A student from the University of Worcester has been selected to represent Great Britain at the forthcoming World Rowing Coastal Championships in Portugal.
Swyn Williams, 23, who is studying for a Masters’ degree in Adapted Sport at Worcester, earned her place in the squad by winning the Mixed Doubles category at the British Offshore Rowing Championships in July, along with crew-mate Tom Brain.
Swyn, from Dinas Cross in Pembrokeshire, has spoken of her pride at representing GB, as well as her hope that one day the sport of coastal rowing will benefit from higher levels of both funding and coverage.
“It’s an incredible sport, but then I would say that,” Swyn said. “At the worlds we will row 4km in the heats, and 6km if we make the A Final. That’s 6km of hard rowing in whatever conditions the ocean can throw at us.”
“It’s not for the faint hearted,” she added. “In fact, coastal rowing has just been reclassified as a contact sport because there are so many collisions. It’s not a straight course, there are no lanes to separate us, and boats compete hard for the best line around the buoys.”
This is not Swyn’s first taste of World Championship action. She first took up the sport aged 17, and only six months after stepping into a boat for the first time, she qualified for her first World Championships.
“It was a pretty meteoric rise I guess,” she said. “Six months after my first experience of offshore rowing we were in Monaco for the World Champs, which wasn’t the worst introduction to international sport to be fair.”
Whilst coastal rowing is growing in profile, it does not attract a great deal of funding, which makes life tough for the competitors.
“When Tom and I won the British title, we had to consider if we could even afford to attend the Worlds,” Swyn said. “As an athlete you have to pay for everything yourself, from travel and accommodation to entry fees and even the hire of the boat you’ll compete in.”
Swyn chose to study at the University of Worcester because of the unique opportunities afforded by the Masters in Adapted Sport, a subject that she is passionate about, but also because she wanted to see how her coastal rowing skills might translate on to the river Severn with the University’s rowing club.
“After spending a year on the river with the Worcester Uni crews I learned a lot about how to structure my training,” she said. “Before that I was largely winging it, but at Worcester I had the support I needed to help me learn how to train more effectively. I also think I developed a more efficient stroke from learning how to row on the river.”
Swyn, who plans to maintain her new-found love of river rowing along-side her passion for the wild ways of the coastal sport, contacted British Rowing to enquire about trials for the GB talent pathway.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t eligible because I was 2cm too short. They won’t consider anyone under 5ft 10,” she said.
Swyn also received a sports scholarship from the University of Worcester, which helped in meeting some of the costs associated with her sport, as well as providing invaluable expertise and support to enhance her training programme.
The World Coastal Rowing Championships will take place in Oeiras, Portugal, from September 30th to October 3rd, with Swyn and Tom aiming for a place in the A Final. Having reached the A Final at the World Championships in Monaco in 2016 and again in Canada in 2018, Swyn is keen to build upon that success this time around.
And for Swyn, the next 12 months will be something of an adventure, whatever the result in Portugal.
“Actually, I got offered a job yesterday,” she said. “I have one more assignment to finish for my Masters, then I’m off to Portugal, and when I get back, I’m moving to Cardiff to start my new job working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is something I’m hugely passionate about. Then there’s also the World Championships in West Wales next year, so there’s a lot to look forward to.”