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28. February 2018 Jakub Příbaň

Rowing: The Religious Cult of Jesus College

It is 06.22am, -3°C feel, stiff with cold fingers clutch the oar handles, counting down the seconds before official sunrise - the legal time to push off the bank and begin the outing. This is also known as rowing in Lent term. As off-putting as the weather conditions and early morning starts may seem to be, it all becomes worth it, come the time of Bumps - the climax of Lent term rowing.

Although the most prestigious boat race is undeniably that between Oxford and Cambridge, Bumps are certainly the highlight of college level rowing, and that which we will be racing in a few days’ time. In Lent Bumps there are seven racing divisions, each of which contains 17 or 18 boats. From the start line, these boats line up one after another (the order determined by results in the previous year), with one and a half boat lengths spacing between them. At the sound of the cannon, everyone sets off at once, sprinting, trying to catch up to the boat in front of them. The objective of Bumps is to ‘bump’ (i.e. make physical contact with) the boat in front, which moves that boat up one position on the charts. The entire event involves 4 races for each division over 5 days, and those that move up 4 or more places are awarded blades - oars painted with their college colours and emblazoned with the crew members’’ names.
Jesus College Boat Club is historically the most successful of all the colleges - a tradition everyone here is proud to uphold. Considerable credit for this goes to the prominent members of the club, most notably Steve Fairbairn, who among other things is said to have invented the swivel rowlocks that are used today. He is worshipped by all members of JCBC, not only due to his contributions to the club, but also his endless wisdom. One of his most popular quotes is “no fewer than 2 and no more, than 7”, referring to the correct amount of alcohol consumption in an evening, but conveniently always recalled without any units of measurement.
Of course, I knew nothing of this when signing up for rowing trial sessions back in freshers’ week. From the point of view of a passive observer, JCBC seems just like any other club that just happens to be well known for its socials. However, the reality is that boat club socials are the only ones that are well attended, as they fit the lifestyle of sleeping between the hours of 10pm and 5am. No, the JCBC model is designed so that once one is admitted, one does not simply leave. The inside jokes, the countless hours spent on daily trainings, and the massive peer pressure due to the sheer size of the club almost force one to love it. This was quite accurately characterised by the pervious Master of college, Robert Mair, at a termly Boat Club Dinner: “The only times Jesus hosts special dinners are for academic achievements, when we require money from benefactors, and religious events. It would therefore seem that we have started a new religion!”
As wild as rowing escapades are, the truth is that the commitment is quite large. If I was to give advice to incoming freshers thinking of signing up, it would be to bear this in mind. With daily rowing training, university Volleyball training 3 times a week, and the very academics I am here for, I am finding this to be quite an intense learning curve of time management. I have been asked many times, why I don’t just drop something to make life easier. Of course I could, but where would be the fun in that?

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