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Canadian rower looking forward to third outing for Oxford in historic Boat Race

Having rowed in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race twice already, Canadian Julia Lindsay knows what to expect Saturday in the 78th edition of the women's race. The gruelling 6.
Canadian Julia Lindsay is shown in an undated handout photo. The 27-year-old PhD student from North Vancouver is rowing for the Oxford women against Cambridge in the historic Boat Race on March 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Boat Race **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Having rowed in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race twice already, Canadian Julia Lindsay knows what to expect Saturday in the 78th edition of the women's race.

The gruelling 6.8-kilometre course between Putney and Mortlake on the River Thames in southwest London comes with a lot of pain for the competitors. But Lindsay also sees a chance for Oxford to end Cambridge’s six-race win streak.

The 27-year-old from North Vancouver cites a new attitude and the fact that six of the Oxford crew are veterans of the race.

"There's quite a different buzz about the team than there was in the two years I was on the team previously," Lindsay said.

"There's a strong feeling that we have nothing to lose," she added. "We've done quite a bit of losing so worst-case scenario we lose again. But I think there's a really strong momentum behind turning the tide."

The women's race will be followed by the 169th running of the men's contest. Cambridge won both events in 2023 to up its all-time record against the Oxford men to 86-81 (there was a dead heat in 1877) and against the Oxford women to 47-30.

The Cambridge men have won four of the last five years.

The length and variable conditions of the Thames course make the Boat Race an unforgiving challenge.

"I always tell people it's a beast, unlike any other … It truly is the most painful rowing format that I've ever done," said Lindsay.

The race, which lasts 18-plus minutes for the women, hurts from the get-go. Because there are just two boats and there is such an advantage to rowing from the lead, the rowers hit high gear at soon at the race starts.

"When you get to the end, it's a world of hurt, shall we say," Lindsay said.

Still, Lindsay says she is looking forward to the race, which is a change from how she felt last time in 2022.

"I'm not sure I was gritting my teeth (then) but I was very afraid of losing the race, and this year I've had kind of a big mental shift," she said. "Basically I realized that mindset was causing me a lot of anxiety, like competition anxiety. So I've really been trying to see the race as an opportunity and something that I get to do and that I have the privilege to do and that very few people have the chance to do — especially three times."

"I'm just super-excited to see what we can do," added Lindsay, who also competed in the 2021 race.

Rowing on the Fraser River for UBC was good preparation.

"Which also could be quite gnarly in terms of waves — and also random objects," she said. "We always found weird stuff like hot tubs and sofas floating in the river. And the sturgeon in the Fraser also were terrifying."

There are other Canadian connections in this year's race.

Germany's Carina Graf is in the Cambridge crew for the second straight year (she rowed in the reserve race in 2022). Like Lindsay, she rowed at UBC. 

Canadian Thomas Lynch is also back in the Cambridge men's boat. Lynch was born in Ireland. moving to Vancouver with his family when he was seven.

Lynch is a neighbour. His parents and Lindsay's parents live opposite each other in North Vancouver.

"I actually helped Thomas with his application, which he told me was for Oxford. And then he ended up going to Cambridge. I'm forever a little bit bitter about that one," Lindsay said with a laugh. "But to be fair to him, I think he's having a great time at Cambridge and doing a really good job on the team and academically."

The six-foot-six Lynch was a walk-on for the rowing team in his first year at UBC but quit after a month to focus on his engineering degree. After his third year, he decided to try the sport again.

After three years rowing at UBC, he opted for Cambridge, where he is doing his PhD in engineering.

Lindsay won the 2020 May Brown Trophy as UBC's outstanding graduating female athlete. A four-time academic all-Canadian, she was a five-time gold medal winner at the Canadian University Rowing Championship.

"Probably one of the most decorated lightweight women we've had in the program," said veteran UBC women's rowing coach Craig Pond.

Lindsay rowed in the lightweight four and single at UBC as well as the heavyweight eight.

"She was certainly fast enough to race on the national team as a lightweight had she chose to do so. But she opted to pursue education over rowing," said Pond.

Rowing runs in the family. Lindsay's cousin Martin Baraksoalso rowed for Oxford and was president of the Oxford University Boat Club.

Lindsay earned her Bachelor of Science in cognitive systems at UBC. At Oxford, she is doing a PhD in psychiatry, studying digital health interventions, specifically for borderline personality disorders.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press