Athlete of the Month – November 2019
Norwegian single sculler Birgit Skarstein has just become a World Champion for the fourth time in the para PR1 women’s single sculls and has her sights set on Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. She's a dual Paralympian, with her Olympic talents extending to cross country skiing as well. She has the World Best Time in the PR1 women’s single, set in 2018.
World Rowing: Congratulations on becoming a World Champion again. How does this year's win compare with others?
Birgit Skarstein: This year was a tough one! Preparations for the 2019 Worlds were quite challenging, so I was really happy to make it to the finish line first. Also, because the worlds were Olympic and Paralympic qualification too, the whole championships was really exciting with team mates picking up tickets for Tokyo. There were a lot of emotions out there.
WR: Does going to Tokyo as World Champion put extra pressure on you?
BS: I think the World Championships only give an answer about who was in a leading position that day. The title tells me that I’ve done a lot of good work until now and that I have a solid base to build on, but I don’t think it gives me any more pressure because I still regard myself as a challenger. It’s all about doing the good work every day until Tokyo.
WR: How did you first get into rowing and why do you continue to row?
BS: When I grew up I was a swimmer and spent hours training in the pool. After the spinal cord injury I wanted to get back into sports and asked around to find a good fit. The chief of Paralympic sports in Norway guided me towards rowing as he thought that would fit my body and mind. Luckily I got straight into a really great rowing club and was taken in with spirit and lots of challenges. I just completely fell in love!
WR: How do you balance your cross-country skiing training commitments with your rowing?
BS: Rowing is my number one priority. I train and compete in skiing to become a better rower and find this to be a great combination. The other Olympic Norwegian rowers also ski a lot in the winter, as most of our lakes are frozen. In addition I do biking, swimming and strength training year around and truly believe in cross training as well as maintaining a critical number of hours in the boat. I do roller skis and ski erg throughout the summer as I row, and I row on the erg during the winter as I ski. Doing both movements year round helps me cross-train and keeps me prepared for next season.
WR: Does skiing make you a better rower and rowing make you a better skier?
BS: Changing around sports and movements makes me able to train better, to train more, and to lower the risk of injuries. Rowing does make me a better skier as it gives me strength and endurance as well as a competitive mind set. Skiing gives me the hours and hours I need as base training. Changing environments and movements keeps me sharp and hungry - and I can pick up the best parts from both environments.
WR: What will you be doing in the (rowing) off-season to prepare for Tokyo?
BS: I will be skiing and erging as well as optimising everything that needs to be ready for the summer
WR: Can you talk us through your race day routine?
BS: On race day I get up and do some movement exercises before breakfast. Depending on how late in the day my race is, I either just go for a little walk or I bike for 45 to 60 minutes in the morning. I start warming up on land about 120 minutes before the race - biking, poling, stretching. Forty-five minutes before start I head out on the water and do some drills and race specific exercises.
WR: What is your long-term goal?
BS: To take a medal in the Paralympic Games.
WR: What do you do when you are not rowing or skiing?
BS: I am socially engaged so I’ve been on the finance committee of the Oslo City Council for four years. I’ve also had five years on the Norwegian Advisory Board of Biotechnology which I find very interesting. I have a seat on a couple of societal boards and foundations, and I work on my own social entrepreneurship; “Walk Think Move”.
WR: What do you do for fun or to relax?
BS: I don’t have very much free time, but I really enjoy hanging out with good friends. Some of my best friends I’ve had since childhood and that is truly a gift.
WR: Which sports person do you most admire?
BS: I admire Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli in the Norwegian lightweight men's double a lot. They have done some amazing work paving the way for lightweight rowing in Norway. They also have been able to keep up an admirable level of training and performance over time. At the same time they are sincere good team mates, lifting the people and athletes surrounding them.