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The Rower

Age: 30 | Location: Cork, Ireland

If it weren’t for his mum, The Rower would have a tattoo of the Olympic rings.

‘We have to keep her happy. I would get the Olympic tattoo if I could, but my mother says no. She demands me to win things. Like we came seventh at the Europeans and she rang me up and she was like: Seventh? Yeah, we're not happy. And she's like, I'm not watching you. Win a medal in the next one or you can just come home and come back to work. So then we went and we came second at the next World Cup. She's the one I work to impress.’

This comes from a place of love, of course. For a long time, his mum didn’t think she’d be able to have any children at all.

‘I was a miracle baby. She was trying for years and years and years and years. Like she was married from 25 and she had me when she was 33 so I think that was a pretty tough time.'

He pushes his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose.

'I was kind of like the Hail Mary.’

So, every year, when his birthday rolls around, he buys her a gift.

‘Yeah, well, she did all the work. I just kind of popped out really.’

Incredibly, when The Rower isn’t training he works as a doctor. No wonder his mum is so proud. Two days a week he goes and works shifts at the hospital. And, if he’s been away on training camp, he’ll pick up a few extras to make up the time. This is how he earns his living.

‘As an athlete, I think the thing that would surprise people the most is that, like, it's performance based, so you get paid for your performance and your pay will go down as well as up. You don't get paid very much, and you have to work six and a half days a week.'

'If you worked it out it would be well less than minimum wage.’

Last year, he took a year out to work as a doctor full time, and on his return to the sport he ended up being paid far less.

‘We were on the top level of funding and I've now gone down the bottom because I took a year, essentially, to go and be a doctor. I didn't get the opportunity to compete to keep my funding up.’

It’s not all bad though. He loves being able to have control over his own progression.

‘The best part of the job is just pushing your body and seeing where it can go. Like there's all these crappy times where you don't get better for a week or two, or you maybe like have an injury or something. And then you improve, where you do a personal best, where you like hit your target weight or you do something good on the water, and you start to improve. Just being able to, like, have your own say on things and then know when it's going right.’

I ask The Rower if there’s one goal, somewhere ahead of him, which once he reaches he’ll feel like he’s finished with the sport, one race that he feels he needs to win in order to be done.

‘I know people who have won Olympic medals and they're still not satisfied. And then just like what's the point? Because as soon as you win that race, if you didn't enjoy the build up, if you didn't enjoy the occasion, if you didn't enjoy the event, you're just going to think, off to win the next one you know.'

'I just think it's so vital to be satisfied with whatever you're doing.’

He’s rowing for five to six hours a day - three hours on the water in the morning, an hour and a half in the gym, and then another hour and a half in the evening - but somehow finds time to try other hobbies too.

‘I've been trying to learn an instrument for a long time. I used to do loads of instruments like always a bit here, a bit there. I can play a thing called the bodrhan which is an Irish drum. I learned that when I was a kid, but it's not technically music. It's just so we can play in like a trad band and stuff, a traditional Irish music band. But I'm trying to learn the guitar.'

He’s even learnt to nap recently, which is something he’d never been able to do before.

‘I'm staying with a roommate who loves to nap. He sleeps every day, but I don't usually sleep during the day because, I don't know why, I can't. It's not bad. I've fallen asleep out of exhaustion during the day and then woken up. But I on purpose got on top of the bed, got the pillows, got my legs elevated, set the timer for 45 minutes. I was like I am on purpose going to make myself sleep during the day. And I did for 45 minutes.’

Finally, The Rower reveals to me that he has two superstitions.

The first is quite common.

‘I don't like the number thirteen. If I’ve rowed 13,001 metres I have to keep going.’

The other he picked up in South Africa, when he was a teenager.

‘I was staying in a house with this guy and he was living just outside Johannesburg, which is notoriously dangerous. And we went out one night for dinner and his brother was driving us. He was very drunk. And we were driving along and every time there's a red or an orange light they just went through it and then touched the roof, and I was like what are you doing? And they're like, if you stop at red or orange lights and there's no one around your car will get hijacked. So what you do is you just drive on through and touch the roof.’

I ask: do you still do that?

‘Yeah, yeah, every time. Just unconsciously sometimes. And anyone who's in the car with me, that's never been in the car with me before. Everyone in the car has to touch the roof.'


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