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Rowing - Protecting our Sports Environment

UK river pollution is becoming an increased concern for the public, scientists, and officials. And flooding is worsening.


Rower Sam Sheppard, BSc, MSc, shares his story.


I took up rowing when I was 14. Prior, I was doing lots of different sports, including cricket, football, basketball, and swimming. My mum said why don’t you try rowing as you’re tall? I gave it a go and loved the feeling of being out on the water. Over the next year I fully committed to it as I saw a fast upward learning curve, at which point I stopped all other sport; started training six days a week and put in my application to go to Hartpury College to further my rowing development. From 15 years of age until 22 rowing was my priority and the thing I wanted to succeed in the most in my life. That led me to go to university at Oxford Brookes University and participate in their world class rowing team for 4 years. I was driven by the desire to win at Henley Royal Regatta, which is a very historic event in the rowing world. I managed to complete this goal in 2023, and with that my athletic rowing career came to an end. Since moving away from competition, I now help others achieve the same goal I once dreamed about in the sport. To succeed in rowing requires absolute dedication, and hard work forms a key part of this. This daws you into the sport and an environment that causes you to make the best friends in your life. The experience is so powerful it makes it very difficult to completely leave once you have retired.’



‘The health of the waterways is vital in rowing. When I won Henley in 2023, the next day an article came out stating that there was dangerous levels of E.coli in the water there. This was released after the event as they knew that people would be jumping into the water, and a few of my friends actually became ill from jumping in this water. Sewage dumping into rivers seems to be on the rise, with it being tracked online, which is causing an unsafe water environment for people who play sports in/on the river. This also makes the risks of falling into the water even higher with a very real fear of getting ill. It is extremely uncomfortable knowing the dangers of contaminated water you are trying to perform on. Another heartbreaking consequence of water pollution is people will be put off trying sports around the rivers such as rowing and kayaking. Also, people love to swim in the rivers around the country as a way to keep fit but are also going to be put off if the sewage/pollution dumping continues.’


‘The river levels are rising earlier each year due to the increased rainfall. This makes the river faster flowing and more dangerous to be used for the sport of rowing to the point where it is too unsafe to be used for rowing. This can cause periods of time when there is no rowing on the water able to be completed, which is a shame as being on the water is the part of the sport most participants do it for. I don’t know what measures could be taken to combat rising river levels and increased rainfall directly, especially on an individual level, but a concerted effort needs to be taken from corporations as well as governments to change the direction of the climate.’


‘Rowers live to row, so I think that as we see a greater number of people and clubs being affected by the water levels then we will see an increase in awareness of the issue. I think clubs need to put in measures to be safe on the water, whether it is fast flowing or contaminated waterways. In terms of advocacy, I believe that corporations in the sport and governing bodies can work with clubs on a localised level and the governments on a national/international level to raise awareness of the climate related issues the sport is facing, and trends should be measured as to how often the water levels have risen over the past to track the changes that are occurring. I think if there was a sportswear brand who had a direct impact on cleaning waterways or helping the environment then that is something the rowing community would get behind as they have done in the past with mental health brands.’


Sam's experience is another example of the importance of the real need to protect our sports environment. We can and should all do our bit for ourselves and future generations to come...


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