“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Asked by our Strength and Conditioning coach Nicole why I wanted to start writing a blog about my experiences as a full time rower, my answer was because I enjoy reading about other athletes’ journeys and I think it will be a good way to reflect on my own experiences (I am currently reading “The Flying Scotsman” by Graeme Obree which is immensely moving and inspiring!). I hope by doing this I will learn more about myself and better understand the different experiences and situations I have been in. Nicole also suggested it could be therapeutic and she may well be right! This is my first attempt at writing a blog so you may be have to bear with me.
It has taken me a while, and in some ways I am still working through the story of last year in my mind. The ups and down were huge and it was for sure the hardest year I have ever been through as an athlete. For those of you who aren’t aware of the backstory a brief outline is below:
September 2015 – Katherine and I qualify the double for the Olympic games finishing 6th at the World Championships.
April 2016 – After internal testing for the double, Katherine and I are announced as the women’s double for the first regatta 0f 2016, the European Championships.
May – 4th at European Championships.
Post Europeans – I ask to be given a seat race for the eight based on my doubts over the speed of the double. After many highly emotive conversations with the coaches and the performance director this was agreed.
June – Narrow defeat in seat racing for selection in the eight after three weeks of training in a sweep boat. Katherine and I are not announced in the Olympic team for Rio.
July – Back in the double with Katherine with a late selection, finishing 5th in the last World Cup race before the Olympic games
11th August – Win an Olympic silver medal in the double at the Rio Olympic Games.
I don’t want to go into detail around the selection issues, as for me that is now in the past and I want this blog to look towards the future in that regard. But, I do think it is important to speak about the lessons learnt and why I am still musing over last year.
In June 2016 I was the closest I have ever been to walking away from the sport. The year had tested me to what I thought at the time were my emotional limits. I had worked so hard and sacrificed a lot – the hardest being not able to support my Mum at the funeral of her Father and my Gramps due to being abroad racing. Over the four years since the London Olympics 2012, I had made sure I was a better athlete in every way. I had said to myself after London that I wanted a better result in four years time so I then asked what am I going to do differently. As Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” However, a few months out from Rio, I found myself looking at my other teammates in the crew room who were enjoying being a part of crews that were building in confidence and speed leading into the Olympics, and I was envious that that wasn’t me.
Katherine and I were both as frustrated as each other as to why we couldn’t make our double work and this was a seriously difficult time for us both. I didn’t want to be in this situation and I also didn’t want Katherine to be – I wanted her return to the sport to be enjoyable, and successful, and at that time it was neither of those and I was a big part of that.
I remember after I received the phone call to say I had missed out on the eight by under half a second and the only option now was the double, I told my boyfriend I was going for a walk to think things over. I had to ask myself some hard questions. I had been really unhappy for a good few months due to rowing and what is it all for? Is it really worth all this heartache? My unhappiness was also worrying and upsetting my loved ones as I really wasn’t myself. Is it really worth putting them through this? As I walked through the woods near my house I wanted to cry and scream, something that I had done a good few times in recent months out of pure frustration, but I knew that reaction was not going to help now. I had to dig really deep and ask if I could pick myself up from this moment, get back in the double, and really give Katherine and the boat the drive and passion that they needed and deserved.
In June 2016 I was the closest I have ever been to walking away from the sport.
Now I know to a lot of people this may sound very over dramatic, because at the end of the day this is only sport – it’s not life and death. And I agree to some extent. A lot of the time I did feel like I was being very selfish and narrow minded to be so obsessed and upset about not being as fast in a rowing boat as I wanted to be. Because let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of life it really doesn’t matter. However, I must say I did find it really hard to see any perspective and to ‘get over myself.’ Maybe that obsession is what it takes to become the best in your sport. Perspective is something I want to improve on without losing that edge that I need, but that is for another blog.
I did however decide that I had to find that last bit of drive to propel Katherine and I and our boat to the Olympic games with the best shot of success. A couple of days later I found myself back on the lake at Caversham and feeling very happy to be back in a boat remembering exactly why I love to do this. I left all the extra baggage from the last few months on the bank.
The next six weeks leading into the games were really enjoyable as we worked every day and every session to make the boat faster. A big part of me believed that we were capable of something special if we got it right, but another part of me was preparing for heart breaking disappointment. I do think this was a natural protection mechanism. I had had many disappointments over the years and so maybe preparing myself for another one was just natural.
Our final was a race of a lifetime for me… I am massively proud of both of us for delivering that.
So came the Olympic games and racing. Racing the same people you have for years but with the Olympic rings all around and knowing this is the only race people actually care about. No matter how many PBs you have produced, or how big the weights you have lifted have been, this is the performance you will be remembered for. Our final was a race of a lifetime for me. It wasn’t perfect but we delivered our best race on the biggest day, under the biggest pressure and produced a race a lot of people didn’t think we were capable of. I am massively proud of both of us for delivering that.
However, my emotions were not how I expected them to be. You dream all the time about how you would feel to win an Olympic medal but I don’t think it is often how you dream it to be. I think the contrast from being at my lowest point a mere six weeks ago to becoming an Olympic silver medallist was too much for my mind to comprehend. I was of course really happy don’t get me wrong, but it was really hard to get my head around what had just happened. A big highlight was to to see so many people there watching who had been such a huge part of our success and part of the medal was absolutely theirs. But I guess it would take a while for it to actually sink in.
I guess now having had a good amount of time to mull things over, I have realised that having an Olympic medal doesn’t really change anything or you as a person – I wouldn’t want it to. But what it does give me is something I can look at that represents my efforts and that is really satisfying. I sometimes just go to the draw I keep it in and open the box and just smile.
One of the biggest things I have learned is that you have to enjoy the journey. For some athletes I know this is not how they would see it. For some, anything but winning medals is a failure and they will feel they have wasted their time if they don’t have a medal to hold. However, medals are really hard to come by and it takes not only hard work but also some luck. I have seen friends in this sport who absolutely have the talent to win medals, but they have just had really bad luck. It can all fall apart at the last minute or it can just be down to getting ill or injured at the wrong time of the year.
I don’t think having this attitude makes me any less single minded or driven to succeed, but I have seen both sides of the coin very closely and I recognise that I must enjoy the journey as well. You have to ask yourself at the end of your career, regardless of how many medals you have, did I do everything I could to put myself in the best position and do I have any regrets. The journey can be very special and I guess medals are the icing on the cake.