BY JAMEY BULLOCH
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER
Heidi Long joined her seven other crewmates in placing the boat at shoulders before stepping out of the Leander Boathouse.
At the 2021 Henley Royal Regatta, the eight walked with their Oakley sunglasses firmly in place, focused and ready for the final ahead, and were met with cheers and applause from family members and friends on either side of them.
Completely surprised by the noise, Long and her crew could not hold back a smile.
These smiles carried through to the finish line where the crew claimed victory. This win placed Long in the history books as the first female in Henley Royal history to win all three women’s sweep events.
First introduced to Henley Royal as a junior for Marlow Rowing Club, the Buckinghamshire, England-native raced the women’s quad event—the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup—in 2014 and again in 2015, both times making it to the final but taking second to Gloucester Hartpury Rowing Club.
“That was the first taste of Henley which was fantastic because we got to race all the way through the weekend,” said Long. “…but also devastating when you’re an eighteen-year-old and that’s what you’ve been working all year to just lose again in the final to the same crew.”
Long took her rowing career to the United States to the University of Virginia where she completed an undergraduate degree in biology and competed under Head Coach, Kevin Sauer for four years. In her time at UVA Long won ACC Freshman of the Year, Pocock First- and Second-Team All-America honors, ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and was elected team captain in her senior year.
Every summer, she would return to Great Britain to compete for their U23 national team. In 2017, Long competed in the British development eight, which then went onto the U23 World Rowing Championships and placed sixth. In 2018, Long returned with pair partner Hannah Scott of Princeton University to claim the win for the Hambleden Pairs Challenge Cup.
At Henley that year, the GB U23 squad went against their senior squad counterparts in many crews to which the seniors prevailed. Except for Long and her partner.
“I can’t really remember the last 500 meters, we absolutely gave it everything we possibly could and so did the opposition,” said Long. “It was a great race, very close the whole way down which is really cool for women’s rowing.”
The pair went to the U23 World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria later that year and claimed a silver medal while their senior counterparts dusted themselves off before competing at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and claimed fourth.
After cancellation due to COVID-19 in 2020, Henley Royal returned in 2021 and due to the lessened number of cases in England, spectators were encouraged to join and flooded the banks once again.
Long competed in the Women’s fours event for the Town Challenge Cup and in the women’s eights for the Remenham Challenge Cup and walked away with the trophy in both events that weekend.
“I feel very lucky, to be honest, I’ve been given such great opportunities to be able to race all three. It took a long time to sink in,” said Long. “It was nice to be able to do it for Leander and Marlow, my junior club.”
Henley Royal Regatta races boats head-to-head down the River Thames for over 2000-meters. This is a unique layout compared to the usual six-lane across 2,000-meter race seen at World Rowing regattas including the Olympics.
“It’s a real taste of what a crazy sport it is that we do – that it is both a drag race and a completely physically and mentally brutal sport,” said Long. “The whole way down one-on-one, every single stroke really does count.”
Long now trains at Caversham, the British rowing training center where she joins the senior team on their three-year cycle to the Paris Olympics in 2024.