Oxford vs Cambridge ‘Power2Inspire virtual boat race’ to promote inclusion through sport

This unique, inclusive online race is the first of its kind!

‘The Power2Inspire virtual inclusive boat race’ will be a pre-recorded race to be streamed on 13th June at 3 pm, involving athletes who are male, female, disabled, non-disabled, current students, and alumni; from the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

Rowers will take part remotely in their own homes, and there will be two “boats”, each consisting of eight people, rowing at any one time. They will compete on ergometers, rowing a collective distance of 6,838km using RowPro software, and communicating with a crew coordinator, and cox, over the phone. The first two boats will start, crossing a finish line at 500 metres, then the second boats will start, and this will continue until all eight sets of boats have taken part. A final time will be recorded to determine which University has won the race.

The event will also be used as a fundraiser for Power2Inspire with the help of their fundraising partner, Give as you live. John Willis, the founder of Power2Inspire, has his own connection to the sport, having been a cox during his time at Cambridge. He believes that this race will promote greater inclusivity within universities, and the sporting community as a whole, due to the isolation that many people are experiencing in lockdown.  He tells The Cambridge Tab:

“I’ve always thought that disabled people should be encouraged to row. Four years ago I did a Road2Rio Challenge and rowed for the first time in my life. I thought, why don’t we organise an inclusive rowing event? Oxford and Cambridge are perceived to be way more exclusive than they actually are, and it’s important to remind people in these communities that rowing is a sport for everybody.

“Now especially, we need to feel part of something outside of our own house. A lot of people are feeling isolated. If you’re disabled and vulnerable, you can’t go out for daily exercise. You’re told to isolate and stay at home for 12 weeks. Anything we can do to encourage people to feel a part of something bigger will hopefully be really helpful for promoting mental health.”

The money that will be raised as part of this event will go towards funding existing projects created by Power2Inspire. Among these will be a series of online exercise classes, which started when lockdown began. These occur on a weekly basis in the daytime, to encourage disabled and older members of the Cambridgeshire community to stay healthy and to promote self-care.

One of the Cambridge students set to participate in the race is third-year PhD student Freddie Markanday. He has never taken part in an inclusive competition before, but strongly promotes the use of virtual sporting events to boost comradery and enthusiasm during lockdown. “I have just recently been elected Men’s captain for the Queens’ College Boat Club and want to use this time to improve the club’s reach and structure. As a club, we’ve had to think of ways to keep our members engaged and active. We now have weekly virtual circuits, ergs and social chats. It’s far easier to remain motivated when you know you’re not alone and that others are working towards a goal alongside you.”

Members of Queens’ College Boat Club (Photo Credit: Freddie Markanday)

And indeed, rowing alongside Freddie on 13th June will be MPhil student, Jan Helmich, who is also part of the German Paralympic rowing team. Due to COVID-19, all training and events – including the last opportunity for Jan’s team to qualify for the Paralympic games, had been cancelled since February. He has thus been forced to shift all training indoors, using an indoor rowing machine and road-bike to stay motivated.

When asked about his thoughts on this first-of-its-kind inclusive race, Jan has said: “I love the idea. It’s a welcome addition that sheds some light on the sporting achievements and hurdles overcome by athletes with disabilities or other special needs. While it’s difficult to have a format that is inclusive of a wide range of disabilities, making it possible to let disabled and non-disabled people compete alongside each other is an important step forward.”

Jan's training

Jan’s training (Photo Credit: Detlev Seyb, rudern.de)

The creators of the ‘Power2Inspire virtual inclusive boat race’ certainly hope that this event will be a crucial step forward for the rowing community, to be used as a blueprint for future events that can be hosted online, and on ergometers. Luke Cavanaugh is a second-year English student who has consulted with Power2Inspire on the race, within an outreach capacity for his own collaborative initiative, LCAP Consulting. He affirms that the event can and should inspire others like it: “It’s something that could even go abroad, to any University, anywhere. It’s not limited by geography at all. It’s just a case of having an internet connection strong enough to do it.”

For those of us unwilling to wait the extra week for the Premier League to resume, tuning into the ‘Power2Inspire virtual boat race’ could be a captivating way to reignite our love of live sport, to stand in support and solidarity with the disabled community, and as John says, to reinvent a space for inclusivity within our society where truly “no one is left on the bench.”

You can watch the event, and donate here

Featured Image Credit: Freddie Markanday