Maia Hely, 2018 MES leaver and former Head Girl went to University in Autumn 2018 and decided to take on a new challenge, learning to row! Here’s her story:

“On 27 July last year, in the pouring rain at Strathclyde Park, I celebrated winning double gold in the 4- and the 8 as part of the Scotland team for the Home International Regatta. 10 months earlier I had never even sat in a boat. How did this happen? 

When I was at the Mary Erskine School I played football and hockey and we did athletics in the summer.  I wasn’t fantastic at any one event, but, inspired by Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, I took up the heptathlon and trained in a “Run, Jump, Throw” group. This was led by the wonderful athletics mastercoach Sandy Robertson at Grangemouth Stadium.  We did sprints, hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot-put and 800m – basically everything – so the emphasis was on all-round fitness.  I enjoyed the training and I competed against Holly McArthur who was (and is!) something of a superstar.  She went on to represent Scotland in the Commonwealth Games Heptathlon in Australia in 2018 but it was clear that this was not my sporting destiny.  So, when I went to university, my list of clubs to check out at the Sports Fayre included football, volleyball, dance and… rowing.

My rowing journey began on the first Saturday in Freshers’ week in September 2018 when I made my way to the boathouse of the Glasgow University Boat Club (GUBC) on Glasgow Green. After briefly being taught how to hold a blade, we rotated through rolling pairs and fours in a tippy eight with the sun sparkling on the Clyde.  I remember thinking how lovely this was although I have since realised that you don’t always appreciate the scenery when you are working hard in a boat! 

The friendly people and the training programme structure attracted me to GUBC. As novices, we got to row on the water twice a week and the weekly full-club circuits sessions were a great way to get fit and meet all the other rowers in a really motivating atmosphere. 

Seeing improvement in the gym and constantly learning, by February 2019 I had progressed to the Senior Women’s 8 for the Head of the Tyne race.  I sat in 3 seat, surrounded by much more experienced rowers, and I simply tried to copy them! 

While my sweep technique was progressing nicely, my sculling abilities were shaky. One of my lowest points in my brief rowing career came when I capsized on the way to the start line of my beginner single final at BUCS regatta in Nottingham!  This happened at a point on the bank where some of the most well-known clubs in the country had set up their tents and many spectators were able to witness me splashing around. One concerned gentleman asked if I needed to get to the side to dry out, but I had been surprised to come so far in the competition and was determined to race. After the ups and downs of my solo adventure, gaining a silver medal with my GUBC teammates the next day in the Intermediate W4+ at BUCS was a proud moment (finishing just 0.12s behind Oxford-Brookes). 

By the summer, I had the amazing opportunity to represent Scotland at HIR 2019 at Strathclyde Park. Sitting on the start line of the W4- race, seeing “SCOTLAND” printed on the back of a one-piece and the Saltire on my blade was a very surreal moment.  It made me realize just how far I had come in less than a year. Winning double gold in the 4- and the 8 and being part of the winning Scotland women’s senior squad on my debut was a bonus. 

Looking back over what has been a whirlwind 2 years, I realise that I have been exceptionally lucky to have had outstanding coaches and a huge amount of support from a wide range of incredible people. 

GUBC has been a perfect environment for me as a novice rower.  As well as providing a warm welcome, it is fortunate to have support from Glasgow University and Scottish Rowing to employ full time professional coaches. In my first year at GUBC, Paddy Hudson was head coach and Iain Docwra was the Development Rowing Coach.  I would not be writing this article if it was not for Paddy and “Doc”.  Along with their continuous support and encouragement they were able to give me detailed technical feedback about my rowing technique and to create a fitness training programme for me to follow, both on and off the water.  Without their expertise I would still be splashing about and capsizing in the shallows. Doc is now head coach at GUBC after Paddy took a coaching role at Edinburgh and we are happy to have GUBC alumnus Aaron Nicholson on board as new Development Coach. 

GUBC is also incredibly lucky to have Jonathon “Jonny” Stevenson (Resilience PPE) as our strength and conditioning coach. I started university with almost no weight-training experience. Jonny has been instrumental in teaching me the correct shapes to use in the gym and his in-depth knowledge of sport and the science around everything that we do keeps us endlessly entertained between sets.

This year I was lucky enough to receive support from the Scottish Institute of Sport.  All of this support has been amazing with positive guidance from Lee Boucher at Scottish Rowing and access to excellent nutrition, physio, and lifestyle support services provided by the Institute.

At Glasgow University I am studying Mechatronics (a combination of mechanical and electronic engineering) and I was finishing off my 2nd year courses when we went into lockdown.  This was around the time for the GB U23 trials and I was in good shape.  Fortunately, I was able to do a 2k time-trial in the garden of my parent’s house in Edinburgh with my teammates and coaches cheering me on through my laptop. I was thrilled to get a new Personal Best which was 10 seconds quicker than my 1st GB trial back in November.

I am obviously gutted that we will probably not have the opportunity to row or race on the water this summer, but the lockdown has given me the opportunity to work on my fitness at home and to make progress in areas which I sometimes overlook. I have regular video calls with the coaches and I usually have the GUBC squad on video call while I am on the erg as it helps to train with the rest of the team. The club is also running ‘pub’ quizzes and talent shows to maintain the social aspect that we love about GUBC.

This year I was women’s captain at GUBC and I am very keen to encourage the next wave of beginners at GUBC. A great inspiration is the new chancellor of the University of Glasgow University, Dame Katherine Grainger!  She is the most amazing role model we could possibly have and arrives just as GUBC has started to make waves in rowing circles and to take on Edinburgh and the top English universities, so these are very exciting times. From a personal perspective, I am hoping to keep on improving and it would be amazing to represent GB in the future. There is no doubt that Paris would be a lovely city to visit in 2024 and we are fortunate in Scottish rowing that we do not need to look far for Olympic inspiration!”

If you would like to tell us of a new challenge you’ve taken on, please get in touch with Suzi via development@esms.org.uk.

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