"Gnarly Nutters" take FirstRow Challenge 2008 victory at Marlow Rowing Club

Olympic medallist Sarah Winckless handed out the medals to the victorious crew of the Marlow Rowing Club FirstRow Challenge 2008 on Saturday [6th Sept 2008]. The "Gnarly Nutters" crew of Lee Marsden, Adam Smith, Peter Frost and Richard Hammersley, had never set foot in a boat before the competition and had were coxed, and coached, to victory by Bridget Cotter from the rowing club. They were no athletic slouches, however, being drawn from the Marlow Club gym.

This is the third year of Marlow Rowing Club's FirstRow Challenge competition in which teams from local companies, pubs, or sport clubs who have no experience of rowing at all are given some intense training and then race on the Thames in an authentic competitive regatta. The Gnarly Nutters' opposition in the final was from "Mid Life Crewsis" (Kevin Dobson, Jonathan Johnston, Gary Duncan, Simon Fisher of coxed by former Marlow Rowing Club captain Tom McGibbon), who came second, and "Super Scullers" John Menzies, Phil Durigan, Mark Cornwell, Malcolm Williams (coxed by Lisa Knill).

The leading crews had each won at least three of the four races in the opening four rounds of competition, holding off other crews from the High Wycombe based Handy Cross Runners (who had named themselves "Handy Cross Rowers" and "Handy Sham Rowers" for the day), Wyeth pharmaceuticals, and many others. The crews had selected their own names for the event, but the choice of "Man Overboard" by one of the crews caused some confusion amongst the spectators and safety boats alike!

The races were held on the Thames from Bisham down to the Marlow bridge with crews racing alongside each other and some very close head to head racing, overtaking and crab-catching.

Competition was fierce off the water too with ergo (rowing machine) competitions for children held in the club house while the parents were racing.

The prizes for the rowing and ergo competitions were handed out by Sarah Winckless, fresh back from rowing in the women's eight at the Olympics who praised the FirstRow competitors for their efforts.

Event organiser Sally Reay said of the competitors: "Every year I am impressed at how much the entrants manage to learn in such a short time and how well they cope with the atmosphere of a competitive race. You don't realise until you start to learn how many things you have to do at once in a rowing boat, and how important it is to do them perfectly in time with the rest of your crew, so it is a testament to the leading crews that they have managed to do that".

FirstRow will be back in September 2009.

Notes for Editors:

Marlow Rowing Club (www.marlowrowingclub.org.uk) was founded in 1871 and is one of the best known and successful on the upper Thames. It has a strong juniors programme, from 12 years old, and successful senior and veteran squads. It is involved in running various competitions throughout the year, including FirstRow Challenge. It also has a number of top flight athletes as life members, including gold medal winner Zac Purchase, and Olympic medallists and world champions such as Sarah Winckless, Katherine Grainger MBE and Annie Vernon. Marlow rower Sir Steve Redgrave is also a life member, and fellow life member, and current world champion Naomi Riches is in China now with Team GB representing the UK in the coxed fours event at the Paralympics.

FirstRow Challenge is MRC's event for non-rowers (www.firstrow.co.uk). Teams of four from workplaces, pubs, clubs or just friends can apply and are given instruction by members of Marlow Rowing Club over the weeks in advance of the race. The races themselves are run in the same style as real competitive regattas with head to head racing and experienced umpires (drawn from the same pool who umpire the major events of the season at Dorney Lake). On the day there is a barbeque, ergo competition for families and a great atmosphere as the novice crews compete head to head. Every year some of the competitors take up racing and the current senior squads contain several people who came to the club via first row and now compete, and win, at top-flight regattas.

Sarah Winckless was in the women's eight at the Bejing Olympics, having previously won an Olympic bronze medal in the double scull at Athens 2004, a silver medal in the quad the same year at the World Championships, World Championship gold in the quad in 2005 and 2006.  She is a life member of Marlow Rowing Club.