‘People often ask me why I joined the rowing team, and, in all honesty, it was to save myself’

Lee Redpath explains how joining the London Otters Rowing Club has been a life-changing experience in which he’s made many new friends. By Dave Cross

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Lee Redpath (left) with crew mates at London Otters (c) Simon Bell

The London Otters on the surface is an LGBT+ inclusive rowing club. But in truth it is so much more. At the core is a well-established group of mixed ability, professional, competition winning rowers, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a brotherhood so close that I’d dare to go as far to say that we’re a family.

People often ask me why I joined the rowing team, and, in all honesty, it was to save myself. As clichéd and dramatic as that sounds, it’s wholeheartedly true. I had ended a very intense and intertwined relationship after just over six years. After the split I turned to partying. I would wake up every Saturday and Sunday morning hung over; for months at a time I would be out three or four times a week drinking heavily. I was using drinking and clubbing to fill a void that was in my life.

A friend of mine suggested joining an LGBT sports club as it helped him when he moved to London. As I can’t play football or have the build for rugby, I went for the Otters. In my heart I wasn’t sure if I had the confidence anymore to do it, but nevertheless I set a reminder on my phone for 9am on the day they released the sign up information. I had been told that spaces go very quickly, so I was sitting waiting; as soon as it arrived I paid my fee and wham, there I was, making a change that was one of the best things to happen to me.

I was using drinking and clubbing to fill a void that was in my life

I remember arriving on the first day terrified. I had not been out and had to meet ‘new’ people for years. I soon found that everyone was in the same or similar boats (no pun). Entering the club as an Otter-pup on one of the learn-to-row courses, I soon met some of the most amazing people I now call my best friends. We spent an intensive few months working our way through the professionally coached courses to become competent and confident rowers. Bearing in mind that none of us had ever rowed before we were all impressed at the progress we had all made to go from wobbly pups to fully fledged Otters; testament to the coaches right there.

I am now part of one of the main squads, and row every weekend for three to four hours. We are lucky enough to have a lovely 2km stretch of dock to use right by City Airport, so if you’re a bit of a plane geek you get to enjoy that as well as a good row! The session is quite early on a Saturday, but it is vastly outweighed by how amazing I feel when I get off the water and then of course, the social in the local pub. I can safely say there is never a shortage of friendly faces wanting to have a drink and catch up with you.

It’s hard to describe why I am so passionate about rowing. I know that without even realising it became a huge part of my life. There is such a large amount of teamwork and trust involved. Each time I get in a boat I invest time and effort into those other people in the boat; I learn their rowing strengths and weaknesses as they do mine and we all build on those to make a formidable team.

The session is quite early on a Saturday, but it is vastly outweighed by how amazing I feel when I get off the water

The friends I’ve made have more than filled any void I had. We have had holidays abroad together, more nights out than I can remember and some great days just chilling having a Sunday roast at one of our houses; though talk is usually about rowing, it’s the best feeling connecting about something we all feel so passionately about.

I have been lucky enough to take part in some amazing competitions, the Paris 2018 Gay Games and various regattas across the UK. The size of our club and the talent we have has given the Otters a great reputation and we are welcomed into the rowing community with open arms… and usually asked when we’re having a party so they can join us!

But as well as the sporting competitions and the social events, the Otters are very proud of our community, so we always try to give back. In 2017, I was lucky enough to participate in our own ‘Rainbow Races’ for the Rainbow Laces campaign, which we repeated last year on 24 November.

The club knows that the demand is high (we have now 400 people on our waiting list for the learn-to-row courses) so we have launched our ‘Friends of the Otters’ initiative. This is an exciting new way to be more involved with us socially (at regattas, events etc) and to be kept informed about what we are up to… without having to wait for the learn-to-row courses to start.

Whilst it’s ideal for our members’ friends and family, it is also open to anyone who feels like the London Otters is the place people want to be, or something you wish to support without having to wear Lycra! We would love it if as many people as possible wanted to be our ‘Friends’, so please see the details on our website.

Full details about how to become a Friend of the Otters here
This piece originally appeared in boyz.co.uk and is reproduced with kind permission.

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