Nineteen-year-old Lauren Irwin’s rowing career all began when she was a pupil at St Bede’s in Peterlee. ‘My PE teacher told me that I was well-suited for rowing, so I decided to give it a go,’ says Lauren. ‘I started out by training on a rowing machine and eventually competed against other schools – I won a lot in my age group.’
Now, Lauren is studying Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity at Durham University while she trains with Team GB, and she explains that her degree has made her more organised and dedicated to her sport. ‘We study sport psychology which has really boosted my mental toughness,’ she explains, ‘and that’s so important in rowing.’
During term time, Lauren has two training sessions a day. ‘We wake up at half five and spend two hours on the water from half six until half eight.’ Lauren then dedicates most of the day to studying, before a second session at four o’clock. ‘We focus on strength and conditioning and technique, and each session is different to keep things varied.’
Lauren first competed with Team GB in 2016 at the Junior World Championships in Rotterdam. ‘I was paired with another girl from the North East who was also at Durham University,’ says Lauren, ‘so that helped me feel more relaxed.’ She went on to help Team GB claim sixth place in the Women’s Four at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships, and a bronze medal in the Women’s Eight at the European Rowing Under 23 Championships in 2017. ‘That was my sporting highlight so far,’ says Lauren. ‘The race was so close – we were level with the girls in the other boat when we only had 10 strokes left before the finish line. It all came down to who wanted it more, and our crew really came through – we put our heads down and really went for it.’
Further down the line, Lauren’s ultimate goal is to make it to the Olympics, and she looks up to her rowing heroes Helen Glover and Heather Stanning to keep focused on this mission. ‘It would be unrealistic to set my sights on Tokyo 2020 because the crews are already being selected, and there are girls who have an advantage over me because they competed in Rio,’ Lauren explains. ‘I’m aiming for Paris 2024 because that will give me enough time to hone my skills. If I focus I can’t see why it won’t happen.’ At the moment, Lauren is training for the 2018 World Rowing Under 23 Championships which take place in Poznań, Poland from the 25th to 29th July.
Lauren’s success would not be possible without Durham University’s Junior High Performance Academy, which offers budding rowers aged 15 to 18 a six-week training programme. ‘When I was involved in that, I’d go to Maiden Castle in Durham once a week to be coached by university students and coaches,’ Lauren explains. ‘From there, I was encouraged to join Chester-le-Street Amateur Rowing Club by Wade Hall-Craggs – Senior Rowing Coach at Durham University Boat Club. It’s great to now be a mentor myself at the JHPA so I can give something back to the sport.’
Every week, Lauren completes an impressive 20 hours of rowing training, so it’s unsurprising that she values some time to herself. ‘Durham’s so scenic so I enjoy going for a walk around the city after sessions,’ she says. ‘I also like browsing the shops for a bit of retail therapy and catching up with friends over a coffee – anything you’d expect of a typical teenage girl!’ With a good work-life-balance, Lauren certainly seems to be the perfect person to help young people in the North East develop their rowing skills and manage the other pressures of their teenage years.
The next Junior High Performance Academy at Durham University will take place in early 2019.