What happened to … James Tomkins
James Tomkins is Australia’s most-awarded rower ever. He is a seven-time World Champion and a three-time Olympic gold medallist. With a career spanning six Olympic Games and 23 years, Tomkins name is practically synonymous with Australian rowing. World Rowing caught up with him to find out what he is up to now.
Tomkins currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with his family. He works in financial services for UBS and has maintained his fast-paced life beyond his international rowing career.
“Having come from such a competitive environment and career, I think everyone needs something significant outside of normal life to aim for. Whether to run a marathon, or do a big bike ride, learn a musical instrument or a new language. Something that you’ve actually got to devote some time for. Especially rowers and athletes who have already done that, it’s a natural extension to do that later in life. It’s certainly what I’ve found that I’m doing,” Tomkins says.
He is currently training for a race in Hawaii, that was postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Laughing, he says the rowing world probably won’t like it.
“I’m now kayaking,” he says. “I’m going forward now and I’m doing a big race in Hawaii where you paddle from one Hawaiian Island to another, it’s 54 kilometres.”
Tomkins says he enjoys going forward, and while it’s completely different, it is also fantastic just to be back on the water.
But Tomkins has not drifted too far from the sport of rowing. He serves on the Australian Olympic Committee and is also a member of the International Olympic Committee Athlete Commission. Recently, he has started advising the rowing programme at his daughters’ school.
“I got involved to calm the whole thing down and make it fun again. I really, really enjoy being involved. And just to encourage that it can be fun and you can still go fast,” Tomkins says.
And he still does get into a rowing boat every ‘now and again’. Last year he competed at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, USA.
“The great thing about going to Boston was to see all the people that used to race, race against, but also just people that were racing around that same time.”
Looking back on his career, Tomkins has a myriad of good memories. He says the reason he kept rowing for so long was a combination of fun, rowing with his best mates, travel and having balance with work.
“When I look back I think wow, what a fantastic time. One, you’re rowing with some of your best mates. Two, you are representing your county and three, you get to travel around the world. It’s all of that that I look back on.”
“That’s what everyone talks about is that balanced life, which then helps with transition. I had already started my career while competing, which made the transition really easy and that’s the reason I competed as long as I did,” Tomkins explains.
But he also recognises that the key component is an understanding coach. While athletes know the importance of balance, coaches are often paid for results, Tomkins explains. “There is a bit of tension between the two. You need an understanding coach,” he says.
Looking to the future, Tomkins does not plan to make many changes, but he does have a bit of advice for the younger generation.
“My advice would be to make sure you’re having fun in whatever you’re doing, at whatever level. If it’s not fun, you’re not going to do it well. Secondly, try and have some balance in life. And third, surround yourself with really good people. And make the most of it, because you’re a long time retired.”