We spoke to Aiden Thompson and Callum Dixon, two elite rowers at Twickenham Rowing Club about being part of a unique community, the benefits of team sports to support mental health, and their hopes of rowing in the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Twickenham Rowing Club was founded in 1860 on Eel Pie Island, where we had the pleasure of meeting the team of today. Their perseverance and determination to make waves at the Paris 2024 Olympics is palpable, but more remarkable than that is their deep-rooted sense of brotherhood. We spoke to club members Aiden Thompson and Callum Dixon about their journey so far, and how their camaraderie propels that journey forward.
What can you tell us about Eel Pie Island?
Callum: The club is based on Eel Pie Island. I remember coming there for the very first time; you cross the bridge and you end up in this other, magical world. There’s houses with Christmas cones and dinosaurs outside, there are boat builders just beyond us, which have a whole history and story behind them and the music… there’s a stand often giving out CDs and a book library. As a community, this place is wild. It feels so different. We refer to our group as ‘The Islanders’ because we think this is pretty special.
Aiden: There are some great characters [on Eel Pie Island], everyone is really nice. You step onto the island and it is like a completely different world, you forget you’re in pretty central London. You can go and row out on the water and it’s all very tranquil and special, very calming.
“I remember coming there for the very first time; you cross the bridge and you end up in this other, magical world”
Tell us a bit about your beginnings: when did you start rowing, and how has your journey led you to an Olympic-level team?
Aiden: I started rowing in 2016 at Swansea University, then in 2019 I came to Twickenham to join the programme here. I think the beauty of what we have going at Twickenham is that everyone has sacrificed something; everyone has put something on pause to reach the same goal of making the Olympic team. That has made it so much easier for us to hold each other accountable. To go from Twickenham Rowing Club to a senior team is a reflection of what we have as a squad. And we know there’s more people coming through who can join us on the team.
Callum: I started rowing in 2019 – my very first strokes were taken here at Twickenham. I love being outdoors and I love working hard to achieve a goal, and this place ticks both of those boxes. The team of rowers we had here when I first started was made up of some incredibly driven individuals, which has really helped our success as a group.
I remember turning up and falling more than 10 times in my first ever session and the progression from that to where I am now – rowing for the national team – is pretty incredible. I helped qualify a boat for the Olympics last year so we’re hoping to go to Paris in 2024. To go to the Olympics would be a huge dream. I don’t think words can describe how exciting that would be.
We’re loving the commraderie. How does your bond as a team impact you on a bigger scale?
Callum: Having the support of your team network is so important. To have a group with one goal and one aim and to know that on your bad days someone else is going to say, “You know what mate? It’ll be alright we can get through this together” is pretty amazing. Training on your own is not fun, but as a squad we drive each other on, we’ve got each other’s backs. The common goals and common themes are so key.
Aiden: The people here make you feel so welcome and a part of it – it’s very special club. You come and get a sense that something special is building here. There are pictures all over the walls in the clubhouse of past successes to remind you that you really are part of something great.
I think it’s so key for men to find a club or sport with like-minded people – somewhere we can all enjoy sport and being outside or whatever it is you enjoy doing. Being able to have a laugh makes a huge difference – we’ve all got similar banter so it’s a place we’re all so happy to come to and we’re all prepared to work hard. It’s a great environment.