Daniela's journey through the East London Rowing Performance Academy.
Daniela Raguckaite glides down the docks with graceful power, sliding forward with back tall and straight before attacking the water with a long stroke. A group of coaches observe: ‘Techniques looking good isn’t it’ one remarks. ‘Getting there’ head coach James dryly responds. Turning past the finish and now in my eyeline Daniela offers a broad smile full of confidence, before reconvening at the pontoon with James to discuss what went right and what could be better. Daniela has applied herself impressively since earning a place at the new East London Rowing Performance Academy, a joint project between British Rowing, LYR and the University of East London. Daniela has taken great strides of progress in that time, but her story is only just beginning; there is still work still to be done.
Daniela’s (aged 15) first introduction to rowing came through LYR in June ’22. Her school, St. Angela’s Ursuline Academy, completed a six-week rowing block as offered through LYR’s Active Row programme. Coach Sarah recalls her first memory with laughter of Daniela, her and a friend rowing all the way down the dock beyond sight. Daniela always returned strong scores on the rowing machine and would be selected to represent the school in competitions, so when her teacher saw the testing day event for British Rowing’s Performance Pathway through LYR, she was keen to sign Daniela up. Daniela trialled in October and began training with the Performance Academy in November.
The British Rowing Performance Development Academies aim to identify local athletes who show the raw potential to become performance rowers and support them to fulfil their potential with access to coaching, equipment, and an athlete support network. The overall aspiration is for Academy rowers to join the ranks of the Great Britain Rowing Team, but crucially the Academies are also seeking to bring potential athletes from much any and all backgrounds into the sport, something that has not historically been the case. Daniela is the longest serving member of the LYR branch of the academy and has impressed all coaches with her determination, discipline, consistency, and willingness to learn. She has maturity and humility beyond her years and a warm personality that is well liked by coaches and peers. In an interview from June, Daniela reflects on her growth since November.
‘I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I’ve grown in confidence and knowledge; initially I didn’t even know what squaring and feathering was. I had my first race yesterday and I definitely feel more confident. Especially rowing by myself because before it was if I was rowing with someone else I’d be a bit calmer, and I’d be stressed if I was in a single, now I’m equally as confident in a single.
With strong Lithuanian heritage, Daniela comes from a sporting background. Before her parents moved to London Daniela’s father was a world champion cyclist. Daniela says however that she was never forced into sport, aside from some swimming and gymnastics lessons when she was younger. Had she not been involved with LYR she would have never embraced rowing, a passion in her life Daniela is now very grateful to have.
‘Rowing to me before seemed such an unpopular and unheard-of sport and now it is basically my life. I go to it almost every single day. I always look forward to coming to rowing. Every time I come home from school I’m excited for it, I love it.’
Daniela speaks passionately of her ambitions to represent Great Britain, having been born and raised here, whilst also feeling a huge pride for her Lithuanian roots whilst doing so.
‘I’m always proud of where I’m from. For British Rowing of course I need a British passport and I plan to live here my whole life, but Lithuania is my blood; it’s my genes and I’ll always be proud of where I’m from, even if one day I do represent Britain or anything along those lines, I’ll always still be proud of being Lithuanian.’
Daniela also speaks of the personal and social impact the Performance Academy has had on her life:
‘It’s brought so much determination and discipline into my life, I’d say it’s a very uncomfortable sport, especially in winter having to wake up early for training, especially when you start and if you capsize. But it’s brought me so much confidence and is something I can share with people. Rowing isn’t as common as other sports and its interesting for me to talk about with people. It’s also fun to see how the team is growing, how it was just me, but now there’s more people joining, and it feels like a team atmosphere.’
During our interview I asked Daniela what excites her about her future on the programme. Her response was ‘To see how much I can improve and where it can take me’. Everyone at LYR shares and supports Daniela’s excitement to witness her improvement and where this journey can take her; not only as a rower but as a developing young person. Daniela exemplifies so many of the positive outcomes LYR strives to create for young people, regardless of the level they row at: a young person empowered through opportunity, building life skills, and made confident through their own consistent dedication and application. It is now a year since her first chapter with LYR started. We look on with pride to see the many chapters that may follow, knowing whatever lies in Daniela’s destiny, she is learning the necessary skills to succeed in whatever she sets her mind to.
In September 2019, Rahimah embarked on a transformative journey with LYR through the Active Row Programme as a year 7. As a young person with no prior knowledge of the sport, Rahimah quickly embraced rowing and became a source of inspiration and leadership for her peers. This case study sheds light on Rahimah's remarkable progress, showcasing the positive impact of our programme on her life.
Rahimah attends Kingsbury High School in Brent. Before joining the Active Row Programme, Rahimah had never experienced rowing or used a rowing machine. However, from her very first session, she was engaged by the opportunity of this new activity in her life and invigorated by her Coach, Lawrence, and dedicated herself to attending regularly. Even whilst she was fasting during Ramadan she would still show up on Wednesdays to train.
Over time, Rahimah emerged as a natural leader within the programme. Now a year 11, at sessions she exhibits genuine leadership qualities by encouraging her peers to aim high and strive for personal improvement. Her unwavering support and motivation help create a positive and empowering environment for everyone involved.
Reflecting on her experience, Rahimah expresses how LYR has made a significant impact on her life:
"LYR has definitely had a massive impact on me. It's fun and encouraging whilst always fitting to be a challenge for all ages. I've definitely made a lot of new friends and also learned a lot of things about myself; through both my physical and mental strengths as well as the parts I play with my awesome team/friends. I recommend rowing to all, try it, get a good taste of it and if it is not for you, that is fine; there are plenty of sports and opportunities waiting to be grabbed”.
PE Teacher Dominique Withey shared her observations, stating, "The Active Row programme gives fantastic opportunities to all students that opt to attend the rowing club. This has increased levels of participation in our school's Active Row club as children see that the club leads to somewhere. The on-water rowing sessions really bring the sport to life, and the children have thoroughly enjoyed these sessions. For most of our students, they would never have had the opportunity otherwise to participate, and it is wonderful to watch them thrive in these environments."
Rahimah’s story is an inspirational one, but one that is easily possible given the right opportunities. Her story serves as a testament to the positive impact that LYR has on young people's lives: through exposure to experience, mentorship from our coaches, and personal ambition.
“One thing my coach Lawrence always told me that I took to heart is that 'It'll never be easy, but it will get easier.' So, I challenge you to try it and see if you’re up to the challenge."
Asia is a leading member of the Lambeth-based youth group Brixton Wings. She is connected to LYR through two veins, Brixton Wings and at her school - La Retraite.
Asia has been involved with Brixton wings for seven years. She talks of the early days when she used to watch the older kids rowing, wishing to gain an insight into what it involved. Several years later Asia has forged her own path to become a true leader of the group, inspiring her peers and even leading coaching sessions. Asia speaks of her love of what LYR has brought into her life.
‘’The LYR AR Programme has been very influential in my life, by helping me with my communication skills; I was a very shy person before, and now I am able to project my voice and do public speaking…" “I’ve never got tired of it, and it helps calm my anxiety".
Asia embodies what it means to be a young leader within her group, and we have seen how her exposure to LYR has improved the life skills required to develop this leadership. Asia has taken her experience with LYR and sought increasing responsibility to enhance it. She coordinates the numbers before each session in the Brixton Wings group chats and leads by example to the younger members in her commitment and discipline. Asia aspires to work in sport and recently has been acting as an assistant coach at sessions leading warmups and cool downs. She has also led whole sessions by herself at Brixton Recreation Centre, and most recently had the opportunity to coach at the royal docks during on water sessions.
Medg Sullivan, the coordinator of Brixton Wings, had this to say:
‘’I would say Asia has developed in confidence - born out by her willingness to take leadership and take risks… she is also more adept at standing up for her rights and taking responsibility for her actions’’.
Asia is ambitious to progress to university next year and recognises the contribution her experience with LYR has brought to it. Once at university, she would like to join a rowing club, something that she admits would have been alien to her before engaging with LYR. Asia would like to progress her coaching further also, with the goal to work for LYR as a session coach once she turns 18 and is able to.
Asia relished the chance to compete at her final NJIRC this year before she heads off to continue her journey at university, hoping it will be far from the last time she sits on a rowing machine.
“LYR have supported my journey so far, and I hope they continue to do so with other students”.
LYR are proud to have supported Asia’s journey, and are proud of the way she has uplifted the people around her. It is this type of story that is central to what LYR’s mission is, and Asia encapsulates the type of young people we want to help develop.
Jericho Cabalan first became acquainted with LYR when he was 14. A PE teacher had organised an Active Row session every Wednesday morning. Three years on aged 17, Jericho has taken the step up, volunteering to run his school’s (LDE UTC) Active Row Club, so he can share his hobby and knowledge with other students.
Speaking to Jericho it is evident he has an admirable desire to support others. He becomes animated discussing his passion of seeing others improve, seeing ‘the fire in their eyes’ as they think ‘yes! This is a sport that I can do”. Jericho puts it best himself:
“…when you support someone else and you see them succeed it sort of fills you with a bit of pride saying yes I helped that person - that’s fantastic. Then another person comes along they get inspired and then the whole cycle repeats. So being along for the ride in that, in what could arguably be called somebody else’s story, it’s fantastic to see that sort of thing.”
Jericho began his journey with LYR in year 8. There were a couple of rowing machines in school he would train on, finding himself becoming better and healthier every week. Jericho is a natural competitor and embraced the training for NJIRC. Soon after he had the opportunity to head out on the water – Jericho’s favourite activity with LYR, citing the teamwork involved… and fear of death (he says with a hearty laugh).
Jericho is very aware of the benefits he has gained from his experience with LYR. He speaks about the opportunity to be active, how it has helped him become a more resilient person, and taught him self-improvement and perseverance.
On his experience with LYR “So far, I’ve loved it. It was a fantastic opportunity, I managed to put it on my personal statement to get me here (LDE UTC), it helped me become more competitive, more resilient, and being able to push myself even further not just mentally but physically. I’m a fairly competitive person so being able to row and compete, all of that, it was a bunch of fun - it was great”.
Jericho is a superb example of the stories that come out of LYR. Having had the opportunity to receive skills he is now wanting to give back that opportunity to others. Who knows, perhaps in three years we will interview a new participant, wanting to lead their club, who was first introduced to us through Jericho himself, and like he says: the whole cycle repeats.
Khalil Smith sits nervously on a single by the pontoon on a cold Monday in October. He reaches over to tighten his gate and cries out as his weight shifts his boat and him into the water. He clambers out and heads for the solace of a warm shower, today’s session being written off, still with the task of heading home all the way to Walthamstow – undeterred, Khalil is back on Wednesday to try again. It is characteristic of the commitment Khalil displays at the Boat Club.
Khalil Smith, 16, is a junior member of our Boat club, initially developing through our open clubs at the Royal Docks and Olympic Park in the summer of 202. Khalil joined LYR and found it to be an environment that suited his needs, enjoying the coaching style and facilities.
Khalil begun at our summer open club. Having rowed in the past, Khalil was familiar with the basics, but it was evident he’d suffered a confidence knock. Initially he struggled to get to grips with co-ordination and balance in the boat, capsizing occasionally. Through his determination and willingness to accept support and encouragement from his coaches, Khalil is now a competent and confident rower, capable of going out in a fine single or effectively working with other crew mates in doubles and quads.
On why he enjoys LYR: “Firstly the facilities: the water, the pod, the tank which help improve physically – as well as the coaches – they’re friendly and welcoming”
When term time for school rolled around Khalil quickly made the step up to our Boat club where he trains three times a week, every week. Khalil has shown his growth in maturity, remaining consistent with training, despite his travel time to the docks, completing A-levels and other commitments outside of school.
From his beginnings at the summer open club Khalil has developed personally as well as athletically. Initially he was very timid and shy in conversation. Now he is a well-integrated member of the clubs, bouncing off and joking with the other members of the club, and leading by example to the younger members.
“It’s helped me socially; I’ve got to meet new people”
Witnessing Khalil’s growth has been enormously satisfying. A very tall individual, we hope to put him through testing for the British Rowing start programme in conjunction with LYR, but above all we are interested in watching him further develop his life skills, becoming a confident young man capable of persevering through the many capsizes life can bring our way.
Jonah first interacted with London Youth Rowing in his previous school through our Active Row programme. After moving to an Alternative Provision, Jonah was delighted to meet us again when we began last year at his new school, Cavendish, through our Alternative Provision programme. I remember coming into the school for the first time in my LYR kit, and Jonah exclaimed “I know you guys!” when he came into the room.
Jonah is a young man bursting with energy, charisma, and personality. Coming into Cavendish and delivering sessions for Jonah always leaves me coming home with more enthusiasm and laughter for the world than I came in with. It has been compelling to witness the transformative effect that having a few rowing machines in the school has had on someone like Jonah. They provide an accessible, engaging platform for him to positively funnel his energy into, developing his determination, athleticism, and confidence.
Jonah is fiercely competitive. Himself and a few other students have developed their own mini rowing squad in the school, aiming to beat one another’s personal bests and training to be the highest-ranking member of the school at our National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships.
Jonah’s personality was able to shine during a recent SkySports documentary Aquaphobia that London Youth Rowing featured in. Jonah was interviewed and included in the documentary, where he discussed the benefits of teamwork he has learned through rowing. When asked what he liked about rowing, Jonah said
“We have funny moments, we have fun, its to do a lot with teamwork and that’s what I like I like working as a team to get things done successfully. I just love water sports."
Jonah’s ambition is to become a musician. I view it as a huge victory that we have been able to help Jonah develop key transferable skills through rowing to take into this life goal.
“I think my experience at LYR has helped me with my aspirations for the future in becoming a musician. The skills I’ve learned at LYR help you to become a musician as well. For example, in music you need to memorise things, be creative, and have rhythm to express yourself, and that’s the same way it is in rowing. When you’re rowing in a team you need to be in sync to travel faster and have good teamwork and communication in order to stay focused and concentrate to be persistent with it”.
Tami joined The Green School for Boys as a Year 7 student in Sept 2019. Tami has neurological and physical disabilities, which mean that he uses a wheelchair and a walking frame, he also has a visual impairment. Tami made the decision to row on the ergo from his chair, which means he is predominantly using his upper body.
In 2020, he travelled to NJIRC at The Copper Box Arena and was really pleased to row a personal best distance at the event. Last year, Tami had an operation booked in for 11th May, but wanted to compete, so he posted his distance at school the week before his operation. He is looking forward to getting back to training after his recovery period. I never cease to be impressed with the motivation of Tami to improve on his own performance, and his ability to retain and act on information given to him during coaching sessions. As an LYR Active Row school, we are really grateful to LYR for their ongoing support of SEND students and the ability to include them in a competition on the scale of NJIRC. Tami is looking forward to more indoor rowing, and hopefully having an opportunity to experience rowing on water!
Pete Banks - Assistant Headteacher
"Being able to represent The Green School for Boys and participate in the NJIRC competition is a massive achievement for me. It was a struggle at first as I had to train my upper body, and learn the correct technique of rowing. Despite not being able to train much this year due to COVID, I was able to beat my personal best from last year of 247 m and was able to set a new personal best of 256 m. I continue to look forward to participating in the NJIRC competition in future events, train harder and set a new personal best."
Tami - Year 8 student
Each year LYR produces an Annual Review looking back at the impact our programmes have had for young people in the previous 12 months. You can read and download the reports for recent years below.