Features, Sports

Alum continues rowing legacy in Thames Boat Race

Alex Fleming ’12 joined the rank of Brunonians who have competed for Oxford and Cambridge

By
Sports Staff Writer
Monday, April 8, 2013

Thousands of spectators braved the freezing conditions and threat of snow as they lined the banks of the River Thames in London last Sunday. For just under 20 minutes, the audience watched as the crews of Oxford University and Cambridge University raced down the 4.2-mile course and either celebrated or mourned as the Oxford crew claimed victory by one and a third boat length for the 159th installment of the Boat Race. Alex Fleming ’12 rowed three seat for the Cambridge crew, and carried on a tradition of Brown rowers competing in the prestigious event following graduation.

Starting in 1829, the Boat Race is one of the oldest sporting events continuing today. Though it has a limited audience in the United States, the annual contest is the object of great celebration in the United Kingdom. Approximately a quarter million people watch the race live on the Thames — outpacing the live attendance of U.S.-based events including the Super Bowl and the NCAA Men’s basketball championship. The race draws approximately 200 million television viewers all over the world. And despite its roots in British culture, Ivy League graduates and Americans enrolled in the two universities are consistently represented in the crews of both squads year-in and year-out. Aside from the Brunonian Fleming, four graduates from Harvard, Columbia and Penn competed this year, and  a total of seven Americans raced in the title event.

 

Fleming at Brown 

An Australian native, Fleming was recruited to Brown from St. Kevin’s College Toorak in Melbourne. From the start of his collegiate career, Fleming achieved considerable success and demonstrated a spirit of leadership.

“The effect of the program starts the moment they walk in the door,” said Head Coach Paul Cooke ’89. “He stroked the freshmen eight in the Eastern Sprint Championships in an extraordinary race back in 2009 and went on to compete in Henley in the Temple Championship. He showed really good leadership and athleticism during that season.”

Fleming’s freshman boat won its heat in the EARC Sprints — contributing to Brown’s Ivy League title that spring — and claimed second place at the Henley Royal Regatta’s Temple Cup.

Fleming’s success with Brown rowing was consistent throughout his years as an undergraduate, culminating in his senior campaign. Serving as team co-captain for the second year in a row and as stroke seat for the varsity eight, Fleming rowed in one of the most competitively successful Brown crews in the past decade. Brown beat out Harvard for the 2012 Ivy League Championship that spring. The varsity eight also claimed second place in the IRA National Championship and runner-up status in the finals of two races at the Henley Royal Regatta.

Cooke and teammate Owen Traynor ’13 agreed that Fleming’s leadership was one of his greatest contributions to his team.

“Alex and his co-captain worked hard to make sure the whole team felt a part of all the team’s success and to make sure that everyone felt part of the team,” Cooke said about the 2011-2012 campaign. “I think that was a great place to start with leadership … when his crew won at the end of the season, I think he had the support of all the people on the team.”

“He knew that different people needed to be pushed and supported in different ways,” said Traynor, a current co-captain. “He led by example so Carter Aronson (’13), my co-captain, and I definitely try and reflect that in the way we lead the team now.”

 

Student-athlete

Despite his dedication to his team, Fleming still managed to perform at a high academic level. Achieving commendation as an Academic All-Ivy during his senior year, Cooke said Fleming “exemplified a student-athlete.”

“He set a really good example for the younger guys by always going to the library and not just taking really easy classes,” Traynor said. “He put his heart into both things equally.”

Fleming’s diligence as a student is one of the reasons why he came to Cambridge following graduation.

“I knew that I wanted to take on at least one more significant rowing challenge,” he wrote in an email to The Herald. Fleming thought about rowing for the Australian National team, but ultimately, he wrote, “I wanted to further my education.”

Cambridge’s offerings of intense competition and its “educational opportunities” were the reasons why it “felt like the next step for me,” he added.

 

Boat race and Brown

A dream for many rowers over the years, competing in the Boat Race was an aspiration of Fleming’s since he was a first-year. Several Brown rowers have competed in the Boat Race in past years.

“I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” Fleming wrote.

In the past two decades, six Brunonians, including Fleming, have become a part of the 184-year-old tradition of rowing excellence. Malcolm Baker ’91 rowed Cambridge’s winning boat in 1993. Joel Scrogin ’98 raced for Oxford in 2004  and returned to Brown after graduation from Oxford as an assistant coach. Lucas McGee ’01 was a member of Oxford’s winning boat in 2002. McGee, after rowing, returned to Brown as the freshman coach from 2004-2007. Terrence Kooyker ’05 and Ben Harrison ’07 both rowed for Oxford in 2007 and 2009 respectively.

The caliber of athlete that participates in the Boat Race is impressive — Olympians are frequently featured in the crews of both universities. Willpower is as critical an asset as raw power is for the rowers who dedicate six months of their lives to the 17-minute race down the Thames.

According to his former coach, Fleming must have fit right in. “He’s just an incredibly determined person,” Cooke said. “I mean, we get a lot of determined people on the team over the years, and he stands out amongst them.”

Fleming wrote that taking part in the race was “a humbling experience.”

He also credited some of his success to his experiences as an undergraduate.

“Rowing for Brown taught me to be physically and mentally tough … and to take on any challenge with aggression and self-belief,” he said. Fleming stated that these skills were all “vital tools” when he took on the challenges presented by the Boat Race.

On his career after Cambridge, Fleming wrote, “Going forward, I will only be recreationally rowing. The Boat Race has marked the end of my competitive rowing career. I would like to now pursue a career in medical technology.”

Though Fleming’s professional rowing career has ended, his time at Cambridge marks Brown’s ongoing imprint on one of the world’s most heralded athletic events.