2011 in Review- The Scramble
What a rollercoaster 2011 was. It started in the worst way possible with a back injury that had me fairly well incapacitated. Most of January was spent sitting around twiddling my thumbs starting to get nervous about how much work I needed to do in order to get fit again. The only positive to come from this period, was we finally found a diagnosis to what was causing my problems. Osteo arthritis in the facet joints between L4 and L5 in my lower back.
This condition is basically the two bones rubbing on each other. With excess rubbing, the bone surface becomes inflamed and irritated, making it tender and sore. This is caused by wear and tear and also aggravated by the disc problems I had during 2010 meaning those bones are now closer together and more prone to rub. With some investigation and trial and error, including a cortisone injection into the joints this diagnosis was confirmed and seemed to be the root of my problems. While not ideal, it was a huge relief as I could go forward and learn how to deal with it and manage the problem.
By February I was starting to get back into the boat and training again. Swimming was a big part of my program. At this point I was feeling fairly unfit and was overweight, tipping the scales at around 110KG. It was great to be back Rowing. I had a lot of motivation and an appreciation for every session I was able to do. I realised I had at times taken training for granted and probably not always made the most of every session, now I felt I was behind and had to use every single day to its fullest.
I competed at the Nationals in Twizel, I was actually pretty happy with how well I rowed. Ultimately my fitness let me down and Nathan Cohen completely dominated the race in the second 1000M with Peter Taylor nearly passing me toward the finish. I never like to lose but I went away from Nationals with a pretty good idea of where I was and how much work was needed.
I was on a huge learning curve and through trial and error was learning what I could and couldn’t manage. There were other changes going on as I changed my diet to help manage my back and lose weight. Excess weight is extra stress on my back.
It soon became clear that I was unable to manage two sessions on the water each day, so I ramped up the swimming even further and tried a few alternative rowing sessions to try and make up for what I was missing out on. I was researching and trying to learn as much as I could which involved a trip over to Australia to catch up with Drew Ginn and talk through some ideas of how he had managed to win Olympic medals despite a dodgy back. This along with various ideas from support staff in New Zealand led to my development as being half rower and half cyclist.
I thought I had done a fair bit of cycling over the years, but at that point 60-90 minutes was about what I called a big ride and 80KM was a massive day. Oh how my world was about to change.
As the year progressed the program was tweaked and I ended up doing the morning session alongside Emma Twigg, the men’s pair and women’s quad. In the afternoon I was out on the bike, again this was a learning curve as we trialed different sessions and eventually came up with a formula that seemed to be a pretty good replacement for the afternoon rowing sessions. Cycling was fresh and new and I enjoyed seeing the countryside in both New Zealand and abroad. Overseas I got a much better appreciation of where we were and what was around the place. The downside to cycling is it isn’t rowing and it took a bit of an adjustment getting to grips with only half the rowing sessions. Changes were taking longer to make and one of my strong points of consistency was being tested. Another positive however was I made more of each on the rowing sessions as I realised that each session was critical.
Progress throughout the year was a bit slow and at times I got frustrated as I had to accept I was mid pack within the kiwi crews and was below what I was capable of in the past. I knew where I had to be but wasn’t there, at times there were doubts I would ever get back there. I would have a session or a few moments of brilliance that would keep me going and show there was improvement. Meanwhile the weight was well under control and by the time I travelled overseas I was down to 102KG and starting to feel pretty fit.
This year more than most I really enjoyed our time overseas. I was rowing each morning and cycling every afternoon. I saw more of Europe than ever before and places like Belgium where I have been 6-7 times before, I saw things and places I have not seen before. I felt I got a much better appreciation of the area, there are some really beautiful spots. There are also over 30,000KM of dedicated cycle paths so most rides were on routes I hadn’t been before.
The tour started with a brief trip to St Petersburg for a sprint regatta (not Emma Twigg or my forte as we both lost our first round races) but that was soon forgotten as we moved to Hamburg for the second World Cup. Again I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a dingy industrial port town and was greeted by a very beautiful city, even around the port area was beautiful. I would have to say it is one of the nicest European cities I have been too. On the water it also started well with a win and a highly successful start to the kiwis assault on Europe.
Next stop was France for some training, it was a very tough few weeks and there I made a number of gains. I raced in Amsterdam at the Holland Beker Regatta, which was the first time I would meet Ondrej Synek. It was a great race all the way with never more than a canvas between us. In the end I was pipped on the line in a photo finish. On one hand this was the race that gave me the confidence I was back near my best and I could beat Synek, on the other hand the 1 foot margin cost me 4500 Euro in prizes.
This gave me a great boost and I trained even harder, in hindsight I may have pushed a wee bit too hard which cost me in Lucerne. I had some health issues and was pretty flat taking the silver but never really competing with Synek. Again though this was not my major goal for the year and perhaps this slight overreach was also what helped me reach higher goals later in the year.
After Lucerne we headed for the final phase of training in Belgium, again this was a tough hard period. I was now pushing myself harder than ever because I could see I wasn’t far from getting back into a winning position. By the time we headed for Bled, I knew I was back, but not quite at my best. I had some confidence but knew it would need to be a near perfect week and perfect final race to win, this is not the ideal position to be in, but at least I knew I had a chance.
The final preparation was well on track until the final training session the day before racing. I was on my bike a car passed me then pulled into a car park in front of me leaving me no where to go but into the bonnet at 40km/hr. As I lay on the ground I couldn’t quite believe what had happened as I checked through a mental check list of my body. I had sore points but nothing felt broken. I picked myself up to realise I had been very fortunate to walk away with a few scrapes, bruises, a haematoma in my quad and a pulled groin muscle. I struggled to walk and my bike was not rideable but I got myself back to the hotel and despite struggling around on land once in the boat I had a bit of pain but nothing to hold me back.
The week went well and I raced well throughout, as some of the competition struggled. I was very relaxed all week and excited by finals day. It was great to see the NZ crews perform so well and seeing them excel was topped off by hearing the national athem for the men’s pair as I sat in the blocks. It was a very tight final and I got the lead in the second half of the race. Once I was in front I wasn’t going to let anyone pass and crossing the line was an awesome feeling. It was my most special win since first winning the single in 2005, the elation was awesome and I was able to put any doubt about being on top again behind me. What excited me most, was I put a great week of racing together when it counted and felt there were still some improvements to make between then and the Olympics.
The rest of the year became pretty much a blur. Juliette and myself spent the next few weeks traveling to London for Alan Campbell’s wedding, it was then off to Dubai before returning to Amsterdam for another friends wedding before heading home to get involved in the Rugby World cup, which was awesome and the atmosphere in NZ was electric.
No sooner had we returned home, we were back into training. Emma Twigg and myself soon headed overseas again for a stint of long distance racing and some battles cycling over the mountain passes of Europe. This was a great trip taking only my third gold at the head of the Charles regatta (second in single) out of my six attempts. Again it was great to see some of the Boston countryside on bikes before heading to Europe.
We arrived to snow as we drove from Turin to France and the high mountain passes. It was an awesome couple of weeks as we climbed some of the classic mountains from the tour de France, it was a new appreciation of what a hill actually was. Most climbs involved at least 20km and 1500 verticle metre accents. This would take at least 90minutes each and generally we would do at least two a day. A number of these rides ended in the dark as the daylight hours weren’t long enough. Between these rides we were rowing and racing as well. The hard cycles must have been good for us as we both took out the Armada cup titles and arrived in Turin at the end of the trip almost broken and looking forward to a few days of rowing training to recover from the cycling. We were in Turin for the Silver skiff regatta, unfortunitely the rain conspired against us and we were unable to race due to risk of flash floods. So we headed home and were quickly back into the swing of normal training in New Zealand.
It was pretty much head down and bum up through until the end of the year, but I was enjoying training more than I ever had before as we started to count down the days until the Olympic games. After the experience in the alps suddenly cycling around New Zealand seemed a wee bit easier and I started to produce consistence PB’s on the bike while the boat was also going well.
So that was 2011, a year of trial and error and hardship and triumph. Overall though it was a wonderful year. I learnt a lot about myself and it was one of my most enjoyable years of rowing. On a personal level, I worked as hard as I ever had before and was rewarded by getting back to near my best. It wasn’t always easy but I was very proud of how I scrambled from a terrible start to the year to winning my fifth World title. What was more satisfying though was to see the growth in the New Zealand Rowing team. We had youngsters come through and win medals for the first time and the level of the team was pushed to new heights. This resulted in the strongest ever team in Bled performing well and bringing back 8 medals in Olympic events (topping the medal list by country in Olympic events) and qualifying 11 boats for the Olympics (second to GB). This to me was the greatest success of the year and one I am very proud to be a part of.
2012 is a huge year with the Olympics, I am confident I am on track and so are the New Zealand rowing crews ready to create some wonderful results in London later in the year. There is a lot of hard work between now and then so I better get back to it!
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