Coxing at the Paralympics

After coxing the junior eight to a first ever women’s gold medal at the World Junior Rowing Championships in 2010, 20-year-old Lily van den Broecke is used to steering the winning side. 

On Friday, the former Headington School pupil coxed the GB Legs, Trunks and Arms Mixed Four in their opening race at Eton Dorney. *The result in the heats* saw current world champions Pamela Relph, Naomi Riches, David Smith and James Roe book their place in Sunday’s final, where they will be among the hot favourites for gold.

Lily says, “None of us like to accept that we’re the favourites. We’re able to deal with the pressure and when the cameras aren’t watching we get down to work and make the boat move as fast as we can, regardless of results.” 

At the Munich World Cup in June, the GB crew were tested by a new German combination, snatching victory by just over half a second. 

“The German crew is just one of our competition. The result was so close in Munich on their home turf,” says Lily. “But if all the other crews have been training as hard as we have, then it’s going to be the race of our lives. It’s very much a case of getting the best start off the line that we can, reading the race and that’s where the cox comes into it.”

After training with the adaptive mixed four for only a year, Lily says that they are one of the most responsive crews she has ever coxed which also brings out her best.

Reflecting on her switch from junior coxing, she explains, “Disabled athletes are rowers first and foremost and it was possible to carry a lot of things through from the juniors.

“You have to take into account any physical impairments that will affect the way people train so one of our guys is a bit blocked in the hip and when he rows it’s really important to get the body to rock forward so I just need to be aware of this.”

Racing is also over a kilometre – half the Olympic distance – so coxing calls must be more concise. 

“For me that was a really big struggle. Your words mean so much more in that space of time. You have to keep them fresh so the words invoke a sense of urgency and passion.

“I just love coxing,” says Lily. “To know that four people are giving 100% because of your help is the ultimate team feeling – it’s great.”

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