Martschenko Leads Cambridge Women into Boat Race

LONDON – On March 24, the 2018 Boat Race between University of Oxford and Cambridge University will take place on the River Thames in southwest London. Twelve years ago, 2018 Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club President, Daphne Martschenko had never heard of rowing.

Daphne Martschenko began her rowing career in a way similar to the a majority of young athletes. From there, Martschenko’s path has been anything but simple. It has brought her to places all over the globe and most recently, into a new role as the President of Cambridge Boat Club.

Growing up in Fairfax, Va., Martschenko preferred theater groups in middle school over organized sports. Her journey with rowing began when observing boats on the Potomac River with a friend. Inquiring about the sport she was seeing for the first time, Martschenko knew she wanted to try rowing.

In her freshman year at Oakton High School, Martschenko joined the crew team, was invited to and participated in the 2010 Junior National Team Selection Camp. Martschenko rowed for four years at Stanford University where she found great success under Yaz Farooq, securing a 1st place finish at the NCAA National Championships in the second varsity eight her freshman year while double majoring in Slavic Languages and Anthropology.  

A member of the 2013 and 2014 Under 23 National Teams in the 4- and 4x, Martschenko set her sights on attending Cambridge University in the fall of 2014. Currently a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, her research looks at “the social and ethical implications of behavior genetics research on teacher perceptions of student ability and achievement in the US context which has pronounced socioeconomic and racial disparities,” as Daphne puts it. On top of her rigorous workload, rowing continued to be a natural mainstay in her life at Cambridge and Martschenko made her first Blue Boat in 2015.

For those in the sporting world, The Boat Races between Oxford and Cambridge is a must-see event whose history stretches back to 1829. The women began racing the Boat Race in 1927. However prior to 2015, the Women’s Boat Race was held on a separate day on a different stretch of water. For the first time, in the race’s 100+ year history, the 2015 women’s race was held on the same day and same course as the men. The year 2015 was full of firsts for Martschenko.

“The Boat Race was and is unlike any other experience,” Martschenko said. As a member of the first women’s crew racing on the same course as the men, on the same day, Martschenko holds a place in history. Rowing in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators  and millions watching via live streaming, Martschenko was also the first person of color to compete in the Boat Race, for either the men or the women.

To be the first person of color, let alone a part of the first female crew to be racing on the same waterway and same day as the men, Daphne hopes she can inspire others to do the same.

“As an African American woman, I hope that I am able to inspire others who think this sport might not be for them, to see themselves rowing. I hope that in some way I am helping to break down the barriers that inhibit so many from accessing a sport that has given me so much.”

A member of both the 2015 and 2016 Boat Race teams and following a year off to fulfill requirements for her PhD, Martschenko returned for the 2018 season as the President of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club. In this new role, she finds more responsibilities and challenges to her role as a student-athlete. Being in charge of many organizational aspects of the team, as well as being the face of the program, her duties range from fundraising, to organizing sport psychology sessions, to keeping her program on track for performing on March 24.

“It is a very public role, which can be a challenge when you just want to be yourself around your teammates,” said Martschenko. “That said, I’ve come into this Presidency wanting to just be me and lead by example. Every day I am inspired by the women around me and the women who came before me here at Cambridge who fought for our right to row on the same course as the men.”

Olivia Coffey would have to agree. “As her teammate, I’ve admired her ability to balance the commitments of the President’s position with the rigors of academia and the demands of training,” Coffey said. “She is a strong competitor, a loyal friend, and a true leader on our squad.” 2015 World Champion and 2016 Olympic spare, Olivia Coffey, will also be competing in the 2018 Boat Races as the stroke seat of the ‘Blue Boat’. Coffey is currently pursuing an MBA at Cambridge.

Martschenko, a member of the 2018 ‘Blondie Boat’, has had to overcome injury in her final year at Cambridge. Yet it hasn’t kept her from continuing to lead and learn in her eleven years of competing.  

“As a rower you depend on your body to perform and excel,” said Martschenko. “I was let down by my body a lot this year. It forced me to look on to other areas and identify what I do well in this sport, even if I’m not physically at my best.”

Martschenko believes rowing has taught her how to overcome challenges in ways she never thought possible.

I’ve realized what I’ve become, more than anything, is the strong, independent, resilient woman I once saw in everyone but myself.”

The Boat Race takes place on March 24, 2018 and will be broadcast on YouTube. For more information on the history of the Boat Race- click here.

Photos courtesy of Daphne Martschenko.

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