"Where we're going, together"
Volunteer Siobhan Cassidy (Homerton 1994) reflects on giving back, organising the 2021 Boat Race and the power of sport.
Siobhan Cassidy's love of rowing began at an early age. Through schooling, teaching, parenting, coaching, and volunteering, rowing has remained a constant thread throughout her life. Here she reflects on what rowing has given her and what inspires her to give back.
I was fascinated by the Boat Race when I first watched it as a child. I loved the drama and intensity — you pick a side, they win or they lose. No one in my family rowed or had any connection to Oxford or Cambridge. We didn't even live near water. But I knew it was something I wanted to do one day.
I was very fortunate to be able to go to a secondary school which offered rowing, and that's where I started. I loved the training and friendships that came out of it. I was able to stay with the sport during a gap year when I did some coaching. I continued to row as an undergraduate in London and took part in some under-23s.
My other passion was for education; I had some wonderful teachers as a child, who remained lifelong influences, and knew I wanted to train to become a teacher myself. That led me to the PGCE at Homerton.
It was an incredible privilege to row at Cambridge yet it remains one of the most challenging years of my life. The structure of the clubs at that time was very different to what I'd experienced in London. That shared experience is what bonds people together, through time. Rowers of any generation, when they meet, will always be able to connect through that experience and through their commitment to excellence.
I met so many incredible people at the club [then Cambridge University Women's Boat Club]; the students, alumnae, volunteers and coaches. Roger Silk and Tony Nelder are just two of the wonderful mentors and coaches I've met.
My teaching career, then raising my family, became my priorities but I have always enjoyed working with young people, whether in the classroom or on the water. Their enthusiasm and drive are inspirational.
I came back to CUWBC as a volunteer in 2014. Getting the women's Boat Race on the Tideway [on the same weekend as the men's Boat Race] was an extraordinary achievement — equal funding and infrastructure for all clubs played a big part in making it happen, as well as the unsung volunteers whose cumulative efforts made it possible.
Ultimately you want all rowers to be able to perform at their very best, at every race. Coming together as one Cambridge University Boat Club in 2020 with shared facilities at Ely Boathouse not only improves the experience for future generations but brings all of the volunteers, coaches and alumni together for this shared purpose. As one club, all resources are shared equally and all the crews race over the same Championship Course.
Last year's Boat Race on the Great Ouse would not have happened without a tremendous effort from dozens of people. From the local councils to the BBC to the Clubs themselves, everyone involved made valuable contributions to make it the best possible experience for the rowers and the viewers at home. It was a team effort, with a team of really good people behind it.
I believe any child who wants to give sport a go should have access to it; rowing should not be limited to certain schools or postcodes. Combining sport and academics can be hugely beneficial for students of any age. It means you can build different connections with people.
Volunteering has great purpose and meaning for me. Being able to give back to the sport which has given so much to me is an incredible privilege. I feel fortunate to be able to volunteer around my family commitments and be part of something bigger.
CUBC has a bright future ahead of it. We are all moving in the same direction, together.