Coming back to rowing; Julia Michalska
At the European Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland, Julia Michalska of Poland made her comeback to international competition. The Polish rower, who with Magdalena Fularczyk won bronze in the women’s double sculls at the London 2012 Olympic Games and also a World Championship title in 2009, raced in the women's single sculls.
After a post-Olympic break during which she had a baby girl, Michalska explains why she has returned to rowing at what the challenges are of combining training with motherhood.
This is the first in the series of stories on 2015 comebacks as the appeal of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games brings rowers back to international racing. Michalska will be racing in the World Rowing Cup this weekend in Varese, Italy.
World Rowing: After winning bronze at the London 2012 Olympic Games, you took a break from rowing.
Julia Michalska: Before the London Olympics I knew I would take a break, or even retire afterwards. But I wanted to take time to think about it. Very soon I became pregnant.
WR: How did you make your way back into rowing?
JM: When my daughter was almost a year old, I decided to just have fun and do Henley (Henley Royal Regatta, Great Britain). That was my first regatta back and it was really just to be part of it. I finished last there in the single. That was in 2014.
I received a new boat from the Polish Rowing Federation. It was the prize for winning a medal at the Olympics - Magda (Fularczyk) and I both got singles. So I thought, maybe I should try. I went to Poland in October and won the trials. I had four races against Magda, my former partner who is now the best in the country. I won every single race. Coming back after a break of nearly two years, it was quite unexpected.
WR: When did you really start to train?
JM: I trained for two months from May until Henley, and then took almost two months off, training maybe just five times per week. Then I started training properly on 1 September before the trials for six weeks. When I won everything, I received a programme from my coach to prepare. At the same time, I began working at St. Paul’s Girls School in London as a coach on 1 November. I thought I would be ok, that I could do all of this, with a baby and working and school.
WR: What was the reality?
JM: In reality it was quite tough. I was supposed to do 11 training sessions at the beginning, but if I was able to do eight that was good enough for me. I know that I have a lack of training.
WR: As a mother, what is it that you enjoy about spending time in the boat?
JM: Just having that moment for myself after having a baby and not sleeping through the night even until now.
WR: How do you organise training around motherhood?
JM: I had a choice – either waking up with my baby at 5:30 and looking after her, or leaving that to my husband and going to train from 5:30 to 7am on the water. That was the question, but that is what I did to be honest.
When I was doing my second training it was very often when she was sleeping during the day - that was when I could catch up. I was erging while she was sleeping and then I was going to bed with her at 8pm. At the beginning that is how I did it without childcare.
WR: So you still live in London and you work and train as a mother?
JM: Yes, all of those things together, which is to be honest quite tough to make the European Championships. I was afraid I would not be well-enough prepared to win against the girls that are really training properly. But when I say I will try, I just can’t say no. That is why I came to the European Rowing Championships and I am trying. I just enjoy rowing and to be honest, I want it both ways.
WR: Do you hope to integrate the double once again?
JM: No, I don’t want to do anything else besides the single. I am totally free. Every single day now I can stop if I want to. I don’t have any pressure from my federation. The head coach and coach, because they don’t have a single sculler and I want to do it, they say, “OK, you can try if you want.” So I can try.
I feel that I have done everything that I could do and be the best that I could be, that I have given my body and soul to the double between Beijing and London and I don’t feel the drive to try again in the double or quad.
WR: What is it that draws you back to rowing?
JM: In October I will have lived in London for three years. For me it was really hard to move to another country and have a family. The best way for me to find my place in my new city was going to a rowing club because I know what kind of people are there. It was new people, but rowers are rowers, in almost every country they are almost the same people. It is just a different language. Now I have friends and I feel really good. I feel that I can start something in London. I enjoy being a coach, I don’t know for how long, but for now I really enjoy it. I have some other ideas, but we will see.