GB Para rower James Fox pays tribute to his first coach, Bob Bridges, who sadly passed away earlier this year
Most coaches dream of discovering a natural athlete; a teenager with the lungs of an ox, a natural feel for the boat and a brain that, well, just gets it.
I once heard that when Olympic bronze medallist Alan Campbell first stepped into a boat on the Tideway, his coach Bill Barry was struck by his innate ability to move boat past blade and knew, from that moment, that he would become one of rowing’s greats.
I remember hearing this and wondering, among other things, how on earth my first coach had put up with me, an 11-year-old boy at Peterborough City Rowing Club (PCRC) who spent more time in the water than on it. And, as for the brain, I couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong.
“Without Bob, along with a handful of other unsung heroes at PCRC, I wouldn’t have stuck with rowing”
My mum would fume when I came home, dripping wet and minus yet another piece of equipment that had been sacrificed to the lake gods; water bottles, sunglasses, stopwatches, seat pads. And yet my coach, Bob, was unfazed. A relentless stoic with a warm heart and boundless enthusiasm for the sport of rowing.
It is the volunteers at the grassroots that make sport so great. Without Bob, along with a handful of other unsung heroes at PCRC, I wouldn’t have stuck with rowing and my formative years swimming in the Nene wouldn’t be so fondly remembered now. When I worked out how to keep between the two riggers and stay dry, we went on to enjoy some successful years as a junior squad.
Under Bob’s guidance we picked up some pots at local regattas, won a few medals at the national events and some of the more stubborn of us earned our first GB vests at the age of 16.
In 2008, after making the final the year before, two Peterborough boys, including me, made up half of the Fawley Cup winning crew at Henley Royal Regatta, the first ever win for PCRC.
Grassroots coaches often sacrifice a great deal with little in return, but I would like to think that moments like these make them beam with pride, smile from ear-to-ear and go some way towards making the long hours, cold mornings and dripping ‘athletes’ worth it.
A few weeks ago, Bob Bridges sadly passed away. Whilst he will be remembered fondly as a fine engineer by his old work colleagues and a wonderful father, grandfather and husband by his family, he will always be my first coach and good friend. He was the catalyst behind my rowing career.
Most memorably, for many members of the rowing community, Bob will probably be remembered as the chap behind the bellowing “PETERBOROOOOUGH” – always heard coming from the river bank and there no matter what club we were rowing for at that point.