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Profile: Dylan Dissanayake

Dylan Dissanayake (2017, MBiochem)

Dylan Dissanayake completed his undergraduate Biochemistry degree at Univ and is currently reading for a DPhil in Computational Discovery at Green Templeton College, Oxford. While at Univ, he rowed for University College Boat Club (UCBC) for four years and was a member of the First Eight. He is in the Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC) squad for 2024 and has been selected for the Lightweight Blue Boat. He will race Cambridge in the Lightweight Boat Race on Friday 29 March.

When and why did you start rowing?
I started rowing as a fresher during my undergrad. My mates and I were all quite sporty and trying rowing felt like a bit of a rite of passage at Oxford. I first got in a boat at the UCBC taster day and then did novice rowing that term, during which we made it to the final day of Christchurch Regatta (Michaelmas Novice Regatta). Doing well early on definitely made rowing fun and contributed to me carrying on with it, however, I didn’t really take it seriously until my 2nd year when I started to realise I had some potential as a rower but then dislocated my shoulder playing rugby. After that I ditched playing rugby and focused on rowing, making Univ M1 that year and rowing for Oxford Lightweights for the first time that summer.

How does rowing for UCBC compare with OUBC?
It’s certainly a different beast rowing for OUBC compared to rowing at college. The training programme for starters is unrelenting – training twice a day pretty much every day including being out on the water in Wallingford on weekday afternoons. Managing academic commitments alongside rowing is a challenge, but the lifestyle attracts exactly the kind of ambitious, driven people who would be able to succeed and row in the Boat Races. There’s constant pressure to perform with regular erg tests, seat races, time trials etc. right from the start of the season up until Boat Race crew selection. OUBC has also taken a huge step forward this year by merging all four heavyweight, lightweight, men’s and women’s clubs into a single Oxford University Boat Club. On the back of this, the atmosphere has been extremely exciting in the club, with the men’s and women’s sides each operating as combined squads with heavyweights and lightweights sharing resources and doing all the same training together. The added competitiveness in training and team culture has for sure benefited all crews and put us in a much better position to win the Boat Races. Training every day with top guys, some of whom have competed at the highest level internationally, as well as getting coached by the best coaches in the country, makes the whole experience extremely rewarding.

Unfortunately, at university level there’s a huge underrepresentation of rowers who learned to row at college, and especially in the Boat Race crews. I was lucky enough to have a great setup at UCBC, in particular with Jono (Jonathan Cheesman, Head Coach) running the programme. We’re very fortunate that UCBC is run as well as it is, and it without a doubt provided me with the platform and the confidence to go and trial for the university, which other college boat clubs may not have.

Tell us some of your favourite rowing memories
Summer Eights in my 2nd year is a great memory although maybe not for success reasons. It was my first Summer Eights in the M1 and we unfortunately were on course for spoons on the final day and on the verge of being bumped, before the klaxon went off and saved us. Coincidentally, UCBC has performed very well in bumps campaigns since then, so I like to feel that I contributed to the upturn in fortunes! Rowing at Henley Rowing Regatta twice, in the Temple (university eights) in 2021 and the Wyfold (club coxless fours) in 2022 have definitely also been highlights. I’m sure in a week’s time I’ll have another favourite memory which would be racing (and hopefully beating) Cambridge in the Boat Race!

Man rowing in boat on river in OxfordWhy would you encourage others to row?
Rowing is one of those sports that really does reward those who put in the hard work and apply themselves. It’s also incredibly social and I’ve made some of my closest friends through rowing. Rowing at UCBC is great in that it offers something for everyone, whether you want to just give rowing a try casually, or row more competitively and potentially work towards trialling for the university. All in all, it’s a fantastic environment to be a part of and has formed a huge part of my university life.

Why should people support the Boat Club at Univ on Giving Day?
UCBC has been increasingly successful both in bumps campaigns and at external regattas over the last few years. Supporting UCBC on Giving Day would help continue this success and allow the club to continue to outperform other college boat clubs. Seeing UCBC now appearing at the national stage, competing with university boat clubs at prestigious events such as Henley, is an incredible achievement, and supporting the club will further help establish this, such as by helping the boat club acquire new boats and equipment. UCBC has a good and consistently increasing fleet of boats, and having access to train in small boats considerably helped me to progress from rowing at college to university level, and support on Giving Day will help facilitate more students go from absolute beginner to future Blues rower and ensure we see more of Univ competing in the Boat Races.

Published: 25 March 2024

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