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Katherine Erickson Katherine Erickson: Image Courtesy Professional Sports Group

The Boat Race 2018: Q&A with Katherine Erickson
American rower Katherine Erickson tells us about competing for Oxford in the 2018 Cancer Research UK Boat Race
Oxford University | Wolfson College | Course DPhil History | OUWBC President 2017/18 | 28yrs • 175cm • 69.6kg
Published on March 20, 2018

Where are you from in the States, and what brought you to the UK? What are you studying here?

I'm from Massachusetts, where I grew up on a farm outside Boston. During my undergrad degree I did a visiting student year at Oxford because I had a friend who was going and thought it sounded interesting, and I loved the academic environment so much, so decided to apply back for graduate school. 

What got you involved in rowing, and how did you come to be a part of 2018's Boat Race?

Before I came to Oxford I'd been a competitive equestrian for 20 years, having grown up on a farm around horses my entire life. Moving to the UK I had to leave all that behind, and I felt very adrift when I first arrived in Oxford. My college boat club was offering free hamburgers during its 'learn to row' day during the orientation week for my masters degree, and I thought that rowing sounded like a very typically 'Oxford' thing to do, so I went down to give it a try. Plus, I was hungry. 

The first Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race took place over 180 years ago, in 1829. Is the Boat Race an event you were aware of before you arrived in the UK? What does it mean to be taking part in such a historic event, and one which Oxford and Cambridge alumni the world round take an interest in?

I'd never heard of the Boat Race before coming to Oxford, and really had no concept of the event until I went in person for the first time to spectate in 2014 with some friends — we drank Pimms on the riverbank all day and barely paid any attention at all to the racing, which was a very different way of experiencing the Boat Race than I have now! The more I've come to understand the event, the more surreal I find it that I actually am lucky enough to get to participate. 

Given the traditional British weather, is it more difficult to train in the UK than it is in the USA?

Growing up on a farm in New England, where we spend three months out of the year constantly shovelling snow and breaking up ice in outdoor water troughs with a sledgehammer, has made me very resilient to being outside in bad weather conditions. I have many tricks for staying warm out on the water, from extra layers to toe warmers.

How do you prepare in terms of training for the Boat Race?

We train twice a day, six days a week: usually about 50% of that time is spent indoors on the ergometer, and 50% is spent out on the water. I'm lucky that I live less than 5 minutes' walk from the gym, so I can be relatively a bit lazier in the morning than some of my teammates who live on the other side of town and have to cycle to get there!

How intense is the Oxford / Cambridge rivalry when it comes to the Boat Race?

The rivalry is surprisingly intense — more so because the general public also becomes involved, with lots of people picking a side even though they never attended either university. 

Although the US and UK speak a common language, given the slight differences in culture - and even US/UK terminology - how easy is it to be part of an international crew?

Fortunately I learned to row in the UK, so the terminology here was what I learned first — though when I've gone back to the States for regattas, I've had some serious moments of confusion! In general being part of an international cohort of strong-minded, passionate people is one of the best things about being at a university like Oxford, and the boat club is no exception. It's really exciting to work with talented people with such different backgrounds and entries into the sport, all working towards the same common goal for an entire year. 

As an American, what do you enjoy about living and studying in the UK, and is there anything you miss about the USA whilst you're here?

I've been in the UK for five years now, so it really has begun to feel like home in many ways. While British cuisine gets a bad reputation, British sweets and desserts really are hard to beat: bakewell tart, classic victoria sponge, sticky toffee pudding, mince pies at Christmas... the list is endless. I miss my family, my cat, my car, and big open American highways that get you easily from one place to another without a thousand pesky interchanges and roundabouts like there are in the UK.

A big part of the Boat Race is its charitable donations - in particular to Cancer Research UK. How does it feel to take part in a sport you love whilst also being part of raising money for a great cause?

It's a great feeling! Cancer Research UK is a fantastic organisation and one that is close to my heart, having lost my PhD supervisor to cancer just over a year ago. 

How much of an accomplishment and a personal achievement is it for you to be part of the 2018 Boat Race? Is there a big sense of pride at representing the USA in your crew at the Boat Race?

I first tried to race in the Boat Race in 2015, and have had many setbacks due to injury and other circumstances that have meant that this is my first time making the crew four years later. It's been an incredible journey and I'm so happy and excited to get to race at last. 

Find out about more of the Americans competing in this year's Boat Race below:

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