Trinity Alumni Caoimhe Dempsey made history over the Easter bank holiday weekend when she was part of the Cambridge team that won the prestigious 2021 Gemini Boat Race. Dempsey (25) was part of the nine person Cambridge crew that edged out Oxford on their way to their fourth consecutive title, which is the University’s best run since winning eight in a row between 1992 and 1999. Cambridge won the race by less than a length, following a race that saw both boats run neck and neck throughout much of its runtime, but it was ultimately Dempsey and co. who came out on top, maintaining a lead that they took at the half way point. Caoimhe completed a master’s degree in psychology in Cambridge University, and is now in Newnham College working on a PhD in the same subject.

Caoimhe first got involved in rowing when she signed up to Dublin University Ladies Boat Club (DULBC) at the annual fresher fair during her first year studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at Trinity College Dublin. “I signed up for a whole host of sports, not intending to commit to rowing as quickly as I did! I absolutely loved rowing with DULBC, the coaching was fantastic, I was able to develop from a novice rower to trialling and representing Ireland at the U23 European Championships, and winning medals at the Home International Regatta, in the space of two to three years.” Caoimhe credits her quick progression in the sport to the technical coaching she received from DULBC Head Coach Andrew Coleman, “Andrew taught me to row at a competitive level, but also how to race, he showed us what we needed to do to compete in a high stakes environment and how to push yourself under adverse conditions. He did a very good job with our training programme, both on the erg and in the weights room, to physiologically prepare us for racing and get good performances from each of us.”

Aside from the technical training and her development as an athlete, Caoimhe has many fond memories of her time with DULBC; “my friends from DULBC will be some of my best friends for my whole life. We had an amazing time training, travelling, and racing together and I will always look back on my time with DULBC as the best experience of my undergraduate years.”

To give an idea of how difficult it is to secure a seat in this race, up to one hundred and twenty rowers trailed for a place. That initial number was whittled down to sixteen before the final eight were selected. Caoimhe explained the rigorous training routine herself and the Cambridge crew had to go through in the lead up to the race. “We usually had two training sessions a day, switching between the erg, on the water training, weights training or other forms of cross training. It clocked up to about fifteen hours of training a week. Once we received an exemption from the UK government to train for four weeks on the water prior to the race, we didn’t have a moment to waste. We spent a week making final selection decisions, and then three weeks doing everything we could to make us ready to race Oxford. The routine was very full on, multiple sessions on the water every day, but everyone was so happy to have the chance to race, and we wanted to do everything we could to win, not only for ourselves, but for the crews last year, and the rest of the current squad who were still training at home alone.”

The rigorous training was worth it to experience competing in one of the most prestigious rowing races in the sport. “The day of the race was very surreal. We had been training for this day for two years, having had the race cancelled last year. I felt both the most prepared I had ever been for a race, and like we hadn’t had enough time on the water together at all over the season. The overwhelming feeling was just happiness to be there, our whole boat was excited to race and put all our hard work to the test. It was nice to race on our home water and we all wanted to get out there and defend it. The race was close which made it even more exciting, but our belief in each other came through in the second half and that made the win all the sweeter. We were all so proud of what we had overcome over the season, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to have shared the experience with. We all feel very grateful to have had the chance to race this year, and uphold the legacy of Cambridge crews gone, pushing us out to a four in a row winning streak, and mark the first year winning both the men’s and women’s races on our home water.”

The future for Caoimhe is looking bright, “I will be in Cambridge for another two years so my goals are to see how high I can push my standard and see where that takes me!”