With Christmas approaching and testing out of the way it’s time to sit back slightly and enjoy one of the benefits of gaining a little bit of success in sport. Each year since 2009, when I won the world championships for the first time, I have been invited to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony as a guest, but until this year I have never been able to attend. It has been one of many events in life I have had to sacrifice for my sport, along with birthdays, weddings and a social life! Finally this year with much excitement I was able to take the journey in a BBC supplied car (yes that’s where your TV licence money goes) up to Manchester with a couple of other rowers to attend the much anticipated event, which this year had its fair share of controversy. We discovered on the journey up that there was going to be more than a millisecond of rowing mentioned, as Sir Steve Redgrave was to be given the Lifetime Achievement Award, which is very well deserved and great for rowing to get such recognition.
On arrival we were bundled out of our car, and into a huge spanking new BMW (the sponsor vehicle), driven no more than 20 metres around a corner (why we couldn’t have walked I have no idea), and dropped off at the foot of the red carpet! Rather red faced and avoiding the puzzled looks from the autograph hunters we entered the building and were shown into a packed room full of sports people, TV personalities and presenters, none of whom I recognised. I must admit I’m not that much of a sports fan and don’t follow or watch any sport with much intensity so most of the faces there were unknown. There was a large contingency of old generation rowers who I have come to know over the years and were there to celebrate Redgrave’s success, so at least I had some people to talk to!
I was soon shown to my seat in the studio and approached by a BBC employee who told me to watch for his signal to then go up on stage! There must be some mistake; I must be sitting in the wrong seat, so I insisted he checked his list as I would have hated to have found myself on stage standing like a lemon for absolutely no reason! Amazingly it was true – along with all the other current and ex rowers, I was to go up with Redgrave and his family to celebrate his award. As it happened I was stood right in the centre of the stage in full view of the studio audience, feeling like a lemon, but unfortunately the camera angle was such that the viewing public at home could only just see my right arm.
The event was great, incredibly well organised and rehearsed, and the presenters were immaculate in their deliveries. I shook the hand of Kriss Akabusi and I have learnt the names of a few more sports men and women. The only problem came when I was dropped at my front door at 4am and discovered I had lost my door key. With family (son and girlfriend) already away for Christmas my only option was to climb over my neighbour’s fence, in my suit, and kick down my back door as quietly as possible. Needless to say this was not quiet, but thankfully the police weren’t called and I managed to grab two hours’ sleep before heading down to the lake for the last team training session before Christmas.
We are given a training programme to follow for the week we get off over Christmas but it is less formal, to be completed at our own venues. A choice of activities, running, cycling, ergos and weights, but in all honesty I use the time as an opportunity to recover. Anyone who knows what Christmas is like with a very active two-year old boy will understand that sometimes this is training enough. Contrary to other athletes who feel the need to train on Christmas Day, I do not!