Going after rowing medals with kids in tow
While family life and elite rowing may not seem to be an easy fit at first glance, more and more of rowing’s top athletes (male and female) are striking that balance between having kids and pursuing Olympic gold.
World Rowing has talked to mothers that row, most notably members of the Romanian women’s eight, and looked at Australian Rowing’s help for elite rowers with families. In this article we talk Olympic medallists in the single, Mahe Drysdale, Ondrej Synek and Olaf Tufte. All three have built rowing into their family life. Or, rather, built family into their rowing life. All three have personal lives that have been far from single.
Mahe Drysdale (New Zealand) is the newest dad of this group, having his first child in 2014, two years after his Olympic gold in London 2012 and his second child in January 2017, just months after dramatically defending that victory in Rio 2016. He is currently aiming for Tokyo 2020 where he’ll be 42 years old.
Ondrej Synek (Czech Republic) became a father in 2010, when his first child was born one week after his first World Rowing Championship gold. In London 2012, he won his second Olympic silver medal and just one week later welcomed his second child into the world. He will be 38 in Tokyo 2020.
Olaf Tufte (Norway) has over ten years of experience as a father who rows. His children came along in 2007 and 2009, on either side of Tufte’s second consecutive Olympic gold medal in Beijing 2008. He will be 44 in Tokyo 2020.
World Rowing: Has becoming a dad changed the way you train?
Mahe Drysdale: It didn't change the way I trained, just what I did between sessions. I chose to take an extended break after Rio to be a full-time dad around the birth of Boston and his first six months.
Ondrej Synek: Not too much changed when they were small, but when they started to move and walk and speak it changed a lot. They understand that rowing is my job, so the daily routine is like a normal working family. But my alarm clock is before 6am every day.
Olaf Tufte: It changes your day totally. When kids arrive, you must adjust to their routine, if you want to be a part of their life. I could not train as much as before and had to make hard choice to prioritise what is most important.
WR: What is the biggest challenge?
MD: Not being able to sleep whenever you want to.
OS: To be 100 per cent dad after heavy rowing training. When I come home, the kids want to play with daddy – go for a bike, swim or other activities – but daddy wants to lie on sofa and sleep.
OT: My wife and family are the reason that I can still be going on at a top level. But we have more challenges than just family. We have a farm to run, an event company on the farm, and my clothing company Tufte Wear.
WR: How supportive have your coaches and team been?
MD: They have been great and allowed my family to travel to training bases in Europe and allowed me to stay with the family rather than the team at these times. For my part I have tried to make sure I still make every (training) session.
OS: My coach understands that rowing is just sport and fun and I am a father, so sometimes we have to change our plans or training because my kids need me. He understands and supports me.
OT: My coach’s biggest job is to slow me down. I always have a lot of ideas and things to do. But when it gets closer to [major events], I narrow my focus to rowing. My team supports me by letting me train a lot at home. They and the coaches know that I do the work. I do not skip training. I am grateful to my coaches and team mates, that I can live my life as I do.
WR: What does your family think about aiming for Tokyo 2020?
MD: They have been very supportive, my wife is a bronze medallist from London, so understands what it takes and I wouldn't be rowing to Tokyo without her full support. Ultimately as a full-time athlete I probably get more time with my family than most working dad’s as I am around in the middle of the day.
OS: The kids love to watch racing but I don’t think they understand the meaning [yet].
OT: The family has given me the go-ahead for Tokyo. If they hadn’t done that, I would have stopped. They are everything to me. If I manage to have success at age 44, at my 7th Olympics, they are the biggest reason.
WR: Do you want your children to row one day?
MD: I think rowing is a great sport for kids but our kids will only row if they choose it themselves. They will hopefully wait until they are old enough to get themselves to training before taking up the sport, as I am not a morning person and would prefer to enjoy my sleep rather than getting up to take them rowing.
OS: I [hope] they will do sport. It doesn’t matter which one. But I don’t want to push them to row. First of all, they have to have fun in what they are doing.
OT: My kids are doing a lot of stuff and work on the farm. I do not push them into rowing. If they want to I’ll be there to support, but I believe I have rowed enough for this family. Whatever makes them happy, that’s the most important thing.