Gianluca Vartan - Men's Lightweight Boat

Gianluca talks about his passion for rowing, lessons learnt and the benefits of the sport


Gianluca went to school in Lewisham, London at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College (HAHC), then chose to take IB in sixth form at Dartford Grammar. He is now in his second year of studying undergraduate architecture at Homerton College, University of Cambridge, and is trialling for the Lightweight (Lwt) Men at CUBC. Read about his journey in this heartwarming story – from accidentally learning how to row to winning races for CUBC.

Learning to row

Gianluca first learnt to row in Italy, by accident. He was 9 years old and his mum used the wrong word – she actually meant for him to learn canoeing. But for Gianluca, that was the start of a lifelong passion and at 16 he began competing regionally with Globe Rowing Club in London. 

Although he didn’t dive straight into rowing when he arrived at Cambridge, after a little encouragement from friends, he soon started to enjoy the College’s boat club antics and really enjoyed earning Superblades at the Lent Bumps. He was also encouraged, by his crew at the time, to consider trialling for CUBC’s Development Squad given his erg time and (relatively) low weight. Although he was not fortunate enough to attend a school that did rowing before university, he felt enabled by the Development Squad to trial for CUBC.

Gianluca says:

“Rowing clubs create bonds and experiences like no other. I’ve played many sports over the years, including rugby and cricket, but rowing has lasted the longest and I am sure I’ll continue doing it for years to come. It’s also the best way to start the day; early wake-up and accountability to your squad helps you to keep pushing and improving at all levels. 

Trialling for CUBC is almost like assigning yourself a second life, it runs parallel to your academics, and the community here provides a great sense of purpose and drive.”

Time-management and discipline

Rather than distracting from his studies, Gianluca found that rowing taught him critical time management skills that have helped him to balance work and rowing. Having a disciplined approach and pacing his coursework has led to his grades actually improving during his time at CUBC. 

Gianluca continues:

“When I’m out of the boat I make sure to get the work done, so tomorrow I won’t have to worry.

Rowing has given me a sense of belonging, improved my self-esteem, and really helped me through some tough times when I was faced with personal issues. I don’t know where I would be without it.

There are challenges – selection can feel gruelling at times, training can be punishing and the incredible commitment can feel isolating. However, I’ve always felt reassured alongside my crew mates, especially given we are all in the same boat (pun intended) with our commitments.”

Inspiration and highlights

Gianluca attended the same sixth-form (Dartford GS), and the same rowing club (Globe RC) prior to university as alumnus Callum Sullivan (Downing 2017) – someone he thinks of as an inspiration. Their shared background and Callum’s success encouraged Ginaluca to persevere in rowing. Callum won the 2019 Boat Race, was the President of CUBC in 2021, and also won two U23 gold medals at the World Championships. Callum also kindly offered to help Gianluca with some final encouragement and preparation for his interview over the phone. 

Describing some highlights from rowing with CUBC, Gianluca says:

“Winning the Fours Head 2022 was our first race together as lightweights, and really made me feel that we have some bite against some heavier university crews. We also had a great time on Camp in Spain this winter. Not only was it an opportunity to escape sub-zero temperatures, it also helped us zone in on our individual technique with three sessions a day, and really emphasised coming together as a crew, improving the feel of the boat. Overall, it was definitely the week where we improved the most across the entire season.”

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