Strength and Determination

Third at Head of the River

Strength and determination was on show at this year’s Head of the River with BBC’s First VIII securing a top three finish in what is considered the race of the year. The banks of Lake Kawana were lined with supporters in green, white and black to cheer on the boys. It was a fitting end to mark 100 years of rowing at Brisbane Boys’ College.


Here we share with you an interview with rower Ben Fenwick (Stroke, Year 9 Fifth Quad and Cox, Second VIII), which featured in our special centenary edition of the Rowing Regatta program. To see the full edition, click here.

You need only spend a minute or two with Ben, to realise his passion and genuine enthusiasm for the sport of rowing. As he starts to speak of his crew and what it’s like on the water, it’s almost as if he were sitting in the boat itself. “I love how the boat and crew have to work together swiftly and how it is all connected,” said Ben.

“I remember my first good stroke, when all the oars were placed correctly. You had to stop and think ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ I love the feeling of the bubbles rushing under the boat, the coxswain urging you on. It’s a very demanding sport but with it comes a great sense of achievement.”

His enthusiasm is mirrored by his level of involvement with the sport, rowing with the Year 9 Fifth Quad and now coxing the Open Second VIII. A commitment which sees him train every day of the week, except Sunday, and often both in the morning and afternoon.

“A lot of people misunderstand the role of the cox, and I did too initially. It’s a really important role and it’s all about motivation, timing and technique,” says Ben.

Having grown up in Texas, Queensland, Ben fittingly likens the experience to good horsemanship. “If I were to use an analogy, the rowers are like stallions and just like guiding a horse, you have to know what the stallion or in this case the rowers are going through – and rowing is tough going.”

“The key is to be passionate and to understand where everyone in the boat is at. For example, let’s say ‘Elliott’ is struggling – that’s when I’d come in and shout out, ‘Elliott, use your body, remember the second race we won by two boat lengths, let’s make that three today’.

“A lot of people ask me why I do rowing. They all think it’s so hard, it’s so tough – and to a degree it is, you really have to master your technique and with that comes pain and blisters. You have to be willing to persevere. But it’s all these factors combined that I love.”

For Ben, the whole season essentially goes into four minutes or the race of all races – the Head of the River.

“There’s a fine line between a great sense of accomplishment and disappointment. Whether you’re coming first or last it’s about pushing as hard as you physically can,” Ben explains.

“What I’m most looking forward to about the race is finishing it knowing how much effort we’ve put into this, knowing we couldn’t have been any more prepared. And of course that College pride and spirit which comes with competing in this iconic race.”

Technique and athletic development aside, rowing has ultimately taught Ben what it takes to be a good leader.

Rowing is a great representation on how to live life; how to look to where you can improve and then to map out a pathway to make that improvement. If anything rowing has taught me how to work as 
a team. If you’ve ever watched rowing you’d know how in sync the whole boat has to be.”

As he thinks to the future and how rowing may play its part Ben likens BBC’s ‘One Shed’ mantra to a workplace setting.

“I guess you could say it’s like 50 people, one building. When you row and particularly as a cox, you have to know how to communicate with other people, understand what they are struggling with, their strengths and how to motivate them as a team. I imagine this will no doubt be relevant when I’m working.”

Ben has been involved in numerous sports over the years, but it’s rowing which takes the cake.

“Cross country, swimming, cricket, track and field, soccer, sailing, softball – I’ve tried them all. But rowing is just one of those sports you have to try to understand the sensation that you get from it. It’s something you just can’t get from other sports. It’s so much work, but brings so much reward.”