Historian writes about history of rowing

thisisoxfordshire: Julie Summers and her son Simon Steele Buy this photo » Julie Summers and her son Simon Steele

LIKE Olympic hero Helen Glover, Oxford historian Julie Summers only took up rowing four years ago.

Ms Glover might boast a gold medal she won in the women’s pairs at Eton Dorney with Heather Stanning earlier this month, but Ms Summers could also soon be a well known name among the rowing world as she has just written a book called Rowing In Britain.

The 51-year-old has already written books on subjects ranging from the Second World War, Everest and the Shackleton Voyages.

And her recent work is a look at the recent history of rowing as a competitive sport from the early 19th century to the present day.

Ms Summers, of Abberbury Road, Iffley, sculls for Oxford’s Falcon Rowing Club under her married name, Steele.

In May she and her crew won gold in the Masters Rowing Championships at Nottingham.

But she insists that the inspiration to take up rowing at 47 came from the slopes of Mount Everest.

Ms Summers is the grand-niece of the Oxford University student Sandy Irvine, who perished on Everest in 1924, on the tragic expedition with George Mallory. While researching the life of her famous great-uncle for her book Fearless on Everest, she learnt what an outstanding oarsman Irvine had been at Oxford.

The final push into the boat came from her elder son. “Simon told me one day, ‘If you want to really understand about rowing and competing, you have to get into the boat.’ So I took up sculling.”

At the beginning of the year she was approached to write a history of rowing to coincide with the London 2012, which involved an unexpected race against time.

She said: “The book was to be a 10,0000-word potted history of rowing with 70 photographs and the deadline was less than a month.

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“My friends thought I was mad.

“I was helped by an old Salopian and two times winner of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, Richard Owen.

“We hired a rowing boat and moored on the booms opposite the Stewards Enclosure.

“He answered all my questions about the Progress Board, the distances and the history of the events.

“He said ‘lie down Julie. Put your head as close to the booms as you can and listen.

“‘Feel the power of those eights, feel the wind against your face, listen to the clunk and the swish of the blades.’ It was absolutely thrilling.”

She said the book Rowing in Britain, which is on sale now priced at £6.99, is designed to give a brief history of the sport to people who know little or nothing about it.

“What I have tried to do is to depict the essence of rowing – its highs and lows, the visceral excitement of a Henley win, the discomfort of cold mornings on the Tyne, and the vicissitudes of the Boat Race – and bring them to the fore,” she added.

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