Northern Ireland

Olympic legacy: How the Coleraine rowers inspired a generation

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It's Saturday, it's eight in the morning and while most of us are enjoying a lie-in, the banks of the River Lagan have rarely been busier.

The early starts and tough training regime haven't stopped record numbers of people from pulling on their wolly hats and lycra tights and giving rowing a try.

When I arrived at the club, the new recruits at Queen's Rowing Club were getting their boat ready for their first training session of the day.

Ok, not overly surprising you might think. What was surprising is that for the first time ever, more women than men have been inspired to dip their oar in at Queen's rowing club.

Students like Pamela McGuigan thought that the chance to take up a new sport had passed her by, until being inspired by the success of Alan Campbell and brothers Richard and Peter Chambers from Coleraine at this summers Olympic games.

"I used to live on Sunnyside Street so I used to hang over the bridge and watch people rowing and think 'thats never going to be me'," she said.

"So after 33 years I am a mature student at Queen's and they said go for the whole student experience. So here I am, I've been rowing for about four or five weeks not and it's just fantastic

"The boys from Coleraine, they were really exciting to watch and it was something that I'd always wanted to do, so it inspired me to give it a go out of all the clubs."

The new recruits are being eased into the intense training regime that currently sees the men training on the water between 10 and 12 sessions per week - a serious commitment, but it doesn't seem to be putting them off.

Big committment

"It is a big commitment, but once you start racing, you start to really enjoy it and the love for it makes you want to get up in the morning," said ladies club captain, Rebecca McGookin.

"At the moment we have about 70 fresher girls down. I think its the biggest number we've ever had. We're just trying to make sure that we have enough boats so everyone can have a go."

It's no real shock that the sport has reaped the rewards of a successful summer of Olympic sport.

Men's captain, Andrew Little has been rowing since his school days at Portora School in Enniskillen. He's heavily involved in the annual drive for new members and said he has definitely noticed the difference.

"It was very easy to recruit this year. It was an easy story to tell. Everyone knew about the Olympics and how successful the boys from Coleraine had been in the summer," he said.

"In previous years the same effort went in but we never got the same return. During freshers week we took about about 300 guys emails, its now week five and we've held onto about 50 of them. Usually we'd only start off with around 50."

If the club can keep growing its membership then it shouldn't be long until we see a repeat of the heroics performed by our rowers at London 2012.

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