The Boat Race 2018: Q&A with Sara Kushma
American-British rower Sara Kushma tells us about competing for Oxford in the 2018 Cancer Research UK Boat Race
Oxford University | Christ Church College | Course MBA | 26yrs • 178cm • 73.5kg
Where are you from in the States, and what brought you to the UK? What are you studying here?
I was born in New York, but actually grew up in London, England when my father’s job was transferred. Ever since I graduated from university, I knew someday I would go back abroad, either to study or to work. When I decided I wanted to go to business school, I applied to Oxford and now find myself back in the UK getting my MBA (at Oxford).
What got you involved in rowing, and how did you come to be a part of 2018's Boat Race?
I started rowing at Princeton. One of the assistant coaches spotted me during a freshmen orientation event. I initially thought I was going to play tennis in college, but after meeting the rowing coaches, visiting the boathouse, meeting the other rowers, and a few outings in a boat, I was hooked. So, instead of doing a sport I had done for the past 16 years of my life, I decided to do something brand new, a sport in which I had zero experience. In the end, joining the Princeton University Crew Team was one of the best decisions I ever made at Princeton.
Ultimately, fours years after I graduated Princeton, after rowing recreationally, I felt the itch to seriously compete again. Once I knew I was going to apply to Oxford, I got in touch with the coaches. I was able to talk to them about the program and they put me in touch with some rowers that were also doing the MBA program so that I could gain a greater understanding of the student-athlete perspective. I also came to visit after I got into the business school. Being able to witness the team training sealed the deal for me — I wanted to come to Oxford and be a part of this special, unique experience. Now, more than a year later, after many, many months of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, I find myself in the Blue Boat, preparing myself to sit on the starting line on March 24th and race my heart out.
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 first became aware of the Boat Race during college after I became fully immersed into the rowing world as it's one of the biggest events on the rowing calendar, even in the US. I feel incredibly fortunate that I get to be a part of the race and this tradition. To be sitting on the start line two things must be accomplished, first you have to get into Oxford (or Cambridge), which is not easy, and then you have to successfully make one of the crews, which is also no easy task. Representing your university on the day is a great honor and I plan to do Oxford proud.
Given the traditional British weather, is it more difficult to train in the UK than it is in the USA?
Coming from the east coast, the weather conditions here have been pretty similar to fall and winter rowing back home. Although, for a variety of reasons, I’ve actually only ever rowed in either Austin, Texas or Tampa, Florida during the month of January. I’ve never worn as many layers rowing as I did this past January and so that was a new experience for me and I’m not particularly eager to do it again (unless I was part of another Boat Race campaign then bring it on).
How do you prepare in terms of training for the Boat Race?
Our coaches have come up with a great physical (on the ergs and on the water) and mental training program for this season, which requires hard work, passion, and sacrifice. By respecting and trusting the program and pouring my all into it, I know that come race day, when I’m sitting on the start line, I’ll have no regrets with regards to my preparation leading up to that moment.
How intense is the Oxford / Cambridge rivalry when it comes to the Boat Race?
It’s right up there with the top rivalries in sport, people are very passionate about it. It is made very clear on day one of training that we are training to win this one race against this one very specific team. It’s very exciting to be apart of it.
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?
They speak a slightly different rowing language here and that took some adjustment, specifically “easy” and “down.” The everyday language differences have been a bonding experience as well — there are lots of laughs. It has overall been a fantastic experience. Everyone is coming from a different background and brings something different to the crew. We have all learned immensely from one another and I am a better rower and a better person from being a member of this team. Great news for everyone, my British accent is also improving immensely (some of my teammates still need to work on their American accents though…).
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 have loved finding my way in a new place. I’ve had both frustrating and hilarious experiences trying to understand how certain things get done. Oxford often has a very unique way of doing things and it’s a great bonding experience with your classmates to deal with it. I also love being so close to continental Europe and the ability to travel a great number of countries so easily. It’s something I plan to take advantage of once the Boat Race is over. I also have found that there is a much greater international feel and that everything we study has an international point of view. I have been able to greater understand how non-Americans view America as well as understanding America’s role in the world and how it is changing through a different lens, something I would not have been able to do if I had continued my studies in the US.
I miss American peanut butter, I miss Sweetgreen, I miss New York bagels, I miss things being open 24/7, and of course I do miss my friends and family that are back Stateside.
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?
I think it’s fantastic, it enables the race to be more than just a race. We’ve been given this great platform and I’m very proud to involved in bringing awareness to and raising money for such a great cause.
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?
It feels unreal. I feel proud, lucky, excited. I get to be apart of this special tradition and I love it. To put it simply, it just feels really great to accomplish something that is very difficult to do. There’s definitely a sense of pride in representing the US. I also feel that all the Americans in the Boat Race, both current and former rowers, demonstrate the strength of US women’s collegiate rowing and so that is something I am also incredibly proud to represent.
Find out about more of the Americans competing in this year's Boat Race below: