February 22, 2022, by brzbs1
Scholar in Focus: Rachel Ellis
Recently, the University of Nottingham competed in the BUCS Canoe Slalom Championships at nearby Holme Pierrepont, and competing for the #GreenandGold at the event was scholar Rachel Ellis. Rachel claimed a brilliant gold medal in the Mixed Teams discipline and we caught up with Rachel afterwards to find out how she found the competition, as well as her time at the University of Nottingham so far.
How did you get into the sport of canoeing and what was it that you really enjoyed about it?
I’ve been canoeing for about seven years now and I was first selected as part of the British Canoeing talent identification programme at 12 years old in 2015. British Canoeing visited many of the schools around my local area of Lee Valley in Hertfordshire and ran a series of tests across different stages with fitness test initially, and then once I was that they tested my strength on the water. On the back of my performance in the tests I made it into the top-20 to be selected for the talent identification programme and I’ve never looked back since.
So was that the first time that you’d experienced canoeing and you took to it like a ‘duck to water’ shall we say?
I had no idea about the sport really, I’d done some kayaking as you do when you’re on holiday but nothing serious and I’d never heard of the sport to be honest! It was all completely new to me.
When did you realise that you had the skills to compete at a high level in the sport and want to pursue it further?
Once I’d been in the talent identification programme for two years, I then moved onto the super-regional squad for the southern area. This consisted of around 20 athletes and I was in that squad for a year until I was around 15 or 16, when I then was selected for the England National Talent squad. That was when I thought that it was becoming serious and I started to really think about taking this forward as something to focus on. The England National Talent squad is for athletes who are looking to make the GB team over the following few years, so once I was selected, that was the point at which I began to take my training really seriously, increase my schedule and strive to be a part of the Great Britain team. My family have always been really supportive and I would not be where I am now without them!
Within canoe, there are quite a few different disciplines, are there any that you specialise in or focus on?
There is obviously the two main focuses of canoe and kayak, and I made the GB squad in both. However, Canoe (C1) is my favoured category and I was quite surprised to make it in Kayak (K1) because I don’t usually focus my training on that discipline. Being in both squads definitely made me take both aspects more seriously, however more recently I have tailored my focus back towards C1 with selections coming up again in two months to ensure I make the squad for that.
As you can compete both individually and as part of a team in canoe, do you enjoy both of those aspects of the sport?
At a recent BUCS event, me and one of my teammates competed as a pair in the C2 competition and it was the first time in a while I’d competed in C2! At the most recent Olympics the C1 Women’s event replaced the C2, so it has was definitely fun to be able to compete alongside another university paddler in that event.
You mention the BUCS Championship racing recently, how did that go?
It was nice to be racing again as it was my first race of the season, so it was good to get back into racing and get a feel for it again in preparation for GB selections too. There were some really wet and windy conditions which made it harder with poles swinging a little bit, but it was great to be competing for the #GreenandGold! It was also nice to be on home ground at Holme Pierrepont too and be more comfortable with the course than some of the competition.
Why did you decide to come to the University of Nottingham to study as well as compete?
Obviously with the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont being so close I’d been to Nottingham previously. I’d also seen the scholarship programme here at the University Of Nottingham and it was so different to any other programme I’d seen. You get so much support here at brilliant facilities such as the David Ross Sports Village, that’ve enabled me to really progress my training in the gym. Alongside that, there is also support with psychology, nutrition and performance lifestyle, so many different things that have helped me progress. I also wanted to move away from my home of Hertfordshire for more independence, it was such a good opportunity offered here that I had to study Sports Science. The course for the subject is really good here and obviously ties in well with my sport.
Have you been able to take certain things you’ve learnt in your studies and apply to your training?
Definitely! I’m doing some psychology at the moment and that’s really transferable to the sport alongside other elements that I can utilise. However I really decided on the course because I enjoyed the subject, learning about the body and how it works during exercise.
What has it been like to train at the University of Nottingham, with the opportunities and facilities available to you?
I saw what the university offered in terms of opportunities before I joined, but I didn’t realise just how massive aspects such as the David Ross Sports Village are and just how good the facilities are. The gym is better than any other gym I’ve been to! I obviously knew about these things but I didn’t realise the scale of everything until I got here! As mentioned, Holme Pierrepont is also really close for me to train at, which is fantastic for me. Being a part of the University of Nottingham, I’ve also been able to train with and observe other scholars training, picking up certain things that I can then apply to my own training and racing style.
How often do you train and how do you split your training time between David Ross Sports Village and Holme Pierrepont?
I would say that I probably do five or six sessions per week at Holme Pierrepont, either on the flat or the white water. Then I usually do three sessions in the gym here on campus. I usually have competitions at the weekend, but at the minute we are in winter training, so these are the few months that I have to really put in the grind in the gym as well as making sure I perfect my technique on the water. The season is usually from selections in April, with a short break for international races, then all the way through to October time.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking about trying canoe and following a similar journey to yourself?
I think that it’s such a unique sport with nothing else like it! The sport has taught me so many life skills which I definitely would not have if I had taken up a different sport. When you’re on the water, you can just forget about everything and focus on what’s ahead of you. I would say that you need upper body and core strength alongside endurance to compete at a high level because technique will follow, but I think the most important thing is to have fun! If anyone at the university wants to find out more about the sport whilst a student, then get in touch with the kayak club!
Looking ahead, what are your aims and goals in the next few years and then once you complete your degree at the university?
I’ve recently just made the ENTS (England National Talent Squad) at under-23’s and that’s a big step up as there’s girls that have been making the under-23 and senior squad longer than me, so my goal is to focus on that team for C1. From there, if I continue to progress and improve then I’ll be looking at moving up to the senior team and potentially the Olympics. I think that could be an ambitious goal for me, especially with the level of C1 women at the moment so I’m really focusing on the under-23 team whilst I’m at university, and then the senior team after that.
We thank Rachel for her time and wish her the best of luck over the next few years at the University of Nottingham! We will be following her progress and look forward to many more successes in the #GreenandGold!
As well as a reputation for academic excellence, we have a history of sporting success and are passionate about supporting promising athletes during their time at the University of Nottingham. To find out more about our Sports Scholarships, please click here.
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