When Brisbane’s Ashleigh Hockings steps into her skinny rowing eight shell at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England in July there will be more than just the weight of achieving success on her slender frame.
Along with the eight big blokes making up her rowing team will be a plastic bag of sand.
Ash, 19, is the cox (aka coxswain) of Queensland’s King’s College men’s rowing eight which is set to take on the world at this year’s annual regatta on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England.
The former Brisbane Girls Grammar rower and cox who is currently studying at Queensland’s University of Technology (QUT), is the first ever female associate in 107 years of the all boys King’s College which is set to go co-ed next year.
She is 165cm tall, but being known in her family for “eating like a sparrow”, she tips the scales at just 47kg…..which is where the sand comes in.
Like a jockey, a cox has to be a minimum weight (in rowing’s case, 55kg) which means she needs to take her weight up 8kg to compete.
The weight rule, said Ash, was an international rule and was changed to encourage more equality between male and female coxes allowing both genders to cox a boat of either gender.
All this, of course is academic. Ash is a damn good cox with heaps of experience, which is why she was asked to “skipper” the King’s College crew at the Henley Regatta that has a history going back to 1839.
The role of the cox (in a nutshell or is that just shell?) is to act like a coach in the boat, steering, executing race strategy, keeping a crew synchronised and motivating rowers to pull harder on their oars and has been described as virtually unique in sports because that person does not contribute physically to the competition.
Ash says for her, it’s about being “an efficient multitasker”.
“This is because the cox is the catalyst between the coach and the crew,” she said.
“Therefore, commands and communication are extremely important as you are to relay what the coach says to the crew in an effective manner whilst staying positive and motivational.
“The other major aspect of a cox’s skill set includes steering. Ultimately, the cox is the most important person in the boat as they are solely in charge of the safety of both the crew and the boat at all times.
“During a race the crew relies on the cox to either steer efficiently down a course or, in river racing, steer strategically taking into account wind, tide and the competition.”
Nerves of steel are critical, although Ash admits to getting a little nervous before a race.
“No matter what crew it is, I will always get a mix of nerves and excitement before a race,” she said with a grin.
“I think it is always important to be somewhat nervous before the start of a race. It helps to keep my focus as although I am not physically rowing, I need to be ready and aware of not only my crew, but my competition at the start line and throughout the whole race.
“For me, pre-race nerves show I have high expectations for myself and my crew. I know the crew is counting on me and I never want to let them down.”
As for coxing a men’s crew Ash says, “I just be myself and ensure I am always clear with my communication. The crew is very respectful of me and appreciative of my skills and knowledge and it’s a lot of fun being a part of such an exciting crew and amazing experience.”
Ash has rowing in her blood. She has been at it since 2013 after starting in year 8 at BGGS and since then, in addition to rowing, has coxed a number of male and female crews ranging from school age all the way through to senior master’s crews.
“I have also competed at State and National Championships in both male and female crews achieving multiple podium finishes,” she added proudly.
The reason she decided to start coxing was because of her big sister Caitlin, who first began coxing when she was in year 8 at BGGS in 2010.
“Caitlin has inspired me to continue my career as a cox as I saw how rewarding the sport really is after watching all of her successes,” said Ash.
“Caitlin is currently living and training in Melbourne and will soon be competing for Australia at the Under 23 World Championships in America later this year. She is also currently part of the Australian U23 coxed men’s four.”
The girls’ great grandfather rowed for the Bundaberg rowing club and had success in State Championships in 1919 and 1920.
So, it’s not surprising the grip the sport has on her which sees her currently training five or more times a week on the water with the King’s College crew, as well as coaching a year 8 crew at BGGS three mornings a week.
If you want to see the Henley-bound crew training you will have to get up real early. They row out of the King’s College Shed at St Lucia, just below the college along Upland Road.
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