Occasionally something happens that makes you stop in your tracks and take an honest look at where you are, where you have been, where you are going and why. The 2021 European Championships a few weeks ago was just that for me.
A weekend of big emotions followed by tough conversations and the harsh reality of our speed at that moment in time. It fully awakened that sense of urgency that there is not one stroke to be wasted. Time is running out.
I went into that weekend full of belief, excitement and expectation. It was the first weekend we had raced internationally in 20 months, and my first time racing on the lake that feels like our second home. Over the past 5 years we have spent many months on training camps in Varese and that stunning water overlooked by snow-capped mountains is familiar territory. Once the anxiety of covid travel precautions were out the way, we were buzzing to be back doing what we loved. I had forgotten just how intense the pre-race nerves are, the numerous toilet trips as your body is preparing itself for what is to come. And I had forgotten the highs and lows of being in a crew of 9, navigating the different timings of everyone’s heightened emotions as they rise and fall. But all of that is part of the racing experience. It is what we train for.
We crossed the finish line in fourth. My initial reaction was frustration and disappointment that we had missed out on a medal. My pride was hurt. I wanted to be one of the many GB crews standing on the podium, bringing home something shiny to share with my friends and family. But as time passed and my emotions intensified, I realised that the root cause of my turmoil was not that we didn’t come home with a medal, but that we were 9 seconds off the pace. That was not good enough. To make it to the Olympics, we need more speed. My dream of Tokyo suddenly felt like it was hanging by a thread.
The week that followed was full of uncertainty, and I was physically and emotionally exhausted. But the events of the weekend forced me to stop and once again ask myself the big questions. Why am I doing this? What it is that I value? What do I bring to the team, and how am I using those skills? What do I want out of my own rowing journey? What can I do to make the boat faster? If we had won a medal, I might not have dug so deep into these big questions and an opportunity for growth might have been missed. As Toto Wolff, CEO of the highly successful Mercedes F1 Team said, the day we fail is the day our competitors should fear.
I don’t doubt that we gave it our all as a crew in that race. But the conversations that followed to identify what we can do better, and the change in mindset we have adopted will be key in reaching our long term goal. These weeks have not been easy. Selection is still not completely finalised. Training is relentless. Covid mitigations are as tight as ever. And we know we have to show medal potential speed for the British Olympic Association to send us to Tokyo. But I have so much belief that we can do this. One day at a time. One session at a time. One stroke at a time. The speed is coming.