Rachel Egan |

‘I’m just really looking forward to getting back out on the water with the team’

In the first of two articles by Junior Rowing News, Rachel Egan meets Evelyna Davies from Tideway Scullers School, whose last year on the junior rowing circuit was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic

For nearly a year, the coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally altered the realities of nearly every human alive. The virus has impacted the future of millions of young people across the country, causing re-evaluation and even sacrifice of education, employment and social activity in order to protect their loved ones. Of course, rowing is not immune to COVID-19 and nor are the young rowers who underpin the sport. To understand the extent of the impact, we caught up with Evelyna Davies, whose last year in the junior circuit was taken from her by the pandemic.

Evelyna is currently rowing at Tideway Scullers School (TSS) in her gap year, following two previous years in the TSS junior system. She moved to the Chiswick-based club after gathering a wealth of racing experience at Walbrook and Kingston.


She recounted that the leap to TSS at J17 accelerated her into success.

“I didn’t quite understand what it meant to be a part of a high-performance programme before I joined TSS,” she said, when we caught up over Zoom a few weeks ago. “The incredible support system they have in place really drove me forward and prompted me to stay at the club for my period between school and university.”

“The girls and I thought of the great things we could have been doing. It really hurt knowing what we were missing out on”

Coached by Rhona MacCallum, Evelyna was part of a formidable WJ18 quad within her first year at Tideway Scullers who emerged victorious at Henley Women’s Regatta in 2019. For context, three athletes, Evelyna included, would have returned for the 2020 campaign, in the hunt for the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup at Henley Royal.

The 2019 season brought success on the international stage after she featured in the bronze medal-winning GB women’s eight for the Coupe de la Jeunesse. In fact, 2019, arguably, could not have gone any better and the foundations were laid for a golden summer the following year. Enter – COVID-19.

When the first UK nationwide lockdown was announced on the 16th March, rowers were stripped of the late head season, a concession many believed to be the only one necessary to stall the spread of the disease. Unknown to most at the time, the whole 2020 regatta season would later fall.

Evelyna explained that the biggest sporting disappointment was the cancellation of Henley Royal Regatta.

“That was the hardest bit for me, when the week rolled around,” she told us. “The girls and I thought of the great things we could have been doing. It really hurt knowing what we were missing out on.”

In an ever-cruder twist of poetic tragedy, Henley holds a greater personal meaning for Evelyna as it was the venue for her parents’ wedding. A victory on those sun-soaked waters would surely have crowned a stellar junior career in the perfect way. To compound the communal grief, Evelyna (a one-year junior) realised that many of her teammates would also be unable to compete on the international stage that summer.

“I still feel the after-effects [of COVID-19] today, so it was a hugely humbling experience”

In addition to long-term goals and competitions, she has had to re-evaluate her personal aspirations to generate some sort of positive belief in the most unfulfilling of times.

She explained how, when training, keeping short-term achievable goals and the steady compartmentalisation of sessions enabled her to enjoy the ergo a little more and keep the miles ticking over.

“I think just being able to get on the erg, finish a session and be proud of what I’d accomplished in the present was crucial,” she explained. “It was more about knowing I was working towards something closer; that helped motivate me in a way to just get on with it.”

Tideway Scullers did try to make the rowing machine enjoyable, with regular Zoom collaboration which allowed for bonding time alongside anonymous feedback sessions to keep coaches up to date with personal training.

In more recent times – and where restrictions made it possible – gap-year water training has been seized upon, with coach Kieran Clark arranging private fixtures and seat-racing competition at Eton Dorney.

But remarkable though it may seem, Evelyna dealt with setbacks by pushing the boundaries of her own performance; she was able to hit PBs in recent rounds of erg testing. That sort of forthright, tenacious mentality will come as no surprise to the wider rowing community.

Evelyna has her sights firmly set on the long-term goal of U23 GB representation

But 2020 and all the misery it brought was not done with her yet. In December, she contracted the virus.

“Whilst I have probably had one of the best recoveries in the squad, which was probably pure chance, I had it [COVID-19] quite hard,” she recounts. “I still feel the after-effects today, so it was a hugely humbling experience and one that probably taught me more about the brutality of this disease than nine months of reading about it on the news.”

When 2021 rolled around, on the surface, very little seem to have changed. Though there is now a roadmap out of complete lockdown, Evelyna has been forced to expect the unexpected regarding the direction of her future. She has been left with very little control over her university education, due to start next September, after the cancellation of her private exams in June, meaning her degree will all boil down to results day.

But how about her direction within rowing? Despite the difficulties that last year presented and the innumerable opportunities to hang up her oar, Evelyna has her sights firmly set on the long-term goal of U23 GB representation. Tideway Scullers are providing the perfect foundation to push on and achieve this goal and she remains a keen advocate for everything rowing can do to support somebody during the bleakest of periods.

Ultimately, the virus prevented Evelyna from achieving glory promised to her at the beginning of last season and may even stall a competitive return for Tideway Scullers for an indeterminable amount of time. In times like these though, all we can do is patiently sit until the time is right to fulfil our ambitions on and off the water.

“The contrast between training together every day during the summer and autumn before breaking out individually for the lockdowns has been weird,” she said. “But essentially, I’m just really looking forward to getting back out on the water with the team.”

And with that, she broke into a little smile.

Evelyna came through the Diploma in Sporting Excellence programme – you can find out more, including how to sign up, here.