Explanation: Sally Robbins

'What happened to Sally?' Is a question I think I've been asked some thousand times since that fate full day in Athens.

Yesterday a report called me to ask if I had any thoughts on the matter. I said and after the trials week last week I decided that with all the speculation and question about Sally, I think the only action now is for an explanation to be given to the team and to the public.

Article: Sally

Why? Well for the last 3 years I have felt compelled to respond to the questions by sharing the only real perspective I had from the day. This was empathy at the sight of a fellow athlete in what appeared to be an exhausted unconscious state. James & I were in the stand with our wives watching the racing when he spotted the oar of the rower in the six seat of the women’s eight. He noticed it when they must have been about 600m to the finish line. My heart dropped when we could clearly see the situation unfold. That was our reaction, but it was clear that what had happened in the boat left the other members with the full range of emotions. Hearing about the events that took place after they crossed the finish line and later when their coach addressed then was understandable to a degree. Emotions were high and it's what happens when there is pressure and expectation. Many things on that day were not dealt with well and no-one person is responsible for it all.

Since that day I have tried to be open about the events that unfolded with people when the have questioned me. Ever workshop that I facilitate inevitably has some one who finally asks me the question. Always I have tried to highlight the various reasons’ why each person involved may feel like they do. Never though could I speak on behalf of Sally, because I don't know what happened to her. Well I know she stopped rowing, but I can explain the really reason why. So like a good athlete and teammate I would say this, 'we all feel like stopping at times. There may have been a medical issue. Other athletes at the games stopped. I am sure she didn't go out in that race thinking I am going to stop.' What had become interesting for me though was that due to the public reaction to the event I found myself relating it to a mental issue, event or break down. 'What if her arm had have popped out of its socket?' is a question I would respond with. Often I would state that as a society we are less tolerant of the mental situation that creates these outcomes than physical ones that we can clearly see and believe. If her arm had of fallen off we would all have felt sorry and had sympathy. It didn't though and so the speculation runs rife as the true nature of what happened on the day. The only person who will ever know is Sally her self.

The statements I consciously made to the reporter came from the experience at the trials. My perspective has shifted I still have empathy for Sally, but a realisation occurred. That is that the whole thing that happened in Athens only directly relates to Sally and her crew. Unfortunately while the rest of us keep getting hounded for answers and thoughts on the event and possibility of it happening again if Sally makes then team, it becomes an unnecessary distraction and waste of energy. As an athlete already selected I fell it is important to speak up and articulate what many are probably thinking. Can we move on and get on with the business of making boats go fast? The answer to this is no, because the public and media will continue to be curious about what happened and what might happen. No one know what will happen going forward but one thing that will assist the speculation about the past is an explanation from the one person at the heart of it, Sally.

Surely in the three years she has reflected and I would assume she has sought advice and support to make sense of it. If there is no clear reason and it has an element of the unconscious and involuntary then that is it. If there is a medical explanation, great. If it was a matter of giving up then cool at least we know. Then everyone will know it spoken from her mouth.

As an athlete like any one in life it is tough to admit when you have given up, but honesty with oneself is the first step and then being able to express it to others is critical if they are to trust you and be will to work with you. Again this is speculation because I don't know.

For three year this has gone on and if not dealt with appropriately it could be a huge issue for not only the rowing team, but the Olympic team. Personal I love the struggle and have been in the situation of wanting to get back and prove it possible after a back injury. I get that side and love that Sally is trying, but while she goes though her fight many other athletes are being influenced by her and it and that I feel is not fair. The issue needs to be put to rest and only one person can do it. A performance on the water just is not enough any more we are not only measured by our results but by the way we play the game.


Anonymous said…
Only Sally can come to an answer on her mind and body. But maybe even she will never know . Nonetheless here is a possibility I mused on.
Sally in the 6 seat of an Australian 8 had obviously proven herself many times over before taking her place in an Olympic final. The stress and anxiety before a race of that magnitude cannot be relicated in training or other lesser events- it is quite unique. Maybe in the build up to the final there were countless adrenaline surges during the quiet times Sally rowed the race in her head. maybe these adrenaline pumps took their toll - maybe in that last 600 metres whilst in severe oxygen debt some sort of psycho- physical event beyond Sally's conscious control hit her mind and body ( similar to a panic attack at least 15 to 20% of us will experience once in our lives) during this mind - body state a person has terrible physical sensations that overwhelm - particularly if they have not experienced these attacks regularly. They feel like a heart attack is taking place. This is not a place anyone goes by choice - it is a bad place. If Sally got sucked into that whirlpool she did not choose it- she did not make a decision to back off; her record speaks of someone who pushed through pain time and time again. If my formulation of that terrible day is correct, then much of the treatment and judgements handed out to Sally are cruel and ignorant. She had no say at the point of collapse. Tom Locke (Clinical Psychologist)

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