An Aberdeenshire man overcame serious illness to help row Cambridge to success in the world famous Boat Race today.
Four years ago Ben Dyer spent two hours unconscious as his battle with Crohn’s Disease reached its peak.
Now, the 28-year-old has followed in the footsteps of some of Britain’s greatest Olympians as part of the Cambridge crew in the annual Boat Race.
Locals have this evening taken to social media to congratulate Mr Dyer on the part he played in his team’s success.
Congrats to @CUBCsquad for winning both men’s and women’s boat races. @OxfordUniBC will be back. Great to see Ben Dyer (Mackie Academy) help row Cambridge to victory and overcome the challenge of Crohn’s disease #inspirational https://t.co/mS0R0bec0c
— Martin Gilbert (@MartinGilbert83) April 4, 2021
Well done @cubc_squad and my big little brother @ben_dyer_92
— Sam Dyer – Property Investment (@samdyerinvest) April 4, 2021
— Alison Evison (@AlisonEvison) April 4, 2021
The former Aberdeen University student, who grew up in Inverbervie, first began feeling the effects of the condition in 2016 while working in Dubai.
“I just thought it was because of rowing. I thought ‘It’s a tough sport, you have to be tough’.”
Inspiration from Sir Steve Redgrave
Initially, he admits, he “shrugged off” the diagnosis, believing his fitness would push him through.
However, the disease soon caught up with the former Mackie Academy pupil before inspiration from Sir Steve Redgrave helped him turn the tables.
Ben said: “I was taking iron supplements to keep my levels up but I started getting really fatigued with migraines after training, I was really struggling to catch my breath too – five to 10 minutes after training I was still on the floor.
“I just thought it was because of rowing. I thought ‘It’s a tough sport, you have to be tough’.
“But then I had an upset which left me unconscious, I woke up two hours later, I wrapped up warm, felt really washed out, and I just thought ‘This isn’t right.’
“And then I was going to China for the World University Rowing Championships and I was reading Steve Redgrave’s autobiography and he said he was diagnosed with colitis, which is very similar, before he won his fifth gold medal.
Here is the 2021 Men's Blue Boat who will compete against Oxford in the 166th Men's Boat Race.Cox: Charlie Marcus -…
“He went from setting world record times to times that wouldn’t get him in the Cambridge boat – it made me realise that if it was slowing him down that much then I have got some issue.
“I started to piece things together and from there was a lot more proactive, opened up about it, got medication and made changes.”
‘This race is my Olympics’
Ben’s diagnosis with Crohn’s has meant he has been shielding during most of the coronavirus pandemic.
Less than a month ago the student, who lived in Dubai while working in the oil and gas sector after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree, was still training solo on a rowing machine in the back garden and garage of his student accommodation.
Restrictions to allow the team to come together were only lifted on March 7.
Since then, the team started logging up to 100 miles a week on the water to ensure they were in peak condition for the annual contest.
And when he took his position on the second seat of Cambridge’s blue boat Ben was following in the footsteps of two-time Olympic champion James Cracknell, who sat in the same seat as part of the victorious 2019 crew the last time the race was held.
The victory this afternoon caps a remarkable rise for Ben, who had never picked up an oar before beginning his PHD at Cambridge in 2017 to examine how to make electric aeroplanes viable.
He said: “Rowing I guess was something I just hadn’t come across in the school system, certainly compared to my teammates who went to posh schools in London.
“I was a runner. I did parkrun in Aberdeen, then did all the standard 10Ks. I started to get a bit more competitive in Dubai and I thought I was alright.
“I did a 5K at university though and just got absolutely obliterated by guys about half my size, the standard was incredibly high.
“I just went out for a paddle and a trip to the pub initially but I signed up for the novice programme and it went very quickly from there.”
This year’s boat race, was run at Ely in Cambridgeshire for the first time since the Second World War due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking before the event, Ben said: “It may sound cliche, but this race is my Olympics. I’ve spent the last four years training to represent Cambridge.”