Lebby Eyres wins inaugural Women’s Veterans’ Boat Race
Just months after completing the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, Lebby Eyres (1990, Literae Humaniores) took on the Tideway. On 2 April, Lebby was part of the victorious Oxford crew in the inaugural Women’s Veterans’ Boat Race.
The race took place over 3km of the historic Championship Course, between the University Stone and Furnivall Steps. Both the Oxford and Cambridge crews had competitive line-ups, featuring Olympians and national champions. The average age in the Oxford crew was 44, and 39 in Cambridge’s. Lebby sat at 6-seat in the Oxford boat, behind lightweight Olympian Helen Casey at stroke and double Olympic champion Caryn Davies at 7. Cambridge got off to a quick start, but Oxford held on with calm confidence, before edging their bow out in front as they shifted onto a powerful rhythm. At Thames Boat Club the crew made their first move, pushing out to a two thirds of a length lead. At Barn Elms, as Cambridge’s Middlesex-side advantage ran out, Oxford pushed out and extended their lead. They crossed the finish line in a time of 8 minutes and 29 seconds, beating Cambridge by two and three quarter lengths and having executed a clean and skillful race plan.
The race marked Lebby’s return to the Boat Races after 25 years – she last competed in the Women’s Boat Race in 1994. But there was one key difference between this race and her last: the inaugural Women’s Veterans’ Boat Race was raced on the Tideway, whilst Lebby’s 1994 race had been raced over 2km in Henley. The 1994 crew had fought hard for their Boat Race to take place on the Tideway alongside the men’s race. ‘Our argument was that by relegating us to compete on a 2000m stretch at Henley, it looked like we were incapable of rowing the same distance’ writes Lebby, commenting on the 1994 team’s frustration at the large discrepancy in funding and recognition between the men’s and women’s races. Despite the team’s efforts, it was not until 2015 that the Women’s race was moved to the Tideway.
‘Each generation of Oxbridge women’s crews have benefited from the hard work done by their predecessors to break down barriers’, writes Lebby. To finally race on the Tideway was a moment of triumph for Lebby and her 1994 crewmate Alison Cox, and, whilst there is still work to be done, a marker of the progress that has been made in promoting gender equality in the Boat Races.
The race brought together a group of motivated women who represented Oxford in different years and have led very different lives since. But despite these differences, Lebby told the Oxford Women’s squad at her speech at the Boat Race Dinner, having been part of the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club is a powerful uniting thread. As well as championing the importance of keeping active in middle age, the inaugural Women’s Veterans’ Boat Race highlighted what is arguably the most important part of the Boat Races: an enormous sense of community, both within crews and across generations.