Greetings from The Apple Isle!
2020, as I’m sure most of you are aware, is the season we’ve been eagerly anticipating, and building towards, in preparation for the big dance – The Tokyo Olympics! However, between now and then there’s an innumerable amount of blood, sweat and tears that must be poured out to ensure a) we secure ourselves a seat in a boat and b) we get our hands on a recycled mobile phone medal… (Seriously Google it)
Before going further, it must be sombrely acknowledged that the reason the NTC Men & Women have been training here since the new year is due to the unprecedented bushfire tragedy that has decimated large parts of the country in recent months. The resulting smoke that blanketed much of eastern NSW & ACT meant that continuing training at the centres was not feasible nor safe. Thus, we’ve been fortunate enough (unlike most others) to be able to relocate and make Tasmania our home.
The men have been based at Lake Barrington, south of Devonport, site of the 1990 World Rowing Championships. A tranquil and largely undisturbed natural beauty located in the aptly named district – “Promised Land”. Our base has been on the eastern bank of the lake, populated by a handful of small sheds and wooden cabins, which has enabled us to channel our inner Rocky Balboa (specifically Rocky IV). Between us and civilisation lies a hair raising 2km winding stretch of road that climbs high into the hills above the lake, where upon meeting the rural highway one finds “Tasmazia” – famous for its pancakes and mazes. (I can vouch for the pancakes - consumed at Nationals 2009 I assure you… The mazes, unsurprisingly, pose little attraction with the amount of training we’re subjected to!)
The only debate on the appropriateness of the name “Promised Land” comes from hire car companies, who have over the decades seen their cars/vans stretched to the limits of human engineering as they’re thrashed up and down the winding turns of Lake Barrington’s driveway. I’d also posit that Andrew Randell, Senior Coach of the Men’s Team, may second the sentiments of the hire car companies after completing several runs (AKA shuffles) up the hill to keep his summer body in scintillating condition.
The town of murals – Sheffield – has been our home since the end of week one in Barrington, with the lads being put up in establishments across the region including the Motor Inn & Sheffield Pub. The local bakery and pub have prepared all our meals and if you’re ever in the area, both are well worth a visit. Simon Keenan, 4 Seat of the Australian Men’s 8+, has tasted almost every one of the twenty pie varieties on offer at the bakery (on top of the lunch he’s provided) and assures me they are some of the best he’s ever had. It goes without saying that your diligent Sykes Ambassador here would never poison his body with such delicacies!!
Training at Barrington has been arduous but enjoyable, with stints in a variety of boat classes as well as racing in the local Pennant Regattas on the weekend. Most days involve a long row of approximately 24km in the morning, followed by a second row of between 15km & 24km, with an erg or weights session in the afternoon. We’ve been conducting our weights sessions at Portside Barbell in Devonport, a brilliant old school style gym, where leg day is usually trumped by the option of beach weights for the locals, and heavy metal/punk reigns supreme over the speakers. It’s been a great change of scenery for us and we’ve been welcomed and looked after superbly during our time here.
I’d like to thank everyone who has made this experience possible. Although we’ve come here under unfortunate circumstances, it has resulted in an invaluable opportunity for us to get some great work in, which has been further enhanced by the stimulus that comes when training in a fresh and picturesque location.
For the women’s perspective, I’ll now hand over to Genevieve Horton:
Upon returning to Penrith on the morning after New Year’s Day, the women of the NTC were expecting to get straight back into the next big block of training by exploring the far reaches of the narrows and skipping laps around SIRC. Unfortunately, the battle for our firies was far from over, with the devastating bushfires surrounding greater Sydney, and so the smoke would continue to keep us training indoors. Unlike our counterparts in the northern hemisphere, we have the privilege of being able to row on the water year-round, and although they would be currently cross training in the cold, we weren’t prepared to complete another ‘ergo camp’ like we did before Christmas.
With some swift planning and a few strings pulled to get a loaded boat trailer onto an even bigger boat (The Spirit of Tasmania), we left the mainland and headed for Launceston. Located up the top of Tassie, around 50 km’s inland, the town of Launceston sits at the mouth of the Tamar River (pronounced TAY-mar) and Bass Strait. Rowing out of town through acres of farmland, I was astounded for the first time to see jellyfish and cattle in the same field of vision.
Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by the rowing community of Tamar Rowing Club, who know the quickest way to any rower’s heart is through a grazing table full of food. Headed up by the Matriarch of Northern Tassie rowing - Kim Wilson (The mother of our very own Ciona!) - we would return every morning after our row to fill up until it hurt, whilst enjoying the alfresco dining on offer! Over on the other side of the river, North Esk Rowing Club opened their doors to us, managing to make room to fit our entire fleet inside. With their very own coffee shop above the club, we knew we were going to settle in well.
Our days in Launceston ran quite similar to how we do it up in Penrith, with our big row in the mornings. The rows were often done whilst navigating the large tides brought in from Bass Strait, at a rather furious pace, which had the potential to add km’s to our sessions rather quickly… Suffice to say that our drink breaks were kept short! When the wind blew up in the opposite direction to the tide, we would be met with waves akin to an inland sea. With the water at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo said to whip up some difficult racing conditions, we embraced the chance to get amongst some rough water. A word of warning for those who wish to tackle the Tamar when the wind is blowing though – there is a river monster that lurks beneath the surface waiting for passing rowing boats!! I made this startling discovery after it occurred to me I’d developed a rather alarming propensity to catch crabs in the same spot on the river whenever the water chopped up!
For our next session we’d head over to the Tasmanian Institute of Sport for weights. I don’t think the gym had seen such large groups before, and so with not all of us able to fit in at once, the athletes training there were forcibly subjected to a stream of yelling and excitable girls coming through in a near endless procession. In the afternoons we went back to school, heading to Scotch Oakburn to complete our steady state erg sessions. This often began in front of a healthy crowd of students, but inevitably as time went on the realisation dawned upon the assembled gathering that ergs are boring to watch, and thus spectator numbers dwindled. For a bit of extra training we swapped the Nepean gorge for Cataract gorge, where we jogged up towards the source of the Tamar and potentially terrorised some poor tourists on the swing bridge as we bounded along.
On our final weekend in Tassie we travelled to Lake Barrington to join with the men’s group and compete in the State Pennant Regatta. As Nick said earlier, the Promised Land certainly lives up to its name, with the lake extending into kilometres of untouched bush, made up of leggy gumtrees that stretch towards the sky. We got to race down the course in all boat classes, finishing up the weekend with a race against the Men’s 8’s, taking a few schoolboy scalps with us. With Penrith nearly cleared up, we were ready to head back and continue being wanderers of the west. To be able to make the trip down to Tassie to kick start our year has been a great opportunity, and I’m extremely grateful to all those who helped make it such a worthwhile trip for us.
To tie this report up and as a way of reference for you, the training philosophy for both the men’s and women’s squads throughout this period has been to get some solid km’s under the belt whilst building combinations to test at the Olympic Selection Trials - beginning in early March. On top of that, of course, is preparing ourselves for the domestic racing season, which provides us with an opportunity to hone our skills and develop further race experience as we head into international competition later in the year.
Well that’s a wrap - thanks for taking the time to check-in with us! Regarding the upcoming racing season, make sure you stop by the Sykes tent at the NSW State Championships & National Championships. We’re always keen to have a chat, whether it’s about purchasing a new boat through to what Simon’s favourite pie in Sheffield was.
Genevieve & Nick