What it's like to come back from an injury and win Henley Women's Regatta, one of the most prestigious rowing events in the world.
One of the toughest things that I’ve had to deal with throughout my recovery from injury is staying sane! Athletes in pursuit to compete for their country and go to the Olympics put their lives on hold – careers, relationships, adventures, holidays – everything is on the back burner to make way for full commitment to training. However when injury occurs and training can’t be undertaken properly, it is extremely difficult to justify continuing to abandon the rest of your life. Questions fill your head with the point of it all.
You’ve built your life around your training. Three sessions a day, six days a week. This means sacrificing any other career prospects and much of a social life. So, when mainstream training is removed, you feel empty and instead you’re taken on a much more indirect, timely journey to your goal. Every day for nearly nine months I battled with myself to get out of bed to do my rehab. When arriving at Leander – a place full of success – I’d watch my peers carry out the training and competitions I was meant to be doing, seeing them get faster and stronger, and ultimately closer to the national squad, closer to my dream.
Two steps forward, one step back
As an elite athlete, it’s very tough to deal with the absence of performance and progression. I lost count of how many times I had to talk myself out of quitting. Every time I thought I might have recovered, I’d find myself trying to take the next step in my recovery to then be nailed with pain I thought had started to disappear, or a new type of pain I’d not even come across before. But what kept me going? I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t make any big decisions while I was not able to row. Injury is such a huge part of rowing, and as unfortunate as it is, so many rowers have to endure it. I chose to consider this as my fair share of the ordeal, and use it as an opportunity to strengthen and condition not only my body but also my mind. I completely believe that rowing is 50% physical (with a big proportion of this being the absence of injury), and 50% mental. As I carried out my training alone, often in pain and missed out on opportunities to prove myself, I felt as though I were stuck in the mud. However, my situation undoubtedly helped me build the crucial mentality which makes 50% of an Olympic champion.
The light through the trees
After nearly 9 months of rehab, I was finally able to jump back in my single. For the first few weeks my training consisted of steady sessions on the water, and continuing my weight training. As determined as I was to disprove it, my coaches made it very clear that racing wasn’t an option me for the remainder of the regatta season – there just wouldn’t be enough time to get me race fit without compromising the rehab I had just spent so much of the season doing.
However, when a sub was needed for the women’s elite 4x at Met Regatta, and the original sub fell ill, I was the only option. Put in the bow seat and instructed not to try too hard, but no elite athlete can obey the order not to try, no matter how much risk is involved! I raced the Saturday of the regatta and we came away with a win! The feeling of being back as part of a crew was overwhelming. Fortunately, my back held up fine. Secretly, I knew it would from testing it out with a few sneaky race pieces in my single prior to subbing in. From this result, I was put into a double with Alice, another athlete from Leander who had also struggled with injury throughout the season. She had also been able to get back in a boat at the same time as me, so we were well matched. Our training together, we were told, was a project to work on, which would gradually return us to the full training program. However, again with no intention to be racing for the rest of the season.
However from the first outing we had in the boat we knew we were going to be fast, and both of us had Women’s Henley Regatta in the back of our minds. Only a couple of weeks away, we had our work cut out for us. Getting the race fitness restored and the technical quality up to scratch was going to be difficult, but the raw speed was there. It didn’t take long for the coaches to realize this and we were entered into the senior women’s double at HWR.
First came the time trial – this would give us an idea of our chances for the weekend. With a fairly average row, and by unofficial times, we won by a second. This was enough to let us believe we could win the real thing. We cruised through the first round on Friday afternoon, then the quarter finals on Saturday, and the semi finals on Sunday morning. This led us to meet Reading RC (second in the time trial and our main opponents) in the finals on Sunday afternoon. We knew they were quick but we’d sculled better and faster every round during the regatta and fully believed we were capable of winning this event. When the race began, we were down off the start but we anticipated this would happen when playing their fast starts to their strengths. However, not much before 300m in to the race we’d settled into our strong rhythm and came back to take a slight lead. Holding them there until the enclosures, we then made our move coming passed the crowds in the boating area with a big swing call, which gave us the lead we knew we had inside us. It was such a special moment for us both to cross that line first. After both having such a tough season, as well as both losing in the final before at HWR, twice for myself (once by 3 inches)and once for Alice, it was definitely a victory I’ll never forget.