by Caroline Braine
Eastbrook Comprehensive School students Tomas Valatka and Gintaras Kaminskas have made history by not only being the first students from the school to compete in the Devizes to Westminster Race, but also represent the first comprehensive school to enter the competition.
Tomas and Gintaras had an outstanding build up to The Devizes to Westminster by finishing the Waterside Series in 5th place in the K2 junior event, leaving them filled with plenty of confidence that they would be able to be competitive throughout the four day DW race.
Day 1 Friday 6th April 2012:
Day 1 consisted of both boys paddling from Devizes to Newbury which consisted of 34 miles and 35 portages. They had previously completed this distance on the Waterside D race in 6 hours and 3 minutes.
Tomas and Gintaras set off at 9am on a cold, but sunny morning and came flying through the first two check points at Horton and Allington averaging just over 7MPH. By the time the boys reached the third check point they had settled into a nice steady pace averaging around 6MPH where it remained for the rest of the race.
The boys finished day 1 in 6 hours 25 seconds in 10th place out 84 crews in the junior doubles and 2nd place out of 22 crews in the under 17’s schools.
This start to the Devizes to Westminster Race was better than the school had anticipated with Tomas and Gintaras showing just what they can achieve.
Day 2 Saturday 7th April 2012:
Day 2 consisted of Tomas and Gintaras paddling 36 miles from Newbury to Longridge Scout Camp (Marlow). The boys started day 2 where day 1 had left off in averaging around 6MPH, but this was soon to change.
Tomas and Gintaras portaged at Aldermaston Wharf and were back on their way when they soon incurred rudder issues and discovered that their rudder had snapped. The boys showed immense courage and determination to paddle the 2.5 miles to Sulhampstead where their support crew was waiting. On their arrival at Sulhampstead it was discovered that the spare rudder the support crew had was unusable. Through advice from Barking and Dagenham support crew Eddie Gregory and Maria Playle it was decided that the only way they could continue would be if another rudder was purchased from Reading.
It was soon decided that Tomas and Gintaras would paddle a further 5 miles to Fobney Lock with Chris Sullivan (PE teacher at Eastbrook Comprehensive School) running alongside them keeping their spirits high, while Caroline Braine (PE teacher at Eastbrook Comprehensive School) drove to Reading to purchase a new rudder. Throughout the 5 miles Tomas and Gintaras again displayed courage, determination and character as the extra effort required steering the kayak was making it hard to stay up right. The boys’ spirits remained high giving them every opportunity to cheer themselves when they arrived at Fobney Lock, replacing the broken rudder, having been successful in utilising their support strokes keeping themselves upright and in the race, no small feat in itself! On the arrival of Tomas and Gintaras at Fobney Lock their rudder was replaced and the boys were soon back on their way.
As day two continued the boys were extremely fatigued due to paddling such a distance without a rudder and began to lose more time and it looked doubtful that they would actually be able to complete the day.
On the arrival of Tomas and Gintaras at Hurley the boys were exhausted. The support crew stocked them up with as much energy food that they could and Chris Sullivan decided he would run a further two miles them to keep them going.
When Tomas and Gintaras arrived at Longridge Scouts Camp they received a rapturous welcome from the Barking and Dagenham crew, their support crew and a number of race officials who were pleased they had completed the day, their courage and determination typifying just what the Devizes to Westminster Race is all about.
Due to the problems the boys faced during the day and time that they had lost the boys finished day two in 41st place out of 84 crews in the junior doubles and 10th out of 22 crews in the under 17’s schools.
Day 3 Sunday 8th April 2012:
Day 3 consisting of Tomas and Gintaras paddling from Longridge Scout Camp to Thames Young Mariners a total of 38 miles. Before the day had started both boys were determined that they were going to go for it and catch as many crews as they could to claw back some time and places. They were aiming to finish the day in 5th place in the under 17’s schools.
Tomas and Gintaras were in such a competitive mind set and paddled extremely hard coming through each check point ahead of their predicted time. Despite their competitive mind set the boys did not forget their sportsman like conduct, as upon their arrival at Old Winsor, as they portaged the crew behind them capsized. Tomas and Gintaras placed their boat down and assisted the crew helping them to get out.
Tomas and Gintaras finished day 3 still looking exceptionally strong putting them in 25th place out of 84 crews in the junior doubles and 4th out of 22 crews in the under 17’s schools.
Day 4 Monday 9th April:
Day 4 consisted of the boys paddling from Thames Young Mariners to Westminster a total of 17 miles. Before Tomas and Gintaras started the day they knew it would be impossible to get above 4th place in the under 17 schools, but they knew that the crew behind them in 5th were not far away. They had decided they would go all out to keep 4th place and hopefully claw back some of the places in the junior doubles competition.
The boys predicted time for this section of the race was between 2 hours and 2 hours 30 minutes. Tomas and Gintaras paddled exceptionally hard coming through the finish line at Westminster in 1 hour 50 minutes. They finished the Devizes to Westminster Race in 23rd place out of 84 crews in the junior doubles and 4th place out of 22 crews in the under 17 schools competition.
Tomas and Gintaras have exceeded the schools expectations in completing the race in the time and placing that they have achieved. Eastbrook Comprhensive School are exceptionally proud to have been able to provide the students with this opportunity, which has only been possible through the support of the School, its Governors, dedicated members off staff (Caroline Braine & Chris Sullivan) and Barking & Dagenham Canoe Club who provided the equipment for the boys to be able to compete, along with coaching the boys and supporting the staff throughout their journey.
The Devizes to Westminster Race is well organised and provides fantastic opportunities for school pupils to compete in such an event. Throughout the four days the atmosphere is welcoming and there is plenty of support and advice on hand from the schools liaison officer Gareth Scragg and other support crews and race officials throughout the race.
I would encourage any schools that have talented pupils who kayak regularly to look towards entering their students into such a prestigious event. The easiest way for other schools to become involved is to start by building good links with your local kayaking club in order to provide students with the opportunities to develop new skills. Through the expert knowledge and coaching provided at local clubs pupils will soon develop the skills and confidence needed to compete in a variety of races throughout the year and look towards The Devizes to Westminster race in the future.
Although there are financial implications involved which state schools may face difficulties with such as the entries into the build up races and Devizes to Westminster race itself, as well as the equipment and all the food and drink required to support effectively, I would encourage you to look beyond this and look specifically at the sense of achievement and rewards your pupils can experience. Finances can always be raised through fundraising events, sponsorship and donations. When it comes to the paperwork and red tape required competing in such an event, I would always be willing to give any schools advice and the Devizes to Westminster school liaison officer is also always there to advise you.
I hope that in the future other state schools may follow suit and provide their students with the fantastic opportunities that the Devizes to Westminster Race has to offer.