Carla Devlin to speak at this year’s Taurus Dinner

We are delighted to announce that Carla Devlin (née Ashford) will be speaking at this year’s Taurus Dinner, which takes place at Phyllis Court on 21 March. Carla rowed at Brookes from 1998-2004 and represented Great Britain at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Carla took part in the latest series of SAS: Who Dares Wins and made it to the final 4 recruits, with the final episode airing yesterday (11th February). We chatted to Carla about learning to row at Brookes, her favourite races, making it onto the squad and what got her through the physical and mental tests that were thrown at her during her time on the show. Carla is a mum of four, cancer survivor, business woman and a full time carer to her sister so we firstly want to thank her for taking time to speak to us.

During her time at Brookes Carla studied Human Biology (1998-2001) then Physiotherapy (2001-2004). Carla picked up her first oar whilst at Brookes and said that she will always be “Brookes at heart!”. Whilst studying at Brookes, Carla and her team mates won The Remenham Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in 2002. After graduating in 2004 Carla was invited to join the Great Britain National Team and won a bronze medal in the women’s pair at the 2005 World Rowing Cup III in Lucerne. Carla then made it her mission to get a women’s eight to the Olympics where they managed to qualify for Beijing in 2008. This was coxed by Brookes alumni Caroline O’Connor and placed fifth ahead of the Australians.

What motivated you to start rowing?

“I was always mediocre at sport at school, the only thing I excelled at was shot put which always mortified me! My mum encouraged me to take up rowing as I think she knew me better than I did myself and she knew I’d fall in love with it, she never let up about my supposed ‘perfect long levers for rowing’! She wasn’t wrong!! After bugging me for the duration of my first semester I eventually went and spoke to the women’s coach in the new year. He laughed at my naivety, couldn’t believe I’d never been near a rowing boat before, informed me that it was halfway through the season and told me to come back next year.I persisted, did just that and joined the novice squad in my second year”.

What was Brookes like when you joined?

“Following on from an amazing novice year, When I entered the senior women’s squad there were only four of us, this was due to older girls graduating, novice girls quitting, the women’s coach had left and the group just crumbled. So… We spoke to Richard Spratley who ran the men’s programme and asked if he would take us under his wing. He agreed, with one proviso – that we had to train exactly as the men’s squad, no questions asked…men’s programme on and off the water, we rowed in boats with the mens squad and even seat raced against some of the bottom end of the mens squad, it definitely made us raise our game!”

“The Brookes facilities were also VERY different to what they are now! We used to call the old boathouse ‘The Cowshed’ there was no heating, no showers, green mould caked on the walls, it was pretty dire, we’d all escape to the Benson cafe in-between sessions, scare the heck out of the local clientele, eat copious amount of bacons butties and try and recharge our batteries. The new boat house was a god send, I even remember a bunch of us helping paint it.”

What did you enjoy most about rowing at Brookes?

“Brookes has always been very competitive; the start of the year always began with the three bridges run around Oxford, it was the first test to see who’s stick with the programme . You’d see hoards of newbies fall by the wayside in those first couple of weeks, the combination of 3 bridges run, endless sets of jumps, followed by about 90minutes of high pulls, squats and bench pulls  every Tuesday/Thursday, not to forget 20:20:20 on Monday nights would soon slim down the Brooke’s group, leaving a core group of us who were ready to throw ourselves wholeheartedly at the task at hand. There was always such strong camaraderie, it was the first time I felt like I’d found my calling and true identity , I will be forever grateful.”.

“There is something very special about being a part of Brookes Rowing, it feels raw, a bit rough around the edges but full of grit… No matter how polished and smart Brookes get there will always be that Brookes spirit that you can’t find anywhere else. For us I would say that we were a total ‘motley crew’! Annie was ten years older than the rest of us and had raced for the Australian U23 team. She was the best mentor I could have ever wished for, she took no prisoners, Emma was half the size of me, but a total pocket rocket and master technician. Heike was our German engine, a women of few words, but my god she was gave us some power! Then there was me, super powerful but still learning to hone my skills fresh out of novices.”

If you had to choose, what would you say was your favourite race?

One race that really stands out for me has to be winning the Novice pennant in my first year of rowing at the HORR! I can remember it so clearly; we were racing in the HEAVIEST wooden boat called ‘The Commoner’. It was like a trawler boat, once we were up and running we gained our speed and couldn’t stop! We went off 120th and dropped 31 places. In hindsight I think this gave me my first real glimmer of how incredible it felt to work towards a clear goal and actually achieve it, mix that with a team bond that was unbreakable, and having being dubbed the underdogs resulted in a Carla that became transfixed with the sport.

How did rowing help or hinder you during your time on SAS: Who Dares Wins?

“I hadn’t expected there to be so many parallels with rowing training whilst on the course. But the fact that there was such an obvious day to day singular focus, managing to be totally present and concentrating entirely on the job at hand replicated past rowing days to a tee. Those sessions that can seem soul destroying and endless, you cling on for dear life, rock up with the best version of yourself and throw everything at it, no distractions, that was exactly the same on the course. Whilst in the GB team we constantly talked about controlling the controllables, on the course I knew I wouldn’t be able to always keep up with those half my age, but I could stay on top of hydration, stash food at meal times to have post session, rest whenever possible, have my kit squared away….I needed to be the best at the basics, the rest would come down to grit, determination and often a bit of luck thrown in for good measure!”.

The Taurus Dinner takes place to celebrate the achievements of BROOKES|Rowing athletes and alumni over the past season.

Highlights of the past year include, but are not limited to:


  • Winning the Ladies Challenge Plate at HRR for the third year in a row
  • Winning the Temple Challenge Cup at HRR
  • Winning the Academic Eight at HWR
  • Retaining the Headship at HORR
  • Winning the student pennant at HORR
  • Four athletes winning medals at the U23 World Championships
  • Three athletes winning medals at the Senior World Championships

If you’re interested in joining us, tickets are still on sale and can be bought here