PC: Naomi Baker
Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with professional Team GB Rower, Sam Courty. We discuss how Sam’s passion for sport began, her approach to training for competitions, her goals and plans for the future plus much more…
How did your passion for Rowing begin and develop?
I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a passion for Rowing specifically, more a passion for sport. I love training, I love challenging myself, I love mastering things and I love learning, but I also love the science behind it all and understanding every small detail. As rowing is the sport that I do now, I apply these to my Rowing but if I was to be doing another sport, I strongly believe my feelings and passion would be exactly the same.
I think my passion for sport started at a very young age. For as long as I can remember it’s been my goal to win gold at the Olympics but I was never fussed about what sport I would win it in, I guess I just thought I would find the right sport.
I didn’t take up rowing until I was 18 when I started university at Bath. I had always ridden horses while I was growing up but at 17/18 years old, I had peaked. I had achieved pretty much everything I’d set out to apart from representing my country but due to finances I knew this one wasn’t going to be achieved.
A couple of weeks before I left for freshers week my mum had a dream that I broke a rowing world record, I had never tried rowing before but she made me promise that if the opportunity to give rowing a go was there, I had to at least try it once. I went along to the welcome meeting where one of the senior men spoke about starting rowing at university and then trialing for the GB U23 team. This was a real lightbulb moment for me because hearing this guy talk about possibly still representing his country really inspired me to give it a go and all of a sudden that Olympic dream was back at the front of my mind.
What are your personal highlights from your career as an athlete so far?
Two moments really stand out. The first was in 2014 at the GB final trials where I raced Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the final of the women’s pairs event. It’s not very often you get to race against the best people in the country but to line up on the start line with a crew that dominated a boat category globally is something I’ll never forget. I also was at Dorney to watch them win their gold medal at London 2012, so it felt very surreal to then be racing them 2 years later. The second moment would have to be qualifying the pair for the Tokyo Olympics in 2019. Annie (my crew mate) and I had worked so hard and we hadn’t had the smoothest of seasons but at no point did we lose belief in one another and it really paid off. That feeling when we crossed the finish line is something that motivates me daily.
PC: Nick Middleton
What does a typical week of training look like in preparation for a competition?
Training volume usually decreases, and the intensity increases to make sure we’re best prepared to race. This varies depending on the importance of the competition and where it falls in the season. Recovery is essential and a lot of time spent lying down is had, and a lot of box sets, and movies are watched. The least amount of time spent on your feet the better.
Are there any people, books, or experiences that you would be willing to share with us, that have really helped shape your mentality?
I am obsessed with sports people’s autobiographies. I love getting an insight into their lives, how they work and learning from their experiences. One example that stands out is Jason Kenny’s book. He talks about how he got nervous at his first race and it negatively impacted his performance so said to himself he wouldn’t get nervous again. It made me realise how beneficial being able to control our mind can be, that’s an extreme example but it made me think about what I could do. My first rowing coach has always had a huge influence on my mentality. He did a lot of reading and research and applied it to our daily training in his coaching and still continues to check in and make sure I’m doing ok. He’s very good at saying the right thing at the right time which is invaluable. The main influence for me however has been my experience from when I used to ride. The final two years I found really tough, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and constantly felt like I was letting my parents and coach down. I was aware of the time and money that they were putting in and strongly believed the only way to repay them was with results. This pressure in turn meant I stopped enjoying it and actually hated what I was doing. When I started rowing, I decided I wouldn’t let this happen again and now everything I do is for myself and not because of someone else. This has really helped me separate family and friends from my Rowing and I’ve found this balance a lot healthier for me.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take their passion and turn it into a successful business/ career?
This one is simple- don’t waste time trying to be somebody else because you’ll miss the opportunity to be the best version of yourself.
We’re all different, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. The people who succeed are those who play to their strengths and work on their weaknesses. It’s your passion so make sure to stay true to you. People will always offer advice and improvements, and feedback, filter through it and take what you want and discard the rest.
PC: Nick Middleton
What is your approach to finding balance between your priorities in different areas of your life?
Rowing is a huge part of my life and that is something I definitely have to acknowledge and accept. A lot of my day to day decisions are made with rowing in mind and whether or not it will ‘make the boat go faster’. I have to think about this from a physical and mental point of view. For example, going for a walk on a day off physically might not be the best, but for my mental health getting out in the fresh air is very beneficial. The same goes for seeing friends and family and having a social life. I can’t neglect these things because I need to be able to switch off from Rowing and I find spending time with my university friends the best way to do this, however I try to make sure it’s not doing anything that’s going to wipe me out of training…so nights out are pretty rare! However, an athlete’s career isn’t forever so I don’t mind making the ‘sacrifices’ now and enjoying the other stuff later.
What are you goals and plans for the future?
Short term goals involve being selected for the Tokyo Olympics. I still have that childhood dream of winning gold at an Olympics. Plans for the future; once I’m finished being an athlete, I’d love to stay in the world of sport but in a different role. At the moment I’d love to go and work for a Formula One team in some way, but I don’t have a set future planned out in front of me. 10 years ago, I never would have thought I’d be a full-time rower so I’m sure opportunities will come my way and I just have to be ready to take them.
PC: Nick Middleton