Balancing Life In & Out the Boat – Ella Stadler on Rowing, Oxford University & Competing in the Boat Race
Ella Stadler is a Master’s student at the University of Oxford reading History of Science, Medicine and Technology at Exeter college, where she also undertook her undergraduate degree in History. This March 2023, Ella will be rowing for Oxford in the 77th Women’s Varsity Boat Race.
We met with Ella to discuss some of the challenges of balancing an Oxford degree with the commitment of rowing, and how being an athlete has helped her grow both personally and professionally.
When did you start rowing and what got you into it?
Before coming to university, I had rowed on an erg, but then during my undergraduate degree I joined the Exeter College Boat Club. Due to flooding and then Covid, the college rowing I did was quite disrupted, so only in my final year did I give it a proper shot. I have my dad to thank for encouraging me to row, he has supported me along the way and my whole family is coming to watch the Boat Race.
Ella’s passion for sports has translated into her academic work. As part of her master’s degree she is currently exploring the causes behind the introduction of sex verification in the Olympics. She was also offered a place at Columbia University to study International World History. Though rowing was not the sole reason she continued education in Oxford, it was certainly a contributing factor.
Has it been difficult balancing your degree with such a high-level and high-commitment sport?
For me, the first term was the hardest - the dark and cold don’t make it any easier. At Christmas time, we went to France for a training camp and it all began to come together. I train twelve times a week, around five hours a day and schedule in my academic work around training. It is tough but I do believe that the amount of time you have to do a task, is the amount of time it will take to complete. Being busy makes me work more effectively. My days are packed but I love it and am always surrounded by great people.
Ella can see herself pursuing rowing after university and believes it will always be a part of her life. She has thought about Great Britain trials and if not, is considering a career in the sport sector.
Headshot by Benedict Tufnell
I think I can be a perfectionist at times and rowing satisfies that desire of always having something to work on - always having something to improve. It is so rewarding, for yourself and for the team as a whole.
What are the most valuable transferable skills you’ve gained from rowing?
Aside from time management and pushing myself to the limit, it has taught me selflessness. In rowing, even more than other sports, you must work as a cohesive unit. Every individual rower is part of a bigger, collective picture, so I’ve learnt the importance of unity and working collaboratively. Also, I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected and be prepared for obstacles.
What does it mean to be a woman in sport and a woman in Oxford sport?
I think something which always strikes me is that the first Women’s Boat Race was in 1927 but the first race in London wasn’t until 2015. So, before then, the female rowers had hardly any media attention or public interest. Also, as the men’s sport is more established, they tend to receive new boats frequently and they have larger alumni network. However, both boat clubs now have the same funding from our sponsors and there is certainly more of a demand for equality; we are moving in the right direction.
The 1927 Cambridge boat on the Isis at Oxford for the first Women’s Boat Race – Photo from heartheboatsing
The example of the Women’s Boat Race is just one to demonstrate how, historically, women have used the platform of sport to achieve political and social emancipation. Sport is, therefore, a valuable part of their personal and professional pursuits.
What does competition mean to you? And what has it taught you?
The nerves before a race are unparalleled – not even the nerves before my final exams were the same. I have learnt how to channel that energy and how to cope with such an extreme emotion, physically and mentally. The 26th of March has been written on the walls of our gym for months and it is only an 18/19-minute race. I have learnt to put my all into what I care about, and that hard work produces results.
Finally, what drives you to be the best you can?
The other women that are pushing and pulling for me, motivates me to do the same. Literally, pulling my own weight.
Header Image & Ella's headshot by Benedict Tufnell Photgraphy
Video by The Gemini Boat Race - Watch ‘Behind the scenes with Oxford Women’s Boat Club’: https://www.facebook.com/theboatrace/videos/743347777514995 by Benedict Tufnell/Row360