Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with Matt Langridge MBE – Olympic Gold, Silver and Bronze Rowing Medallist. We discuss his advice on following our passions, preparing for the Olympics, his current journey of training to be a commercial pilot, and much more…
How did your passion for rowing begin and develop?
I was originally inspired to take up rowing by watching the Olympics. As a kid I used to just love sport, so I was always keen to try any sport I had the opportunity too. So naturally when the Olympics was on, I spend the entire two weeks glued to the TV. It was during the 1996 Atlantic Olympics that I first noticed rowing as a sport. At that time Team GB weren’t the Olympic powerhouse that they are today. Atlanta was turning out to be a particularly bad games with the only talk of a gold medal coming from two rowers, Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. I still remember very clearly watching the race and all the talk afterwards about how tall people made good rowers, as I happened to be quite tall for my age, I immediately thought it was another sport I should try. Having seen rowing at the Olympics I then realised there happen to a rowing club minutes from my house that I must have walked pasted hundreds of time but never paid attention to, so I decided to go down and ask to join, and the rest is history.
What are your personal stand-out moments from your rowing career?
I think most people would assume winning the Olympic Gold medal was always the stand-out moment of my career, and although that is obviously right up there I would still put winnings the Junior World Championships (2001) in the single scull as something I am personally more proud of. The reason for this is that when you get to the dizzy heights of the Olympics, arguably parts of the individual control get taken away from you. Yes, you are the person that has to go out there and perform but you are part of a much bigger machine. As part of the Olympic rowing team we have a huge team working behind us, telling us what training to do, what to eat, when to sleep, what to think etc… However, when I won the Junior World Championships it was just me and coaches training out of an old wooden boat house in Northwich completely self-motivated and sufficient. We had an ambition, but I was in complete control of whether I achieved it or not, so when I did it was personally very satisfying.
What did a typical week of training consist of when you were training for a competition?
The immediate week before a competition tended to be the easier part of our training as we would be winding down trying to recover ready for the race. The hard work for us was always done in depths of the winter when it was cold, dark and miserable. We used to train in two and a half day cycles 7 days a week, usually getting a day off a month, maybe two if we were lucky. Monday, Tuesday Thursday and Friday were the full three session days, and these would consist of starting at 7:30 in the gym for a weights session, then a long rowing session usually 20Km and to finish off either on the rowing machine or out on the water for another 20/16 Km session, usually leaving the training centre about 4:30Pm . Wednesday and Saturday were the half days so only two session. These sessions would usually be on the water or a rowing machine session and a lot more intense. Then Sunday would just be one long rowing session, then desperately trying to recover as much as you could before it all started again Monday morning.
What advice would you give to someone who is demotivated or doesn’t know where to start with getting into sport and fitness?
I think the best advice I can give is to set yourself a goal then start off slow. Decide where you want to be in say 3-6months time but that doesn’t mean you need to be there on day one. When we do a four-year Olympic cycle, we certainly aren’t at the level required to win the Olympics on the first day of the cycle, it takes us four years to get there.
The common mistake people make is they expect too much too soon so when it doesn’t happen instantly, they lose motivation. So, set your big goal then work out smaller goals that you want to achieve along the way. For example, if you want to complete a marathon but have never really run before, don’t attempt to run ten miles on the first day, take baby steps like run for a minute then walk for two and build up from there. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can build up, but you have to stick with it.
Are there any people, books, or experiences that you would be willing to share with us, that have really helped shape your mentality?
I think one of the best pieces of advice I was given in the build up to the Olympics was before the Beijing Olympics from another member of my crew, it was quite simply “to win the Olympics we don’t need to be perfect we just need to be better than everyone else on the day”. The reason this struck a note is because it made it seem achievable. As a sportsman you will always strive for perfection, but you will never achieve it. Ultimately every training session every race can be done better, and it’s very easy to lose confidence when everything is not going perfectly, but the realisation that you can achieve your goal and not be perfect makes that goal seem far more achievable.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take their passion for health and fitness, or anything else, and turn it into a successful business/ career?
For me it’s pretty simple. Decide what you want and don’t give up. There will be plenty of people who will tell you that you can’t achieve it but the only person that counts is the one looking back at you in the mirror and what they are saying. It won’t be all plain sailing but it’s the ability to pick yourself back up and keep going after a set-back that will make it all the more rewarding when you finally achieve your goal.
What do you think are the most important characteristics to develop in order to pursue your ambitions?
Can you tell us about your career transition from being a full-time athlete to training to be a commercial pilot?
As well as rowing my other big passion has always been aviation so when it came to the point that I realised Rio would be my last Olympics I started looking at what to do next. For a while I dismissed retraining as a pilot due to the large financial commitment and the amount of training required. However, the more I thought about it the more I realised that I couldn’t bear the thought of spending the next thirty years doing something I wasn’t passionate about. For me the part of the training that concerned me the most was the ground school as its 6 months of intense studying, requiring you to pass 14 exams and as I’d left school at 18 and hadn’t done a lot in the way of education since I was worried how I would cope.
However, the one thing that rowing has taught me is that if you set your mind to something, fully apply yourself and are determined enough, you can achieve most things. In the end it turned out that there was no need to worry as I achieved high grades in ground school and actually found it really enjoyable as I was learning about a subject that interested me. I’m now well into the flying stage of the course so although there is still a fair bit of training to go, you will hopefully see me flying for the airlines someday soon.
What are you goals and plans for the future?
With regards to flying I think my ultimate goal is to be a long haul captain, as part of my love for aviation is the distances you can cover, so I can’t think of anything more exciting than being able to take off in London, fly over an ocean then being able to land somewhere thousands of miles away like Rio. With regard to the rest of life, who knows. For once it’s nice not to have my life mapped out in four-year cycles.