Harry Leask joined Leander when he was 16 and came 4th at the world championships this year in his single. He looks back at his time at the club
It was both a difficult and an easy decision to move to Henley from Edinburgh at the age of sixteen. Easy for me but you can imagine not for my parents! Leander became my second home. This was all in the name of hopefully fulling my dream of becoming an Olympic rower.
The first season didn’t start well, I had a previous back issue and was told I was fit, but disappointingly after a few weeks I was off rowing and in rehab. I could say I submerged myself in rehab, education and college work but I’m sure Martin Unsworth at Henley College will tell you something different as all I wanted to do was repair and drive tractors. Luckily I picked up a job with Henley Contracting which allowed me to do this, many know this is my next passion to rowing.
A season which started off badly saw me finishing fit and in the junior quad for the Fawley Cup. The hunger for a HRR medal began with high hopes but these were dashed when we broke a scull on the start. The 2012/13 season could only be better! Another year working towards the Fawley cup at HRR, unfortunately we didn’t deliver but I did deliver a gold at the British Championships.
I arrived back to training very excited as usual for a 2014/15 season. I was now U23 and training with the ‘big boys’, it was a step up but one I would reap the benefit of, a big group of experienced athletes. At this time I thought I’d give sweep a try, but had some fun in the process and was paired with Andy Joel. Andy and I had a few wins at Essen regatta in the pair and have stayed together through U23 trials.
However it was decided that Andy and I would scull in a quad with Jack Beaumont and Nick Middleton for the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup for HRR. Now tell me, who wouldn’t have jumped back to sculling to race with those guys! The pressure was intense, but the support and experience was even greater. Training camp went well and before I knew it the Regatta was upon us. I can’t put into words the feeling of being clapped out of your club and home, feeling like a king and paddling to the start. People in boats and on the banks shouting ‘come on Leander’, I was so proud to be wearing that Hippo. Well if I thought the start was good, you can imagine crossing that line and coming ‘home’ to be greeted by Jeremy Randall clutching a bottle of Digby - truly amazing.
(Second from Left)
That summer saw the start of my GB experiences at Plovdiv, as I’d managed to secure a seat in the eight for U23’s. This was my first Worlds as it had eluded me as a junior due to my injury. The run up to racing, kit day, and racing was truly amazing. We finished in 5th place but all this helps to develop, strengthen and makes you hungry for future races. Well, with the brief moment of relapse behind me, I realised sculling was my true love, I started the season 2015/16 in the sculling squad under Ross Hunter. It started well with a win in the U23 quad at the British Rowing Championships, chasing the senior Leander quad, finishing 2nd overall. Andy and I were joined by Harry Glenister and Rowan Law, this crew held together for the next two years.
As all rowers know injury can be round the next corner and just before trials I had a stress fracture to my rib, again back on rehab. Thankfully recovering in time for the summer camp in Banyoles. As 2016 was an Olympic year there was no GB quad so we were entered into The Queen Mother Challenge Cup. It fell on us to pick up the challenge and try to win it for the club. We were all nervous, anxious and very excited, it gave us the opportunity to prove ourselves as U23’s.
Going into the regatta we had confidence but knew it would be no easy feat, but it was our stretch of water and no one knew it better than us! Well, we did it and came back to the club to that very special reception. We were selected to continue onto the U23 World Championships where we finished 5th. With a good result in the quad the previous year the goal for the season 2016/17 was to medal at the U23 World Championships which was not going to be an easy feat. For three of us in the boat this was our last year as U23’s. With the start of the season going well we were given the chance to go to the 1st World Cup in Belgrade to get some more experience at an international level. This no doubt helped us develop. We managed to hold our heads up with a 4th place, and it was back to preparing for HRR.
We had another fantastic regatta with a win in the Prince of Wales followed by the U23 World Championships; luckily, we all got selected in our quad so off we went for my second experience in Plovdiv.
Well if I thought U23’s was a big step, this autumn’s one was mammoth, ‘the seniors’. I continued getting PB’s, pre trials camp at Dorney went well and then onto final trials. I knew I had to make a mark this year and I fortunately finished second behind Tom Barras. GB then invited me to attend training at Caversham, where things continued to go well. I was in the single at the Belgrade World Cup where I finished 2nd in the C final, at the 2nd World Cup I was 1st in the B final so was definitely going in the right direction!
I didn’t get a chance to race for Leander at HRR but supported the rest of the club in their racing, while at the same time wishing I was heading to the start line and being able to fight it out for a win. Meanwhile, I was integrating into the program with GB and sights set on being able to do a good job as we went into preparation for the European Championships and hopefully the World Championships.
In the lead up to the Europeans I was entered to race the single. The Thursday before the regatta news came that Angus Groom was unable to race so I was given the fantastic opportunity to row again with Jack Beaumont; the first time being back in 2015. If you had said at the start of the season I’d be in the Senior Squad and would have a European bronze medal I’d have said you were dreaming.
Onto the World Championships and back into my single after a gruelling altitude camp and speed camp it was back to Plovdiv, I knew the course and venue well by now. Sitting on the start for the final was an amazing feeling, I fought hard throughout the race and finished in 4th, beating some big names! Words cannot express my gratitude to Leander for its ethos, the coaching and the belief and I would also like to thank GB for the opportunity to fulfil my dream. Hopefully next time it delivers a medal.
Reproduced from the Autumn 2018 Leander News letter
Harry Leask Instagram- harryleask