This year, she is back rowing, hoping to finally qualify for her first Olympic Games. With three young children in tow, she is combining training with working and motherhood. World Rowing caught up with Jennings to find out what gives her the energy to keep on training and competing.
World Rowing: You stopped rowing competitively in 2008 and turned to cycling, hoping to compete in that sport at London 2012.
Sinead Jennings: I was concentrating on medicine as well. I went back and studied medicine when I was rowing in the lightweight double so I had to concentrate on my medicine, myself and my little girl. I did the cycling between December 2008 and November 2011. In November we (husband Sam Lynch) realised the Olympics weren’t going to happen and we decided to have another baby. I then concentrated on my career again and kind of retired at that stage.
WR: In 2013 you were approached again by Rowing Ireland?
SJ: In 2013, a new coach Don McLachlen came to Rowing Ireland. The lightweight women’s team had developed quite a lot in my time out and he had a few good girls. He asked me if I would come back. He had seen that I had done a pretty good time at a half marathon. I said I would love to come back, but I can’t because I’m pregnant.
It was actually quite good because I was working 100 hour weeks, I had two children. I was training, but I was training instead of sleeping, which isn’t ideal, so then I got six months maternity leave after I had my third child and I used that time to row. I realised it was it was worth a go. So now I’ve taken unpaid leave to be able to concentrate on rowing and give the Olympics one last go.
WR: Why are the Olympics so important to you?
SJ: It has been a childhood dream to compete at the Olympics. I just don’t give up, especially when I’ve invested so much time in something, I can’t give up now! My sister competed in the marathon in London and I saw how much it meant to her and I thought: 'Wow, it would really be nice to actually compete in the Olympics.' My husband has been to two Olympics as well, so it would be lovely to do it as well.
I think it is important for our girls to see that if they have a dream and if they really try for it, that they can do it. I’d like them to grow up in that environment, where you train hard and you get the rewards.
WR: What are your short-term goals?
SJ: The goal is that I would like to do the Olympics. Things were going well until Christmas last year. But In January I got a rib fracture - a door of a lorry container opened onto my rib. My recovery was quite slow. I think partly because I have a 10-month old and a two-year-old who want to be lifted all the time.
WR: What is it like now, to be training and have three small children?
SJ: I feel very different. I really appreciate it, the whole journey. Even if it doesn’t work out, I just really love the lifestyle. I don’t think I appreciated it enough until I wasn’t doing it anymore. When you’re working 100 hour weeks you realise: 'God, I had it good (as an athlete).' It has also given me time. I train, I work part-time and have the girls. So it is a much better balance than when I was working full time.
WR: Were you able to keep fit during your pregnancies?
SJ: I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had very good pregnancies. Partly I think it is because I do try to keep fit. I probably trained five to six times a week - an hour of cardio. With my first daughter I rowed up until I was 20 weeks pregnant. I actually won an Irish Championship in an eight at that time. Then I stopped rowing and I just used the cross-trainer in the gym and cycling.
WR: After giving birth, how long did it take you to get back in shape?
SJ: I think after my first child it took about ten days, a week with my second and then three days with my third. It gets easier! So I was back into full training with weights and everything four weeks after my third child was born because I was very focused on the Olympics. I had her at the end of June and we had our first trials in October so I knew that I had to kind of come back with a bang.
WR: Did you feel a postpartum effect on training?
SJ: I think I did, I came back very strong after having my child in October. I know the rest of the team had just come off World Championships whereas I had been training from August straight through. I did win (trials) by quite a bit, so I did put that down to pregnancy hormones.
WR: As a mother, what is it that you enjoy about spending time in the boat?
SJ: Rowing is my time to myself. It is pretty busy with three girls. Especially when Sam is working during the week, I am looking after them all the time. Each stroke is important because I can’t train as much as the others. It keeps you really focused.
WR: What is it that drew you back to rowing?
SJ: There is nothing like rowing. I do like to keep fit and I love competing and I love when I am under pressure. While I was cycling we used to cycle over a lake and I would look at the rowers and I would say: 'Oh I miss it so much!' Cycling I don’t miss like that, there just isn’t the same love. I am also at St. Michaels Rowing Club in Ireland. It’s where Sam trained since he was 11 years old so we have a really strong community within it. Our life is rowing. I love the support that you get and the friends that you make. I have no life without rowing. That is why I’m still doing it.