The Informed Opinion: Mike Valli

It felt like the first day of school. At the Iffley Rd sports complex 25 candidates arrived, seeking 16 positions in Blue Boat and Isis for the 2009 Boat Race. After speeches by President Colin Smith and coach Sean Bowden, we met the assembled media who interviewed us on important biographical info: our academic history, rowing credentials, favourite movie and flavour of ice cream.

Since that dramatic first day we’ve settled into our training routine of rowing, weights and ergs. The squad football match is the most exciting training we have done so far. Twenty-six guys, who are all around six foot five, with no football skills and – in the case of the American guys – no understanding of the rules are divided into two teams. A semi-inflated ball appears from somewhere and for an hour we proceed to hack shins, shout friendly abuse and trip over ourselves. Luckily this carnage happens early on a Sunday morning when no one can witness this pathetic display of hand-eye coordination.

The Turf and The Bear are two favourite pubs, despite a couple of our guys touching the ceilings with their shoulders. Our Social Secretary continues to work tirelessly and has already organised some excellent events. For our professional development we attend networking nights with other sports clubs including the lightweight women rowers, the women hockey squad and the Brookes cheerleading club.

After the Boat Race we’ll be getting involved with college rowing in Trinity Term and already we’re taking mental notes of which colleges have the most OUBC members. At this stage Teddy Hall is shaping up as the favourite to dominate Summer Eights.

Nearly half the squad is American. Luckily the ‘Rest of the World’ guys outnumber them and can squash their crazy ideas like introducing American Football to England, that we should always listen to Bruce Springsteen in the minibus, that we should drive on the right or that The Sun is not really a newspaper.

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We have one German, Polish, Italian and Ukrainian, who are useful for laughing at and teaching us rude words in different languages. I’m forced to endure bad Australian impersonations about kangaroos, wallabies and the crocodile hunter.

Alex is the only woman in the squad, a half-Polish half-French coxswain. She rolls her eyes and tries to tolerate our banter as best she can.

As for the rowing, the squad is working hard. We have a down-to-earth group who are quietly putting in the effort to produce something special in March. Three weeks gone and the early mornings and late afternoons at the Wallingford training centre are preparing us for our first races: October Boston Trials and The Fours Head.