Gus John, affectionately known by his fellow rowers as Augustus Gloop, and perhaps more frequently, Goose, started rowing in the CUBC squad for the first time this season. Currently studying a MPhil in Medieval History, Gus has proven that genuine hard work and resilience is key to success – and that sometimes, parents do know best! Read on for some heart-warming and inspiring insights and a glimpse into the demanding, yet thoroughly rewarding, life of a Cambridge rower.
Gus, how has it felt to be an incoming trialist at CUBC?
“At first it was incredibly daunting coming into a program with such a proud history and reputation that precedes itself. Now, however, having been completely immersed within the club, I can only say how privileged I am to have even been a part of it, spending my days surrounded by like-minded and driven individuals all sharing the same goal and a support system of coaches, staff and alumni all intent on getting us there.”
And how did you first get into rowing, has it always been a great passion of yours?
“I started rowing at school in year 9 when I was around 14 years old. I used to play a lot of cricket and basketball but I wasn’t exceptional in either so my parents suggested I try rowing. I remember I missed the deadline to sign up because I wasn’t particularly keen on it but mum emailed the head of rowing to force my participation and seven years later here we are!”
How much rowing did you experience before Cambridge, either as a spectator or an athlete?
“I rowed at school for 4 years and then another 3 at my undergrad in Durham so by the time I arrived here in Cambridge I’d had a fair amount of time in a boat. In terms of spectating though I actually haven’t done too much! Admittedly, I’ve been knocked out of Henley Royal Regatta three times quite early so I’ve spent a fair bit of time on the towpath there but that is a different kind of spectating…”
What would you say to someone who hadn’t had your experience in rowing, but was keen to try?
“I would say just give it a shot and try and stick with it for at least a season. You will notice very quickly not only the physiological benefits as you get fitter and stronger but also the mental ones. I think I am a far better person having taken up the sport because it has taught me the virtues of discipline and resilience. These two characteristics will take you a long way in life, even outside of the boat.”
How did you get into the CUBC squad and what did this mean to you?
“At school it was my goal to come study and row at Cambridge but unfortunately I missed out with my application. I never lost sight of this dream whilst at Durham and when I received my offer for the MPhil it felt like at long last the hard work had paid off. It goes to show that everyone’s paths in life are different and although the initial rejection was tough it made that success second time round all that bit sweeter.”
What are you studying now?
“I am currently studying an MPhil in Medieval History which is a one year taught course with a thesis project due in at the end. I wish I could say I was an award winning writer with numerous published articles but unfortunately I never found the time outside of my coursework to achieve that. Having said this, I did manage to graduate from Durham with a first class degree in history which I am very proud of.”
How do you balance your academic work with the demands of rowing?
“Rowing is at the same time the best and the worst thing for your studies. On the one hand, training punctuates your day meaning the moments where you’re able to work are usually quite focused because they have to be. Some people say they like the added pressure of leaving stuff to the last minute and in a sense rowing creates that pressure everyday. On the other hand, you are constantly tired and where others could be working well into the night you have to call it quits at 10pm because you have an alarm set at 5am. It’s all about finding the right balance between work, training, and relaxing and sometimes that means sacrificing some events on the social calendar. It is a hard ask but when the goal is as big as winning the Boat Race it only takes a 20 minute viewing of past races to remind yourself why you do it.”
And what impact does rowing have on your physical and mental health?
“Rowing has made a significant impact on me as a person both physically and mentally. Right now I am definitely the fittest and strongest I have ever been and each time we test on the ergo it is exciting to see how much further I can push my body’s limits. Added to that I can basically eat as much as I want and still be quite lean which is amazing!
Mentally, the sport forces you to spend time out in nature which I find to be one of its most rewarding aspects. I think there is a study somewhere that claims seeing water produces endorphins and certainly the serenity one feels while being out on the water almost gliding is unlike anything else. Of course, I don’t think there are many endorphins being produced when I see white capping waves but still, the exposure to the outdoors is an underrated aspect of the sport for sure.”
What else has rowing taught you, apart from simply how to row?
“It has taught me that good things come to those who work hard. Success is not simply handed out and it may take a lot of time to feel any sort of success in this sport but when it does come it feels amazing.”
What do you love most about being part of the rowing scene at Cambridge, and the community at CUBC?
“Within Cambridge itself I just love how ingrained the sport is in so many people’s lives. When you head down to the Cam 9 times out of 10 there will be a boat out on the water as kids could be heading out for the first time, or a college preparing for an upcoming regatta or a masters crew keeping in touch with a sport they have loved for years. I imagine it is an environment that very few places can claim to foster.
In terms of the community at Cambridge I just love how pretty much everyone gets on with everyone. There are no overgrown personalities and I think that is largely due to the fact that everyone recognises a shared goal that is bigger than each of us. But aside from that, all the guys I row with I would consider some of my best mates and it is a privilege to get to go and spend everyday with them. You know you are part of something special when you know you’re gonna miss it when you leave.”
What would it mean to you to represent Cambridge on 30 March and what would it mean to win?
“To represent Cambridge on 30 March would potentially be the greatest achievement of my life so far. To then go on to win would mean everything, not only for myself and all the hard work I have put in but also to my friends and family who have supported me every step of the way. I would not be anywhere near where I am today without them, especially my parents who have given so much up to see their children succeed. Crossing that finish line first would be the sweetest way of saying thank you.”
Alongside preparing students-athletes to beat Oxford, as Gus’ story shows, rowing for Cambridge also has positive mental health benefits and instils valuable life skills like discipline and resilience. A gift to the Pulling Together Fund enables CUBC to provide that experience to over 70 athletes each year. Join in CUBC’s annual month of giving by making a gift today.