It is amazing how things are in constant change and yet we convince ourselves that life is more static. I am referring to a shift that has subtly occurred with out me realising. For years the motto with the four and pair revolved around, do less than more, focus on quality rather than quantity, stay fresh with variety, and well to be honest make it appear like it’s easy rather than hard.
Years ago I can recall our coach at the time, Noel Donaldson saying to use he wanted us to put everything in to each stroke but disguise it so from outside it would appear effortless. I loved the idea and it was probably something the whole team had done intuitively from early on in the four.
So what’s changed then? Well that notion of appearing effortless is still very valid. What has changed personally for me is I no longer care what it looks like to others. I am more happy to work and certainly don’t mind doing longer km’s and even one strange thing has been long sessions on the ergo. To spend an hour and a half in the shed training on the rowing machine seems somewhat normal now. Contrast it to four years ago and I would have avoided doing anything more than 30-40min. Things are different now, they have changed. Obviously as members of that great crew the Oarsome Foursome have retired so to have some of the mystical ways that went with them. I say all this in jest, but they did have a presence about them and I even think they feed the idea that they didn’t training that much or that hard.
With every generation of athlete we see change but while generations stay at the top of the tree change becomes harder to see. It even becomes hard to do, as the resistance from those to not change is strong. Why? Because what has worked is not easy to let go of. Something I have noticed within myself is that since the days of the four and the pair with James I have made some significant changes, but it has been only recently that I have become aware of these. It has taken the two years since Athens to embed some new ways of approaching things and new ways of thinking.
The other thing I notice with the likes of James and Mike from the four was that as they became involve in new groups they have changed also. In particular seeing Mike in 2004 with the eight the way he rowed and his rejuvenated way was inspirational. Currently I get the feeling that James is going through a similar thing. This is also reflected in what I am going through. Having to adapt and be flexible is critical for longevity.
With every season we have opportunities to realise the changes that have occurred. Some are conscious other less so. What I am interested in is influences that create change. One of the first that comes to mind are coaches. I have been very fortunate to have been involved with many great ones of my career. The two that I have had the longest association with are Noel Donaldson and Chris O’Brien. For very different reason they have play a great role in my development and change as an athlete. Others have had big impact with less time and some have been in a negative way, but this still creates change in me, which is positive. Funny how that can work, but it does require reflection and action to enable any experience to benefit.
Other influences have been other athletes and crews. Some of the major shifts in perception I have experienced have come about from observing what other do. At a critical point two athletes stood out to me more than even the guys like the Oarsome Foursome. Richard Wearne and Rob Walker raced the pair for Australia in 1994 and 1995. Through their performances in those years they brought the idea and the possibility of being able to mix it at the highest level in to sharp focus. The reason for this was that when I cam into the sport the likes of the Oarsome Foursome were already established and they commanded attention. In the season of 94 I was an U23 athlete just starting out and during out domestic season I had the chance to race against Richard and Rob in small boats. At the time they were not together in the pair but I can still remember vividly when they became selected as the pair and went on to race at the World and win the bronze medal. I thought, wow look at what those guys did that was amazing, and shit I was racing against them here in Australia. It blew my mind to think that they were that good. To compete in the way they did and to challenge the best in the World in the pair was something that triggered inside me a sense of possibility. I heard many stories about how they went from selection into training and how they changed from domestic athletes into international competitors. They weren’t big like Redgrave and co. They weren’t as laid back and considered as talented like the Oarsome Foursome. They were races and found a harmony in the boat that enabled them to fly in the pair. They took on the challenge and performed. It showed the way from a new generation to follow. They bridged the gap that had formed behind the four. What’s amazing was how after they broke through so many other athletes started to believe they could do it too. The gap had finally been crossed.
Another great influence that helped set the things in motion was seeing the French pair succeed in 2000. When you go back over their pathway it is fantastic to consider the improvements and persistence. The way they raced the final in Sydney was right on the limit and they took the risk. Looking back over many of their other international races they always showed an ability and tendency to wind it up that way. The difference is that when they went for it in Sydney it was about 200m earlier and they took off like the 1900m was the finish line.
One last figure whom in recent years stands out for me and through their performances they have stimulated change in my thinking. Mahe Drysdale from New Zealand went from the Kiwi four in 2004 and stepped into the single and has been at the top since. How does someone go from being in a crew that makes the final to being the best single sculler in the World with the World Best time. What a transformation and it made me think that often you can tell who has something special until they get the opportunity to shine. His attitude is refreshing and to think when most of the world of rowing is attempting to centralise and create systems were athletes do a program and become machine like. He like the French pair and Wearne and Walker have been little beacon of light that show athletes can change and when they do they become great. Even my hero’s the original Oarsome Foursome were not create by a system they along with their coach, Noel Donaldson fought the system and changed their pathways and became great.
When I think of change and in particular the change the is require for any athlete to go from ok to great, it is them and their coaches who take the critical steps that are all to often considered to risky. That is what change is. It’s taking a risk, and it’s letting go and facing the challenges that need to be confronted. The examples are everywhere and they are ever changing them selves and with every rise and fall it is understood to be a natural part of the process. So to all who are willing to change the rewards are with out limit. If though the though of stepping into the unknown scares you well you may as well piss off, because there is no smooth static path. We need to move, we need to adapt, and we need to change if we are to realise what’s possible when you take that leap of faith.