The tally so far is Cambridge 40 wins, against Oxford’s 29.
I do not wish to appear too partisan, but even if she doesn’t cross the finishing line before everyone in the Cambridge crew, let’s hope Shelley does so before her Cambridge opposite number: or, as the fair-minded ‘Honest John Phelps’, judge of the 1877 (men’s) race is supposed to have declared, that the result is a ‘dead-heat to Oxford by 5 feet.’ As Shelley is rowing number three in the boat, a margin like that would be about right. However, Oxford supporters might want to avoid a repeat of the 2003 men’s race: winning by just one foot is perhaps a little too close for comfort.
Watch the men and women’s Blues race – and of course cheer on Shelley with the rest of us – on 11th April. See the website for details: http://theboatraces.org