Voices of the Bay

A Gap Year Down Under

Portia Gaitskell of Barrington reflects on a year rowing in Australia as she preps for MIT


Barrington’s Portia Gaitskell will be well prepared when she arrives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Harold W. Pierce Boat House this month. After all, she just spent a rigorous year of rowing with the Sydney University Boat Club in Australia. With encouragement from her parents to take a gap year – a common practice in their native England when students take the year off between high school and university to work or pursue an interest – the 2018 Lincoln School graduate deferred her college acceptance (and with it a spot on the Division I Varsity Rowing team) to set off and experience Aussie life on the water. Now at MIT, Portia will balance her studies in electrical engineering and computer science with competition on Cambridge’s iconic Charles River.


"My parents had floated the idea of taking a gap year. My dad didn’t take one and wished he had. He thinks you are much more productive at college if you have had time to take a break and reflect on why you are going to college in the first place. The summer before my senior year, I saw my aunt in the UK who was visiting from Australia where she lives and invited me to come for the year. At the time, I was really getting into rowing and I thought I would look into that.

I rowed with the Sydney University Boat Club. You can row for a university there without going to the school. It’s like a boat club, so students from high schools and other universities all row together. It was a huge step up in the training. I was used to training once a day, sometimes twice during the season, rowing maybe 12 kilometers. In Sydney, we trained two times a day, Monday through Friday, and three times a day on Saturday. It was single skulling. My first day we did a 20k row in the morning, which was okay, then in the afternoon we went to the gym and did another 20k on the erg, a stationary rower. It hit me pretty hard.

At States [for North South Wales] I raced in the U21 single and came fifth overall, and also raced a U21 coxed four and we came second by less than a second. For Nationals, I did a bunch of races. The best ones to race were definitely the U23 pair as there were no great expectations for me and my partner who was coming out of injury and we hadn’t been rowing together very long, but we were able to make the A final and come sixth overall.

I am definitely stronger because of the experience. It is so therapeutic to be on the water. When it’s flat and the sun is coming up, there is nothing better."