Pre squad and winter season
During a x-training game of football in the run up to the European Championships last summer, which was to be my first GB vest, I had less than fortunate accident. Thanks to an over ambitious effort in goals I managed to break my own leg in the process of diving for a shot. Initially assuming it was just a sprained ankle, I left it untreated. I managed to hobble my way to watch my best mate race in the coxless pairs at the Olympics the following two days(expensive tickets I refused to give away!) Being there amongst the spectacular crowd and watching his success in becoming an Olympic medalist made me appreciate fully how badly I wanted to be racing in Rio. The following few months were a test of that desire as I inevitable got told I had broken my tibia in two places and would be in crutches until it healed meaning I would miss the Europeans. I chose to continue training alongside the team and I believe it was probably the most physically and mentally challenging block of training I’ve ever done. Since I couldn’t train my legs I pushed my upper body and lungs to the absolute limit and then have to get on crutches to walk with rest of the guys to next session – they didn’t show much patience in their walking for me. There were a massive mix of emotions I experienced daily – frustration, anger, sadness, anxiousness, hopelessness, impatience, feelings I’ve had before due to underperforming or not improving as much as I desired but this time, they came like relentless punches to the face that could have quite easily have ended my rowing career but it was the structure of continuing training that got me through the battles. Recovery came quicker than the doctors predicted and although it wasn’t in time to make the Europeans, it did mean that I was starting the new season close to being repaired.
Whether it was a strike of good luck or karma I don’t know but mid-november there was a shortage of numbers due to other injuries in the GB squad and I was asked to “fill-in” for the time being. It was the most pivotal moment of my year and I think a large part of me knew it straight away. I attended as a jack of all trades in terms of rowing – normally someone will either sweep row or scull and the ones that row will have a specific side, I however was expected to do them all. I applied myself completely to every session as if it were my last and did not let up on the worry that I might get told to go back to Leander Club at any moment. I kept quiet, got my nut down and worked with the same ruthlessness I delivered for those seemingly endless weeks of the summer I spent on the ski ergo I stayed.
I was invited to be part of the last big internal testing before the Xmas break and I destroyed myself in every aspect of it. It worked, I came out on the other side and I had won the matrix overall, beating some very talented others in the process. Unbeknown to me at the time but this result would play a crucial part to the structure of the new season. I was put on lottery funding shortly after and following the indoor altitude training camp and GB long distance trials I was deemed to have performed well enough to earn my first World Cup vest as part of the team racing in Australia in March.
GB final trials in April marks the end of the winter and is an opportunity for those invited to stand toe to toe with the best in the country. For me I was to be paired with Noddy as we had done since doing similarly well in December assessments. If I’m honest the training camp in Portugal preceding the trials was a struggle – we didn’t gel like we did before and failed to show speed that was comparable to the other boats. It was tough but we persisted and saw some positive progression late on in the camp – not quite where we wanted to be but definitely a step on. Getting back to the UK we needed every single session to get back on top of our game. Progressing through the time trial well, we then came second in our semi and improving every race we hit it pretty much spot on in the final finishing with a third place just behind Pete reed and Alex Gregory and ahead of Olympic and worlds medalists. Definitely my best result to date and would put me in the mix for further testing. In the direct seat racing I didn’t perform quite as well but I seemed to have impressed the coaches enough as I was selected to start the summer season as part of the coxless four.
Silvretta and pre Worlds
Following a mixed bag of racing over the previous month with a silver at the World Cup II at Eton, a win at Henley Royal Regatta and not making it to the A-final at World Cup III at Lucern we moved up the mountain to final training camp before travelling to the World Championships in South Korea. Silvretta plays host to the whole Men’s heavyweight team and has been the pre-worlds altitude training camp for last 40 years. At over 2000m above sea level, there is a definite shock to system when your lungs realise that they have to work double time! Doing a combination of ergos weights and walking for the first few days to acclimatise we got back on track anerobically. Personally I struggled a great deal the first week and spent pretty much every single break between sessions sleeping not great considering I had an exam to do the day I got back! Fortunately I became a bit fresher as the days went on and managed a good bit of time at the books when others were playing Xbox or watching DVDs. The basic idea behind training at Silvretta is that by depriving your body of oxygen by being in the thin air at altitude encourages it to produce new red blood cells which try to help your body compensate. The coaches schedule the camp so we take advantage of these extra cells and end up super fit as well as recovered by the time we race the World Championships.
Just before we leave, the crews are officially announced to the media and we are issued our team kit. It was the first time I owned my own World Championships kit and it is a big privilege and honour to be allowed to wear the red and blue “hoops” that have represented GB for the history of British rowing.