Dreaming, Reality, Being Home & Moving Forward

*Note: This is long winded but I have taken a few days to capture my thinking here so digest all, some, part or none. It will be a last post for some time as I will assess my reasons for continuing to keep this blog in future. I am open to suggestions about its future for now I leave you all with this and say thanks for following and support the journey.

Well I am still a dreamy kid at heart who admires so many of the great athletes on the Australian Olympic Team. In particular I admire those who I have come to know either within rowing or in other sports who I have seen work so hard on being the best athletes and people they can. As a young kid I watch the games on TV and I recall the awe I had for those who represented our Country. Over the last two weeks and even last few days I have seen many great people with smiles on their faces. The games experience is not all perfect though and within the buzz and wonder there are moments which aren't quiet as positive. To me the ideals of the Olympics are something which we should hold in our hearts and respect for each other is essential not just with in our team or at the games but in life. Here though I wish to focus on the many great things but I have to mention briefly the other side. Not to dwell but to ensure its understood that nothing is perfect, no performance, no athlete, no moment, no team, and no event is all happiness and roses. This champaign start out as a dream or imaginings about getting to London in some form. I explored cycling and then transferred back to rowing along the way as I never knew if my body or back would hold up to the training. So as a kid I dreamt of being an Olympian but never really knew if it would be possible. Many of the games experiences started out dreaming and imaging what might be and the it was just about seeing if it could be. This last 4 years has been no different.

Our Return Home
Today though I stepped off a plane with my crew mates and loved watching there faces as they absorbed the excitement of arriving home. We were not fully home but home in terms of this great country of ours. The joy at returning as we walked down the star in a hanger at the Sydney airport was noticeable across some many people. The media rushed to grab certain athletes. Families waited patiently to enjoy those huge embraces. Athlete made there way through the crowd with the many expression of "well done, you done us proud" being made, over and over. It brings it all home and brings us home to be greeted with such support. Fellow crew James Chapman remarked a little while after how special it was and that he could get the smile off his face for ages. It's been great to watch guys like Chappo go through this and even during the last couple of days in the Olympic Village I asked Josh and Will how they had found the whole Games experience. It has a long lasting impression on us as athletes and yet it still has not full sunk in.

Perspective Taking Shape
As an athlete having been through it all before I find it acts as a great reminder of how we all start out simply focusing on what we do. Then we either become inspired or imagine and things begin to progress. The days add up along with the months and years. Our focus improves along with our capacities and skills. We advance and things become interestingly possible. Then one day or over a period of days it becomes real. I mean it all starts to hit you that you are living your dream and aspiration has become action. This is a flexion point and a phase of confidently growing and shifting into a belief. Some times it faintly begins to unfold before the big moment and yet no one wants to let themselves get caught up in getting ahead of themselves. So then it's often not until its either to late or almost beyond the moment. The door is welcoming and somehow we can still hesitate. No moment stays open forever and some times they pass with out being taken. Today I stood in an airport hanger I loved seeing athletes who had made the most of their chances and some you could see still trying to get the heads around what now is ahead of them. It's not all about medals and Gold medals though. What I refer to here is the look in someone's face that that have seen something within their moment and felt something. The reward is what has been realised and learning. I believe many great performances were achieve by athletes I have watched but then you do see other who seem less than certain what it has all meant to them and what is ahead.

Reality Clashes
Athletes post an event like this will need support not so much in the way of adulation but simply to have people around them who care and who take time to listen and share in the true reality of the experience they have been through. I know for me it feels strange as the last days came to an end I find myself being drawn in various directions about the racing, family, life beyond sport, what will happen next and just coming to terms with the change. It's like I have a replay of the racing running around my head and certain things keep getting triggered which pulls at my emotions and reminds me of the roller coaster. A replay of the last 12 months seems to be on loop also and even reconciling this games in relation to others is churning away. Being an athlete is a gift yet it doesn't come with out its challenges. Being obsessive has assisted the process of improvement but it is hard to let go. Driving day after day to be ready enables great capacity and performance but when the race is over a feeling of being empty is noticeable. I don't mean to go into all this like a living drama but I do feel it's important to share because what ever the outcome of events like the games have big build up, big moments and the other side. It's not to say I am not excited about the future I am it's just overwhelming with all that has happened and the impact of the whole experience. It's amazing to get all the support when arriving home too.

So what next...
To start dreaming about the next adventure is what I will do and what it will involve is less clear right now. I need to work, I want to reconnect with the World around me. I want to be here for my family and play with them and share. I need to assess my future in this sport. I will think about rowing and why or why not. I will think about other roles in the sport. Funny thing is I am even thinking about completely new challenges. Some physical, many mental but mainly I like the idea of trying some things in business or sport that would be different, new and fresh. Then there are some other things I have wanted to do for some time which now I feel I will have the time. It's all pretty general and vague at this time but through reflection and consideration I look forward to crafting a plan and begin the motion towards what ever is next.

Confronting Intensity (This might be confusing as I have struggled to explain these feelings)
Lastly here I have to share something which I am finding or have found challenging. After racing the final we went through a process which included, being completely exhausted and trying to come to grips with the experience while doing all things things required of us.

Pulling into media pontoon / having a crew hug / congratulating our competitors / having media interviews / move boat to medal pontoon / crew hug and brief chat / medal ceremony / row past and acknowledged crowd / rowed back to sheds and more crew hugging / had a coach debrief / drug testing / post race shower / press conference / seeing our families / finally walking back to internal bus to head back to house / more media interviews at house / leave house for team reception / family dinner 

The press conference was intense though and when I was asked about the future I found it difficult to speak. The emotion of it all finally hit me and the reality of my career possibly coming to an end and the experience with my crew mates along with what we had been through with our competitors all came to a head. I choked up as I spoke and the words just rolled out of me. For so much of the last 2 years I had stayed focused on working with my team mates and coach to build capacity, to create a performance worthy of challenging for Olympic Gold. I had obsessed, pushed and cared little for the cost, or should I say I worked on reducing the cost. Cost of the movement, cost of the effort, cost of the goal and all these costs and how the related to self, family, work and life. Cost here is not negative but rather a simple equation of plus and minus and even though the up side of the ledger surpasses the other, it still is not with out some loss.

I know I am not perfect and far from 100% efficient and so things take a toll and a loss of sorts is natural which I get, but its still there and has to be understood and accounted for in the whole experience.

For some strange reason I felt right there on the stage at that press conference I was staring at the loss, not of a race but rather of myself. We steal ourselves for competition and we develop resilience over time. We have an identity and ego which builds up over this time also. The meaning of it all runs deep and yet on the surface we are required to hold ourselves well, to be composed, to be calm and to maintain a look of confidence. Deep down I felt these thing yet strangely they too come at a price but these things and the price of them I was also in awe of the situation we had helped create. There was much emotion in the room from the athletes and it flowed through as many spoke when asked various questions. So while I tried to articulate my feeling in response to a simple question about my future as an athlete, I sobbed. As I did this the guys comforted me and as Josh placed his arm around me I was reminded of the bond that can only come from spend time together that involved great intensity and challenge. For me it was confronting and without full understanding it or being able to explain it I sense it is related to a loss of sorts. Call it a self identity crisis or a loss of expectation once the outcome is finally known. A loss of time as months and years had slide by while embarking on this and many other journeys like it. I felt a loss of age as I realised I was now truly the older athlete who has seen 16 years of competition and has absorbed the fatigue of many big races. I felt lost in the moment and blissfully swept up in the intensity of a full throttle performance which brought out the best in us in our four but also the best in other boats. Finally as I sat I felt the loss of all my worries about past back injuries which had caused so much pain. The great thing about all this loss was in one unbelievable wipe of realities hand all that loss left me feeling free and released in a way. I had given everything to the champaign and performance and it has taken a toll but the comfort that comes from giving all left not a corpse on the field of play but rather someone living, breathing and accepting their place. A place within a great four which aimed to create anticipation and excitement for an event. A place where one would be truly engaged in rowing a boat and performing as one had hoped.


Dave said…
Thanks Drew.
I enjoyed your posts over the last couple of years and leading up to the olympics. Then I was on tenterhooks waiting to see what you had to say during the olympics.
To be honest I didn't know you had won 3 gold medals but I started following you because you are still going at the top level at an 'advanced' age. I am no elite athlete but I don't believe age should be a barrier or excuse for not doing/trying your best.
I think the rowing at the olympics was my favourite - not just because it was at a good time slot :) but because it was so easy to see how much effort the competitors put in.
Pieter said…
Hi Drew,
Thanks for the last 12 years. I've been following you since Atlanta '96 and been enjoying your (and the other guys around you) sports/life journey since the gold in this race. Even though I'm not an Aussie myself, you've been inspiring me so much these past years, that I dare to say that I'd blindly emigrate to Australia if the opportunity would come. Your personality, attitude, openness, ambition, craziness and tenacity sums it all up for me. From a distance, I'm really proud of you winning the silver in London, even though I'd betted for gold. But, as these things go: your prepare to the max, you race to the max, and the result is the result.

Wish you all the best in life, albeit personal or sports life. I'm sure you'll continue to be inspiring, as long as you follow your heart and passion as before.

Take care, big hug @ distance!

Anonymous said…
Drew, Watching your race was the highlight of the Olympics for me, and congrats on the performance of a lifetime! While I have never stood on an Olympic podium, I can empathize with some of the thoughts and feelings you share, and appreciate your candor on the mixed bag of a great success followed by "what's next." Rest up and best wishes!
Rick Kranen said…
I have had the pleasure of meeting you and Duncan while you trained for Bejing in Murwillumbah NSW, of competing against you in the Head of the Yarra, but what I treasure most is your Blog. Drew, you have inspired me to row better. Thank you for improving my speed and thanks for teaching me so much.

I would like it if you continued to share your journey with us (if you don't mind) but I understand that you will need time to meta-morph yourself for a new chapter, whatever that may be.

Thanks again Drew
Anonymous said…
I have read your blog over many years and have told many people to do the same - especially young rowers whom I coach. It has been an amazing journey that you have chronicled and it has certainly helped me as a coach, a teacher and as an old man still studying, sculling and trying to ward off old age!
It would be wonderful if you could continue, but I know the demands may mean otherwise. Whatever the outcome, your writings have been inspirational, not just for your rowing feats, but for your willingness to share your innermost desires and dreams. Thank you so much
Anonymous said…
Love you Drew,
Top ranked male heavyweight rower of 2012. Inspiration. Legend.

I have loved following you over the years.

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