the boat race
Martin Barakso '12
As a fourteen-year-old, seven months after I had come to Brentwood in ninth grade, telling myself that I would be there one day. It is the most historic rowing race in the world and something every rower dreams of competing in. I continued to watch the race each year throughout my time at Brentwood, and then seeing Malcolm Howard compete in 2013 and lead the team in 2014 as President only reinforced my resolve to become the next Brentwood student to venture across the pond and compete in the Boat Race.
When I look back on my time at Brentwood, I remember each teacher constantly encouraging me to challenge myself in all disciplines of the tripartite system - academics, athletics, and the arts. Whether it was Blake Gage in entrepreneurship class, Brian Carr on the water, or Peggy Elmes in the pottery studio, I was not only pushed to set goals but also given the resources and mentorship to instill the confidence that I could achieve them through hard work. Every time I did not do as well as I wanted to on a test, lost a rowing race, or watched as the vase I was crafting collapsed, someone at Brentwood was there to reassure me that I would succeed the next time. I credit a large part of my determination and drive to the supportive faculty and environment at Brentwood.
After graduating from Brentwood, I attended Princeton University and had an incredibly rewarding college rowing experience. We continued to improve each year, and in my final year, I was fortunate enough to Captain the team to its best finish in 20 years at the National Championships. I then spent four years training on the Canadian National Team to qualify for the Olympics. Those were four very tough years, but they only reinforced the traits that I developed at Brentwood - dream big, work hard to achieve your goals, and use each obstacle as a new opportunity to grow.
Following the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, I turned my sights to fulfilling that long standing goal of racing in the Boat Race. When one door closes another opens, and as I opened my acceptance email, I felt a sense of joy as I reminisced about that moment in Whittall House where I first watched the Boat Race. Despite the pandemic, my time at Oxford has been everything I could have asked for - making friends with some of the smartest and kindest people from around the world and learning more than I could have ever hoped. This year’s Boat Race was very different due to COVID - we were unable to weave through the middle of London on the Tideway as 250,000 people cheered from the banks. The race was held without spectators on an unassuming canal in the countryside. Nevertheless, the 172 year history and the fact that six million people would be tuned in to the BBC to watch the duel made it feel nearly as special.
Losing the Boat Race was the most depressing moment of my rowing career. I vividly remember the excruciating pain as we crossed the finish line. The entire boat was paralyzed for what felt like an eternity - all nine of us with our heads between our legs, eyes closed, replaying each stroke in our head trying to understand where it all went wrong. My dream of thirteen years had not materialized.
After the sadness and frustration dissipated after a few days, I shifted my focus to next year. Life rarely goes to plan, and rowing has taught me a great deal about how to get the most out of each setback. In hindsight, losing the Boat Race provided me with an even greater opportunity - to run for President of the Boat Club and work as hard as I can to turn the team around and cross that finish line first.
As we gear up for the next season, I feel immensely proud to be the fifth Brentonian to have competed in the Boat Race and the second to have the privilege of leading the team as President. Just as I did at Brentwood, and as I have continued to do since I left Mill Bay, I will continue to set ambitious goals and do everything I can to realize them. If all goes to plan, next year’s victory will be all the more satisfying.
Martin Barakso, Whittall '12