20th September, 2019

Minerva is a community of rowers aged from 13-70 plus! Our boathouse is full of individual’s stories and we like to share them.

This week we caught up with Nia, who at 15 is one of the Club’s youngest competitors.

There can be few people in rowing who first began at just five-years-old, starting on an erg. And, no less, at the home of rowing – Henley. It all began when Nia’s mum, Helen, took her for a weekend outing to Henley River and Rowing Museum. Nia spotted the erg, got on it – and the connection was made. To quote her:

I just found rowing fascinating.

At nine she was watching London 2012 and especially the rowing and her early hero Helen Glover – although without any realisation that Helen had started her rowing career at Minerva. In 2015, Nia and her family moved to Bath, but a year later she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and for two years was unable to fully attend school. As part of her rehabilitation it was recommended that she try to walk for five minutes a day. The following year she was up to half an hour and attending school for a few hours each day. Rowing and that early connection then came into play.

Nia began rowing at Avon County, but moved on quickly to Minerva which she found very welcoming, coupled with the beauty of the river and her own form of mindfulness on the water. She was brought through Learn to Row with the Juniors by Sue Lees, then coached by Ching and she sculled with Maggie Cooke, and is now coached competitively by Arnold – all of which is perhaps a reflection of one of the things that Minerva does best.

As her health improved Nia returned to school and full time GCSE studies, in September last year. In the same month she raced for the first time in J15 sculls at Worcester, going on to take bronze at the Welsh Indoors. By January this year she’d been selected to represent WAGS and Wales, competing at the Inter-Regional J15 in a single, although sadly the Nationals, due to be held at Peterborough, were cancelled because of high winds. Races and wins – at Monkton Bluefriars, Avon, Llandaff – started to become a feature of Nia’s rowing under the tuition of Arnold, supported by Ching and the Junior coaches. Nia says of Arnold:

He’s really a huge source of knowledge for me. He’s clear, but when you’re on the water will only give you as much as you can cope with

(which is perhaps the touchstone for any development coach).

It’s apparent, when interviewing Nia, that beneath the easy smile and chat, there’s a highly competitive streak – which she confirms, but in the same breath says she “doesn’t know why or where it came from.” Neither of her schools in Bath are rowing schools and nor was she pushed into the sport – although she does admit that her mum beat her to rowing at Minerva by a year, much to her annoyance! Helen’s take on Nia’s competitive streak is that having lost at the card game of Snap from an early age, she decided that she wasn’t going to play or compete in ‘luck games’, only competing where she felt her own skill and focus could determine the outcome. And on this point Arnold observed:

What jumps to mind when I think of Nia is her focus. She’s absolutely single-minded about her rowing and her training. She’s accessed many different sources of training guidance and her ability to balance her training with the other aspects of her life is so impressive.

I asked Nia how far she thought her competitive streak and love of the sport might take her. Even at 15, she has set herself some serious targets: firstly, to improve on her indoor rowing at the Welsh Nationals in November and then to compete at the British Indoor Championship a month later; secondly, to be selected again next year for the Inter-Regional squad and to compete at the Nationals in J16 sculls in 2020. Further ahead, by university rowing, she wants to find herself in a Boat Race crew, and in five years from now….. (well, work it out!).

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