With this weekend marking two years to go until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, we chatted to GB Rowing Team’s Rachel Morris, British Athletics’ Joanne Butterfield and Archery GB’s Hazel Chaisty to discuss the new journeys they are all taking on the Road to Rio through talent ID and talent transfer initiatives.
Rachel, you’ve already experienced gold medal success in Beijing 2008, but people may be surprised to know that it came in para-cycling, how did you find the switch to para-rowing? and why did you change?
[RM] There were a couple of reasons I wanted to switch across sports. Just before London 2012 I was hit by a car whilst out doing a time-trial and badly damaged my shoulder, I carried on but didn’t achieve what I wanted and it never felt right again. So, it was part chance really; the physio I was using suggested the switch to rowing as it would use the opposite muscles to hand-cycling, we gave it a go to see how my muscles would react. A rowing talent spotter was visiting the gym I was in and spoke to me and it just developed from there. It was a fantastic transition after that.
The switch went a lot better than I anticipated; it was a phased transition, which is why it worked so well. It happened over three months, gradually shifting the hours on my bike to hours on the water, which stopped me from one day becoming a rower and suddenly having to switch everything, and that was pivotal. The GB Rowing Team understood having to switch and build up another muscle type and function completely, so it has been a very different way of training which means that the phased way is the better way!
How does the training differ between the two sports?
[RM] I’ve always used my arms so it was more a switch of muscles; on the bike I was using my pecs and the front of my chest but now it’s the front of my arms, my back, the triceps and biceps. As I was already an endurance athlete my body was used to training for hours and racing for longer periods so coming across I was familiar with the training time for the boat. It really was about building up the opposite muscles which, once I had built up my shoulder to use those muscles, took quite a while. My physio and the support staff from rowing were instrumental in making that happen.
Which skills were transferrable across sports?
[RM] Quite a few came across, and again that’s where it’s really helped having my coach Nick’s understanding of both sports as well, but the mentality transferred, the dedication to preparation and mind-sets before a race, visualisations and so on has been similar, as have the hours and, to a degree, the coaching. The biggest change and contrast has been going from training on my own all the time to training with a squad at set hours and that’s where coming across slowly through a phased transition has really helped me.
Joanne and Hazel, you were identified through a talent ID programme, what was it like coming out of it as an elite athlete on the road to Rio?
[JB] It’s so surreal! There was an advert at the beginning of the year for the Girls4Gold programme and one of my good friends told me to go for it, I applied, never expecting much, but yet kept getting through to the next stage and the next stage! It was so daunting, but then suddenly I was accepted onto the programme and the support I received (strength and conditioning, nutrition, coaching and psychologists) was more than I could think of! It gave me a process to follow and that made it easy to do what I was doing, I just had to concentrate on learning the sport.
[HC] I’m pinching myself, I saw the advert online and made the decision to go for it so before I knew it, I’d filled out the application and applied! It was great to try out where the athletes trained, but then to be called back was just amazing and I’m now lucky enough to train with and learn from someone like Mel Clarke who I can even call my friend!
How long has it taken all three of you to feel competitive in your new sport?
[RM] Part of me doesn’t feel competitive yet as it’s all still so new, but part of me knows that I can be competitive purely on the mental aspect because I know I can race, whether I can race the boat or not is irrelevant because once I’m on the start line and put my mind into place and race so that part of me is confident. For me it’s the technical ability, I’ve got to get to the point where I’m technically sound and I’m nearly there, I’m nearly able to call myself a rower! It’s not yet natural for me, I have to think about an awful lot, but the sessions and training results are always improving, I’m becoming smoother, which is giving me more confidence.
[JB] I’m still not sure I quite believe it to be honest! I’m still on the road to becoming an elite athlete, I’m in the best possible position to become one but I’m not the finished article yet. Winning the first competition is an amazing feeling, it’s enough to drive you onto the next. The UK Sport National Lottery funding model has made enabled me to focus entirely on the sport and to come through so quickly; if I had to concentrate on working I wouldn’t have achieved everything I have in such a short space of time. It’s not even been a year, it’s ridiculous! I knew I had the chance to medal but the question was how would I deal with the environment? I’d never been to a major championship before, but it felt amazing, you can’t beat winning on home soil in front of a home crowd.
[HC] I’m still adjusting, I’m still learning, I’m still taking a lot on board to help me to adjust to training full-time. The system in place helps me with everything, I train six days a week and to have a lie-in is alien to me. I wasn’t competitive at first, I spent about three months upping the poundage of my equipment until I could compete with people at the lower end of the scoring, but, once I had surpassed them I just wanted to continue to grow and grow.
Looking ahead, what are your plans, hopes and expectations for Rio 2016?
[RM] It’s a long way off! In my mind it’s so far away but two years goes in a blink of an eye during an Olympic and Paralympic cycle. My ideal would be to get to Rio as a rower and to bring back a medal, that’s the dream but it’s also a long, long way off and I can’t stress that enough but it’s what I’m aiming for. That’s why I get up every morning, that’s why I get into the boat to try and be that person on that line so we will see what happens! I have a fantastic team behind me so I’ve no doubt it will happen.
[JB] First and foremost I want to keep enjoying what I’m doing, this change in my life has been amazing and I love doing what I love! At every stage I reach I don’t want to forget how fortunate I am but I do want to continue to win, it feels great. I’m massively excited for Rio, if you’d told me six months ago I’d be going to Rio I’d have laughed at you. But now it’s achievable, it’s real, my personal expectations are to hit a personal best at every on the Road to Rio and I’d like to think I can do it as I’m still new and improving. If I can do the best that I can do and that brings me a gold medal then that’ll be fantastic.
[HC] Everything changes from week-to-week, when I first came here it was to finish in the top 15 in the individual ladies at Rio 2016. But, when I came home with that medal, from the coaches to myself, everyone’s expectations suddenly shot up and they’re just continually changing as performances improve. I don’t mind the pressure, it’s good to have high expectations, and I’m really excited about it. I get goosebumps, I’ve got them now and I’ve had them since the recent Paralympic Potential Camp - I came back so inspired to achieve!
Rachel Morris competes for British Rowing in the Women’s Para Rowing Single Scull, having transferred from British Cycling, Rachel won silver in the second World Cup of the 2014 season and finished 5th in the A final at the World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. Follow Rachel on twitter @Rachel44Morris
Joanne Butterfield competes for British Athletics in the Women's F32/51 club throw, having come through the Girls4Gold talent identification programme, Joanna recently won Gold and set a new European record at the IPC European Championships. Follow Joanna on twitter @Jo_shuni
Hazel Chaisty competes for Archery GB in the mixed team with partner David Phillips, Hazel quickly learnt the sport through the Chase the Rio Dream talent identification programme and has most recently won bronze at the European Championships