I know that when most prospective pupils ﬁrst visit Eton, it is the old buildings and traditions they fall in love with. However, I ﬁrst felt at home when I sat down on a little patch of grass called Fellows’ Eyot. It is such a peaceful place, overlooking a slow moving part of the river. Sitting there, when I was still in Year 6, I could picture myself as an older boy, taking time between classes to look out over the water.
Back then, I had no idea that by Year 13 I would not be spending my time beside the water but on it: rowing as a member of both Eton’s First VIII and Team GB. If you had told that rather rotund 11-year-old boy that in six years he would have his sights set on the 2024 Olympics, he would have laughed. But then, a lot about my journey to and through Eton feels quite unlikely.
For the ﬁrst 10 years of my life, my family lived in a two-bedroom maisonette in Brixton, South London. My mum is an accountant and my dad, who did most of the childcare, was an IT consultant and later ordained as a preacher.
There were no grammar schools near us so, when I was 10, we moved to Dartford so that my sister could attend Townley Grammar School. I went to St Olave’s. I thought that the hard work was done once I had earned a place there and was initially quite resistant to my dad’s plan for me to go on to Eton. Because my parents were very focused on the education, they did not want me wasting too much time on extra-curricular activities. However, I wanted to try everything. Eventually I gravitated to design, drumming, and rowing.
Rowing is deeply ingrained in the tradition of the school. Our coach came to us from coaching the Australian Olympic Team and we have ridiculously good equipment.
The rowing was deﬁnitely the least likely of the three. When I arrived at Eton, I was quite plump. I was playing a lot of rugby but the weight was not coming off. My Dame kept an eye on my diet. She watched what I put on my tray, sometimes taking things away and telling me: “Simon, you should not be eating that.” I eventually began to pick up better eating habits. However, the weight did not really start to come off until I started rowing. I was such a keen bean, so happy to spend an hour on the river, the fat just melted away.
Rowing is deeply ingrained in the tradition of the school. Our coach came to us from coaching the Australian Olympic Team and we have ridiculously good equipment. Eton also has doctors and physiotherapists who communicate with the coaches to ensure you are in the best possible shape. If you are injured, your training will be adapted.
The training is arduous with training six out of seven days of the week. We also go to training camps abroad — I went to Spain and Portugal thanks to full funding from the school. Money also looked like a problem when I wanted to represent Team GB in the European Championship, but again the school provided ﬁnancial assistance. The rowing teams became my community — my parents became friends with the other boys’ parents. Having disapproved of rowing at ﬁrst, my dad is now really proud.
The high point of my Eton rowing career was probably winning at Henley Regatta in July. Winning felt incredible.
As I am still only 17, I am taking a gap year to work and focus on rowing. After that, the plan is to go to Harvard to study engineering, and continue to competitively row.