Athlete Futures Network Newsletter - September 2018
Don't Be Nervous About Networking!
By Alex Duff, Head of Comms, Moving Ahead
An interactive workshop at the Athlete Futures Roadshows demonstrates how ‘comfortable’ networking can lead to funding opportunities as well as prepare you for life after elite sport.
If you’re an elite athlete, the chances are that you have very little spare time outside your training regime to plan what you are going to do once your competitive days are over. But it’s important to start thinking early about the next stage of your life, regardless of how far off you think that might be.
As part of the Athlete Futures Roadshows, Moving Ahead’s career coach Kate Howlett held some one-hour interactive networking workshops to show how connecting in the right way, with the right people, can not only pave the way to a fulfilling post-elite sporting career but even bring in funding while you are still competing.
“Making the transition to a new career is a daunting prospect for anyone, but building up a network of relevant contacts is an obvious key to success,” says Kate. “Most people are apprehensive about networking because it conjures up images of organised events where you have to plump out your chest, march up to someone and do a selling job on yourself. My role is to show that delivering a sales pitch like that can actually turn people off. Real networking is about researching - having natural conversations with genuine contacts, finding common areas of interest and asking questions that will help you plan your future.”
As Kate points out, networking is something we do all the time without even realising it; for example, if we move to a new house and ask our neighbour what day the bins go out, that’s networking!
In her workshop, Kate explains how to put a bit more structure into this kind of networking, the kind that comes naturally to us. Specifically, it’s about how to go into a conversation with a clear idea of what you want to talk about and how to come away from it with the information you need.
But what if retirement is a distant spot on the horizon, or you are not at all sure about what life might hold for you once you have hung up your trainers? No problem says Kate.
“Timing is one of the questions I get asked most often, but the important thing to remember is that it’s never too early to start developing a network. You may have a retirement date in mind, but that could easily change through injury or other events happening in your life. It also makes no real difference whether you have never known anything other than your sport. The important thing is to be able to articulate clearly what you have done and what you think you might be interested in. At this stage, it’s about finding out what opportunities are out there, and using networking to nurture them for when the time is right.”
Kate has designed her workshop specifically for the Athlete Futures Network, and it’s had great reviews from the first three Roadshows. If you’d like to see what it’s like in person, then sign up for Manchester now!
My Roadshow Experience
By Rhys Davies
At the start of 2016, myself and my crew-mate decided to retire from the world of elite sport. Thankfully I had arranged to start my undergrad as a mature student, but that didn't stop my self-doubt or the fear I had of thinking I lacked any relevant “real world skills”. Since then, I have worked hard to build up some work experience and complete my studies to my highest potential (being an athlete may have stopped, but a being a competitive overachiever certainly did not!).
So when I received an email inviting me to attend a 2018 Athlete Futures Roadshow, I couldn't believe my luck. I was convinced I had missed my opportunity to take full advantage of my previous role as World Class Programme funded athlete. I responded without hesitation and set the date in my calendar.
The event started with a panel session discussing life after sport. I was honoured to see my former idol/rival/London 2012 champion Etienne Stott up on stage, getting stuck into the discussion with some thought provoking points. The panel opened my eyes to the fact that I was not alone in my doubts about the future, and that I was already taking some of the right steps in pursuing new challenges.
This was followed by workshops on marketing yourself and successful networking. The sessions offered insight not only on how to improve workplace skills and find work, but also how to view yourself and your achievements in a more positive light. After this session came some fantastic snacks (there are few things in life that are more enjoyable than bite sized bits of food) and the careers fair. It was inspiring to see how interested each company was in getting to know us athletes, and how much they wanted to get us involved their businesses.
All in all, the day offered amazing insights into the experiences of other athletes who are either preparing for life after sport or who were already experiencing it. I learnt that I wasn't alone in my confusion, self-doubt and aspirations. And more importantly, that there are businesses out there who are looking for individuals with mindsets like ours. I can thoroughly recommend the experience to anyone that has any inkling or curiosity about their future and current plans.
Pertemps Roadshow Feedback
We were really pleased to be attending the Athlete Futures Roadshows to support athletes in their pursuit of a new career. The Roadshows provide a connection for companies seeking to employ retiring athletes and we have attended all three of the 2018 events so far. We’ve found that the athletes have so much to offer! The Pertemps Network Group offers a range of staffing solutions across a variety of sectors and we feel that attending these events is an excellent platform to meet athletes face to face and uncover the transferable skills they have. These include:
• Communication skills
• Organisation and commitment
• Problem solving and adaptability
• Leadership and management
• Team working
Premier Global Roadshow Q&A
By Jason Hussain
My background for over 15 years has been in the sport of track and field. At the age of 17, I gained my first GB vest, representing GB Juniors at the Loughborough International. My aim was always to make it to an Olympic Games but unfortunately, I never managed it. During my sports career, I had to fund myself by juggling a career on the side and have worked in B2B sales since I was 18. In June 2017, I joined Premier Global NASM, as the Employer Engagement Manager. My key task in this role was setting up and retaining partners for our Employer Partnership Programme. Premier Global NASM’s key outcome is to help as many of our graduates gain employment with a gym to start practicing what they have learned through our courses and also start making an income. Our dedicated careers service is a key driver in helping our graduates achieve that outcome and I head up that area of the business.
How did you hear about Athlete Futures and the Roadshow events?
Premier Global NASM were approached by LAPS, who were recruiting for the events. We offer personal training courses which are very well suited to athletes when they are either looking for extra income whilst still competing or if they are transitioning out of their chosen sport. Therefore, LAPS saw Premier Global as a “no brainer” to have present at the Roadshow events.
What does your company have to offer current and transitioning athletes?
Premier Global NASM are the UK’s leading provider of health and fitness education. We were established in 1992 and since then, have continued to develop our products to ensure we’re providing the very latest education within the industry. Our digitally delivered Level 2 and Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training for Optimum Performance is the very latest qualification in the UK and we’ve had seen some fantastic pass rates since the launch in April. The qualification offers the learner a flexible experience due to the digital nature of the course, which is perfect for individuals with busy lifestyles.
What skills and qualities do you see in athletes which makes them employable?
We’ve had many professional athletes go through our courses in the past and they tend to have the perfect backgrounds to become successful personal trainers. Athletes have usually spent much of their professional lives based in gyms and therefore learn some of the key skills needed. It is also a great to be able to market yourself as an athlete/ex-athlete, as it shows potential clients that you’ve been there and done it.
How many athletes did you speak to at each event and how did you find them?
The events so far have been a fantastic way for athletes to understand what opportunities there are for them once they start to consider life after sport. We spoke to around 20 individuals at each event and all were very keen on understanding the life of a personal trainer and what the course entails.
Do you think you’ll recruit anyone?
We’ve already had a few athletes take up our courses, and we cannot wait to hear their future success stories once they complete the course and start implementing what they have learnt with their new clients.
What advice/top tips do you have for athletes who are coming to the Manchester roadshow in October?
My advice for anyone attending the Manchester event is don’t have any pre-conceptions of the different industries you’ll encounter. Go in with an open mind and make the most of having the chance to speak to experts from lots of different fields. We found with previous events that many of the individuals that we spoke to had a fixed idea about being a personal trainer, but when they hear some of the success stories and backgrounds of our graduates, they are pleasantly surprised by what they hear.
Finding My Way
By Steve Rowbotham
There are some days in my life that I remember with absolute clarity – like I am still there or as if it has just happened. One of those days was the Olympic final of the Men’s Quadruple Sculls (Rowing) at the London 2012 Games. Four years previously, I lined up on the start line in Beijing and realised my dream of becoming an Olympic medallist. Before the final in London, I knew that it would be my last race and I thought I was prepared for life afterwards. I had told myself that I didn’t need the sport anymore and that I had so much more to offer the world than sitting in a boat and going backwards (bring on the Australian jokes about only being good at sitting-down sports). I took the last stroke of my rowing career and finished 5th… then BAM – it hit me like a steam train; all of this was over. Fast forward two years and I was sitting in a room with a therapist working out how to become the man I wanted to be rather than this detached, angry, resentful, and often depressed human being.
This is my story, from sport to life after. Everyone will have their own journey and experiences, but ultimately, I want to make you aware of how difficult it can be and also how amazing life can be when you get it right. Having spoken to many former athletes, I now realise I was/am in a majority rather than a minority.
For 13 years, I was fortunate enough to represent my country on the world stage and live my dream. The culture and environment that many elite athletes find themselves in institutionalises them to believe in a set of behaviours and values that generally isn’t the "norm". Walking into a room with my Olympic kit on, I felt special, like I stood out. I was Steve Rowbotham, the Olympic Bronze Medallist. I would turn up at an airport, have my tickets handed to me, be fast tracked through security, and the air stewards/stewardesses would announce they had the GB rowing team on board. There was one value I held close to me throughout this time; never show any sign of weakness. I now know that what sport gave me was a huge sense of identity that made me stand out. I knew who I was, I was proud of what I was doing, and I had a clear purpose and vision for my life.
Coming back to that room with the therapist, it became clear to me that I had to rebuild my life from the bottom up and regain my identity. And for the record, it took me two years to pick up the phone to a therapist, because I didn’t think anyone understood what I was going through and I was too proud to admit I needed help.
I remember my dad telling me about how my life would change when we had our first baby and I equally remember not really listening to him. Then Elliot, my son, came along and I sat there telling him how life had changed! One of my best friends warned me about how hard he found leaving the sport and again, I only half listened – probably because I felt I was different and it wouldn’t affect me. In some respects, you can’t prepare for something you don’t know about or know how you’re going to feel about, but emotionally and support-wise, I was completely unprepared for what was about to happen.
I hit rock bottom during the summer of 2014. Myself and my wife, Eleanor, were on holiday with our son in Devon and basically argued the entire week. On the four-hour journey home, we didn’t mutter a single word to each other. I remember pulling up at Tesco, getting out the car, throwing her the keys and walking off leaving them both sitting there in the car park. I didn’t know where I was heading or what I was doing but an hour later, I found myself at home in tears knowing I had become someone I never wanted to be. At that point, I knew I needed help.
And it’s been a journey for the last four years to where I sit today. I still have my challenges and still know that I am not quite there, but in general, life hasn’t been this good for a very long time.
What I know now is that sport does not define you. If I had never taken up rowing, I would still be the person I am today, but I just wouldn’t have experienced the things I have. I also know that we are a special breed of people that can achieve pretty much anything we want, without limits. Once I found my identity and a company that would support me, it has taken me four years to become Chief Commercial Officer. I have my dream house in the country, a beautiful wife, two amazing children, and the car I dreamt of having when I was a boy. And this is not me showing off; I genuinely want to show you what is possible when you find your identity and are happy without having to be an elite athlete. It took me four years to sort myself out and I want you to adjust to life after sport in four minutes, not four years.
I will leave you with some advice which comes from my experience: You’re not alone, and plenty of us have been through this before. It will be your journey and experience but you will face many things that people like me have been through. It’s OK to feel how you feel. If you need help, ask for it way before I did – life is too short to waste time. And finally, we are different – but a “good” different. We aren’t “normal”, and the very fact you are an elite athlete makes you stand out from millions of people out there. We can achieve whatever we put our mind to and the things you have learnt in sport will mean you can succeed at whatever you chose to do. I’m excited to see what you all achieve and remember: Four minutes, not four years.
Finding a Career I Love
By Gemma Gibbons
At six years of age, I attended my first judo class. It wasn't long before I had fallen in love with trying to smash all the boys in the dojo onto their backs. I loved all sports when I was younger, but it was judo that really captivated me, and it wasn't long before I had set my sights on fighting at the Olympic Games. During my 24 years of competing, I managed to win various medals and tournaments across the globe and in 2012, I had my career highlight when I won a silver medal at the London Olympic Games. In 2017, I made the decision to retire from competitive judo, meaning life as I’d known it for the last two decades would change forever. Not only had I dedicated my life to judo for as long as I could remember, but it had been my actual job for the previous 10 years. I would no longer be getting paid to wrestle every day! I would now, at the age of 30, need to start a whole new career from scratch.
In the days, weeks and months leading up to my retirement, I wondered if now was the right time. At the beginning of 2017, British Judo centralised their training, meaning anyone wanting to receive support (e.g. medical support, tournament/camp costs and an APA) would need to relocate to the British Judo Centre of Excellence in Walsall. Although a London girl, I have lived in Edinburgh for the past six years with my husband, and for me, relocating was a move I felt I just couldn't justify, so I decided to turn down the offer of a place. As a result, my decision to retire was somewhat fast tracked by British Judo’s decision.
Had I not known what the next steps for me were, I think I would have felt lost and would have really struggled with not being a judo athlete anymore. Luckily, I knew what I wanted to do next and had, over the past decade, made sure that whenever the big “R” day came, I would be in a good position to progress to my next career. This wasn't to say that I didn't find retiring difficult; I did, but I had a new goal and a new focus, and this had a massively positive impact on my feelings around retiring.
Ever since secondary school, I knew that one day, once my body was too old or sore to continue fighting, I wanted to be a PE teacher, and I took my first steps towards this back in 2006. After completing school and college, I knew that moving on to a teaching degree would mean missing huge amounts of training and competition due to the nature of the course and having to complete teaching placements. Because of this, I decided to study part-time for a sports science degree instead. I knew that far into the future, I could take this degree and complete a one year top up to become a PE teacher. Without having a degree, I knew it would take me a minimum of three years to complete a teaching degree from scratch, so it seemed like the best decision.
Eleven years after starting the sports science degree, I found myself heading back to university to complete a one-year post-grad PE teaching course. I qualified from Edinburgh University last year and began teaching at George Watson’s College. I have so far only completed four months of my newly qualified teaching year as in December last year, I gave birth to a little boy, Finlay. Being a mum is literally the best thing in the world, but I am also looking forward to getting stuck back into my teaching next year. It will also be nice to have some adult conversation! Our little boy is incredible cute, but he could do with bringing a bit more chat...
My two careers of elite athlete and PE teacher are so very different in many ways, but have provided me with very similar feelings. As an elite sportsperson, everything you do is about you; you have to be pretty selfish, and everything you do is to better your performance. As a PE teacher, everything is about the children you are teaching. Every decision you make, all the effort you are putting in is for those in your class. I feel driven to do the best job possible for my students, as I did for myself when competing. The biggest shock to me was the feelings and emotions I get when teaching. They are surprisingly very similar to those I felt when competing. I would always be nervous when competing, regardless of whether it was at a small tournament in the UK or in the final of an Olympic Games. When I was younger, I used to worry about these nerves, but I learnt that they were actually a good thing; they showed me that I really cared and wanted to do well. I always said, if those feelings ever disappeared, I would know it was time to hang up my judogi. I now feel those nerves and emotions when I teach. It was the single most poignant thing that showed me I had chosen well when picking my next career.
I loved being a judo athlete, and I don't think any job will ever match that... but teaching comes very, very close!
Studying Whilst Training - Finding the Balance
Interview with Elinor Barker, conducted and edited by Jess Pether
There are many different ways athletes go about preparing for life after sport. Some choose to work alongside training and competing if at all possible; others want to get as much advice as they can from friends, family or their EIS Performance Lifestyle Advisor. And others choose to study, whether at university or via distance learning. Olympic gold medallist Elinor Barker decided to go down this latter route and has been studying with the Open University for four years. I spoke to her recently about how she fits it all in.
My family have always been very sporty, so I did a lot of sport as a youngster; pretty much a different club every night after school! My sister Meg and I used to go swimming on Thursdays at the leisure centre in Cardiff which had a cycling track outside, that we’d see every time we left. Meg decided she’d like to have a go at cycling and I got dragged along! I was around 9 or 10 at the time and from that moment onward, I’ve never looked back.
I hadn’t thought much about my career after sport until I heard about the opportunity to receive a Personal Development Award from UK Sport. After my A Levels, I took a year off from studying and also re-located to Manchester for training. My life had been quite hectic when I was at school, trying to fit in being a full-time cyclist and studying. I would go to World Championships and I was on a professional road team and I still had to make sure my school work was done. So when my A levels were over, I’d suddenly lost one huge time-consuming part of my life. I was also now away from my friends, so it was a big period of adjustment for me and it was strange to suddenly have lots of free time! I let myself relax into my new life for a year and then thought I should really take advantage of the UK Sport award. I had no idea what I wanted to do after cycling, and if I had applied for university, I wouldn’t have known what course to go for; it’s a big expense for something you’re unsure about. Then luckily, I found out about an Open University course which allows you to do a “pick’n’mix” of modules, enabling you to choose what you’d like to study. I thought it would be a great taster for later in life and maybe I’d find out what I wanted to do.
I started by studying sociology with a bit of psychology, then moved on to sports science, health science, human biology and now I’m kind of settled on mental health. It’s really sparked an interest in me and I’ve started to think about careers in mental health and look at nursing degrees for after cycling.
I’m now heading into my fifth year of six with the OU, and you do almost everything online, which is really useful. There are lectures you can attend but it’s not mandatory and you can also always call or email your tutor. The course is broken down quite nicely and there’s a workflow to get through, which is helpful. There tends to be an assignment due every six weeks which is based on the previous six weeks’ work, and at the end of a module, there’s either an exam or a second, more heavily-weighted assignment.
I don’t find it too hard to fit my studying in around training and competing. There are times it’s harder than others but for the sake of my own sanity, there’s no point in getting too stressed about it. My main focus is on being the best I can be during training sessions and I want to make sure I continue to race well. I also need to maintain a social life because this helps me function as myself and be happy, so my studying falls somewhere after those as a priority. That said, now I’ve found something I really enjoy on my OU course, that I potentially want to have a career in, it’s difficult not to want to do my absolute best all the time! I have support from a brilliant EIS Performance Lifestyle Advisor, Arabella Ashfield, who I speak to when I need to chat about my studying, and it’s really important to have this kind of support.
If I hadn’t known about the UK Sport award, I don’t think I would’ve started to think about my future after cycling for another couple of years. I knew that if I wanted to study later on in life, it was best not to have a huge gap between courses, even when it comes to things as simple as reading and writing something.
My coaches and NGB are supportive of my decision to study alongside training. They all know I prioritise cycling first, and they very rarely see me get stressed about studying, so it doesn’t interfere. If I occasionally need to move a meeting or leave dinner at a training camp early to finish an assignment, they understand and it’s not a problem. Things like that can be moved to fit my assignment schedule without me missing anything important. The most support I get is generally from the NGB staff who use computers a lot, because I am SO terrible with technology! Occasionally I’ll go and ask them for help, which is a bit embarrassing, but that’s another level of support I receive.
I’m also an ambassador for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, which is something I enjoy. I did start to learn sign language alongside this but with training and studying too, I realised it was a little ambitious! Originally I wanted to become a puppy socialiser, by looking after a puppy for a couple of years whilst they train, but I quickly realised this wouldn’t be possible. In my role as an ambassador, I go along to events, or sometimes appear on news programmes to encourage people to become volunteers and I love it.
My family are really supportive of me too. It’s easy to let your mind switch off when you’re not training, if all you do is come home and watch TV. To rest so much might be good for your body but it’s not the best thing for your mind; you need to be using it and learning new things to keep switched on, and my family understand that. It also helps me feel like a more rounded person and to not lose focus on the track.
Since I’ve been studying, it’s made me realise that athletes should take advantage of the UK Sport award if they’re able to. It cuts the cost of any studying you do and can help you find something you’re interested in. It could also help you develop skills you already have. As athletes, we often have quite a bit of free time compared to those who work 9 to 5, so I would encourage people to take advantage of this time in their lives. Studying isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked really well for me.
My advice to athletes wanting to study is plan ahead. I try to block out days for studying, when I know I may be less tired for example, and then make sure I go out with friends in the evening, to get a good balance. It does take commitment, but we all know that competing is stressful enough, so try to not get too caught up in your study. I try to make sure everything I do compliments each other and not take on too much, because it’s easy to burn out. If you can compete and train to the best of your ability whilst studying too, then that’s great and you will feel more ready to face the end of your sporting career whenever that time comes.
Preparing for Life After Sport - Setting up a Business
By Neil Fachie
Life after sport is either something that seems too far away to consider, or a terrifying black hole looming just over the horizon. Both my wife Lora and I have been full-time athletes for a number of years (although admittedly a few more for me!) and it’s safe to say that for us, thinking about the future meant planning for the next Paralympic Games. We'd heard stories from athletes who had retired about their struggle to make their way in the world and there were a few wise heads around trying to steer us towards future planning, but like so many athletes, we were worried that time focused on something else meant time not focused on our sport. Surely this would mean a decrease in performance?
The inspiration I needed finally came in 2016. A full Paralympic cycle unbeaten in international racing meant I went into the Rio Games as an overwhelming favourite to win gold. Everything was going well and I looked set to defend my title from London. On that day however, I was beaten by someone stronger and I had to settle for silver. Unfortunately though, it wasn’t quite that simple; I agonised over the defeat and truth be told, felt like a complete failure.
I began to question myself. I wondered if perhaps this was the start of a downward spiral in performance, that I had no way of getting out of? Maybe this was the beginning of the end of my sporting career. If this was to be the end however, I had a problem as I had no plans for the future. I had no other source of income and frankly, I had no idea who I was outside of sport. I had some thinking to do.
I was a nightmare to live with over the next few months, and Lora can attest to this! I was frustrated with myself, and I was scared about what the future may hold. Fortunately it gave me some time to reflect, and I started to realise that I’d actually developed quite a lot of skills during my time in elite sport. As athletes, we are often guilty of assuming all we know is our sport; we think that by dedicating our lives to something so specific, we don’t actually learn anything else. But I now realise this couldn’t be further from the truth. Over the years, I have learned how to create a plan, adapt it, and progress with it until I am the best in the world at something. I have learned how to deal with pressure on an extreme level and how to work with a team effectively. I have also learned how to stay at the top of my game for a number of years. These, and many other skills, are things we pick up along our journeys without even realising. In fact, we are sitting on a mountain of value, but we just don’t see it.
Lora is an expert on nutrition, having taken the time to study alongside her sporting career (along with the physiotherapy degree she already had). We were chatting one day and realised that if we teamed up, we could potentially offer something great to the world. It was then that we decided to set up LNF Coaching. This seemed like a pretty big step, but our thinking was this: If we set something up now, while we are still full-time athletes, then it will be ready and waiting for us when the day arrives when we choose to, or have to, walk away from sport.
At this stage, the business takes in no income, bar the occasional public speaking gig. The truth is, we don’t have the time in-and-around training and competing to really maximise it. We're doing what we can to build the foundations of the business when we have the time and things are ticking along nicely.
I now feel a lot happier about the future, as I know that there is something ready and waiting for me when I walk away from sport. It is also something I'm passionate about, which gives me that same desire to succeed that I get from sport. I no longer have the dread that the only thing I could ever be good at is riding a bike.
Something else remarkable has happened as well. Since creating the business, both myself and Lora have had fantastic success in our sporting careers. It turns out that taking our focus away from sport from time-to-time is actually hugely beneficial to our performance. It allows us to have a release from the stresses and strains of being a full-time athlete and we are no longer as susceptible to those huge confidence swings, dependent on how our training is going, or how that last race panned out. This has allowed us to start enjoying our sport again, and realise it doesn’t define us. And ultimately, that has brought our performances to new levels. 2018 has been good to us; three World Championship golds, two silvers and two Commonwealth golds. It is a happy household.
So now it is my turn to be one of those wise older athletes who spoke to the younger me. You may not listen, you may want to focus on your sport, but I’m going to say it anyway. The message from both Lora and I is to use the spare time you have to discover who you are. Try different things, and when you find something that you enjoy, and that could potentially earn you a living somewhere down the line, take it a bit further and see what happens. Enjoy the journey.
Athlete Question Time
Tell us about your early life, about you and about your journey to athletics.
I met my coach, Andy Young, in 2011 soon after starting at the University of Glasgow. He was coaching the Athletics Club and I joined the group. I have always loved running and competed in Scotland for a couple of years before then, but in December that year I earned my first British vest at the European Cross Country Championships. Ever since I started training with Andy, it has just worked brilliantly.
Had you always dreamed of becoming a vet?
Yes, I always wanted to be a vet; it’s what I’d wanted to do when I was growing up. It just happened the running has gone really well in the past few years!
How many years have you been studying?
I began in 2011 and graduated this summer, so it has taken seven years, as I have had to split the time with athletics. I loved the veterinary course I did; it was a great experience.
How do you balance studying and training?
I thrived on doing both. They both lend themselves really well to one another. It was nice to have a distraction from running, which can be high pressured in terms of training and racing. At the same time though, it was nice to have something to take away from the stress of the course and the stress of exams. Having something else was a good distraction, and that’s why I will look to continue bits and pieces where it fits. I have run really well, even though I have had a busy schedule.
How does it feel to have graduated?
It’s really nice. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world! The whole time, there is this little thing in the back of your mind saying “Should I be doing this?” I need to sort that, and it is nice to not have that anymore, and to have the freedom of knowing you’ve done it and got your qualification.
Did you receive any dispensation from your university or your sport?
I’m very lucky that I had a lot of support and the vet school worked hard with me to help me manage everything. We planned everything two to three years in advance.
Do you have any advice for your fellow athletes about transition or the choices you’ve made?
I always told myself that being a vet for me is a job and running is what I love. I am still going to keep that mentality of running being something that I do because I enjoy it. I don’t want to see it as a job. Running isn’t work, it is a hobby that I happen to be pretty good at.
What does the future hold for you now? Will you be able to practice veterinary medicine while training and competing?
The 2018 season is now over and I’ve won the Diamond League title, gold at the Europeans, silver and bronze at the World Indoors and qualified as a vet. It has been stressful but so rewarding and I am currently enjoying a holiday!
I will try and keep all things veterinary up to date; there is a certain amount of CPD you need to do each year, so I will do that. I will also look at what free time I have after training and going away on camps to see where I can do some veterinary things, which could be a charity role or volunteering. It will have to be when it fits.
Tell us about your early life, about you and about your journey to rowing.
I’ve had quite a roller coaster life. When I was younger, I was never that brilliant at sport; I played plenty of different types but just thought of them hobbies. I first started rowing at Bedford School, rather by accident, through a school friend who dragged me down to the river whilst I was carrying an injury. I got instantly addicted to it but never really thought about where it would take me. After school, I went to university to study law, and then on to law school before working in the City in banking and finance. It was only when my father passed away that I got into rowing seriously and started to challenge myself with how good I could be and what I could possible achieve.
What you do now and how did you get there?
I now work as a management consultant at Nielsen Sports and Entertainment, specialising in commercial strategy and sponsorship. I feel lucky to have found a career where I can combine sport, which I’ve always been passionate about, and business. If I’m honest, when I first left university, I hadn’t appreciated what a big ecosystem there was around sports business and went down the more traditional route of banking and finance. It was only through competing in rowing, and racing at the Olympics, I really started to understand the opportunities on offer.
I leveraged my time in rowing by speaking with senior sports leaders to understand what they did and what careers were available. From this, I was able to reach out to the firms and sports businesses I was interested in.
Within my job, the biggest high has been simply still being involved in sport and understanding how different sports work and operate. But if I was to pick something specific, being a football fan, it’s been great to have the opportunity to work with UEFA and FIFA in the last few years.
How did you find working whilst pursuing another career?
Working whilst pursuing my rowing dreams must be one of the biggest challenges I have ever had to face, particularly in the early years of my international career. It took a huge amount of management and planning. I remember a few crazy days driving back to London whilst taking a conference call in the car and trying to get my suit and tie on! One thing it did teach me was to be extremely effective and efficient with my time. It gave me a focus to my training; I knew my time was precious, so I needed to maximise every opportunity. Towards the latter part of my career, I have to say I was particularly grateful to the support UK Sport and the National Lottery gave me. You don’t realise how lucky you are sometimes, but it gave me scope to have greater flexibility with my work, allowing me to concentrate on rowing more.
When did you start to think about what you would do post-transition?
I probably started to think about my transition the year before Rio. In my own mind, I knew I would probably retire and having seen a few of the guys retire after London 2012 and take time to settle, I wanted to make sure I was able to start my post-rowing career as soon as possible – I hate being still for too long. I also didn’t want to be going into the Olympic year worrying about what I was doing next; I just wanted to focus on training, so I really needed to have a few firm options ready to be activated post-Olympics.
Were you able to balance planning your future with training and competing?
If you manage your time well, it’s possible, but you must be really on top of your schedule. I used the year before the Olympics to identify potential options and then worked around things around our training programme. Wednesdays were always a half day in our schedule, so I would use that afternoon to plan or have meetings/chats with various people to explore different avenues of work.
Do you have any advice for athletes who are still competing and starting to think about transition?
It’s a scary thing to think about life after sport. I found it quite hard to admit that I was giving up something I loved so much and was good at. My biggest bit of advice would be to reach out to people; it’s hard to know what you want to do, so try and meet as many people as you can from different areas of work and ask plenty of questions! Don’t be afraid to use networks for a helping hand; contacting friends and other retired athletes can be a major help and they’ll also understand what you’re going through. The Performance Advisors at the EIS are also a great help. Rowing has a great advisor called Mel Chowns, who is a great resource and can point you in the direction of other people who can help.
Does your work give you anything like the same buzz as being an athlete?
Work gives you a very different type of buzz. In some ways, it's very similar; the day to day pattern of work is like training, and then when you have a big presentation, it’s a little like a race. But if I’m honest, the highs aren’t nearly as big as in sport, but it’s still good fun. I loved my time in sport and still miss the racing, but I’ve found myself now applying the same principles to my work – you still get the challengers, and that want to learn from your mistakes and improve. It’s a new journey for me, just on a different river now!