Nick Purnell on the postponement of the Olympic Games and life in lockdown.
Greetings Sykes Fans,
When I last wrote in January from The Apple Isle I, like the rest of the Australian Rowing Team, hoped (and assumed) that it would be the only hiccup on our road to Tokyo 2020. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a string of catastrophes that have engulfed the World this year. Of course, as many of you will know, the Olympics at this stage has been postponed till 2021 however, I consider myself exceptionally lucky with where I find myself given the context of the times we live in.
At the outset I must convey how fortunate I am to be part of the Australian Rowing Team and an employee of Sykes. Firstly, the rowing team is funded, like all Olympic Sports, by taxpayer dollars. However, that money generally extends to paying for tours/equipment/coaches etc. with not much left over to pay for expenses such as rent and food. However, this changed in 2016 with Mrs Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting coming on board with Rowing Australia to provide all the National Training Centre athletes with a weekly training allowance. Her generosity, particularly as Patron of Rowing Australia, towards us was further demonstrated by her commitment to continuing to provide this funding despite the COVID-19 situation.
As a result, we have found ourselves in a position where we can continue to train without the uncertainty of our financial security. Without her support we would be struggling to continue our pursuit of success in Tokyo. Further, on a personal level, to be employed by Sykes has been a fulfilling vocation outside my rowing commitments since returning to the NTC in 2017. Their support, especially since the postponement of Tokyo, has made the reality of rowing at the age of 30, towards an uncertain future, not only viable, but enjoyable.
So where are things at now? I am currently writing from the National Training Centre in Canberra. With the easing of restrictions over recent weeks, akin to the Batman distress signal being beamed into the night sky over Gotham City, the men’s NTC squad was called back to the Capital in June. Like most people across the country, we were sent home and put into lockdown in March and thus we began a three-month campaign of home training. Initially daunting, the sojourn turned out to be a great experience.
On March 18th I packed up my house in Canberra and headed north on the Hume Highway to make the foot of the mountains, Penrith, my new home. I shacked up with Sykes Legend Genevieve Horton on the banks of the Nepean River, ostensibly turning the house into a temperate version of the mountain cabin from Rocky IV. Of course, unlike a mountain cabin, the house had all the modern trappings and training equipment to make the campaign both enjoyable and effective. The real winner in the temperate cabin was Genevieve, who was treated to a hybrid version of Mr Sheen and Jamie Oliver, in the form of yours truly.
Apart from the time invested into being exceptionally tidy and culinarily outstanding, most of my days in isolation involved a combination of indoor cycling, erging and weights. By far my most favoured mode of exercise during this period was indoor cycling, on the program Zwift. I happily frittered away hours on the wattbike whilst riding/racing in this virtual world and found it provided excellent aerobic benefits, as well as delivering some semblance of size and strength gains to my pitiful, twig like legs! To keep the mind occupied I made my way through podcasts and books in my downtime, as well as undertaking the obligatory viewing of the Tiger King series and The Last Dance.
Given the lockdown restrictions, getting out of the house and socialising with other people was often not an option. However, this did not dampen the spirits of Genevieve and I too heavily, as we had the company of Genevieve’s wonderful neighbours, Greg and Shirley Gavin. These two became the cornerstones of our social life during the lockdown, and our number 1 fans to boot. I can’t thank them enough for giving us a sense of community and friendship outside the monotony of garage training. Many afternoons and evenings were spent gazing out over the mighty Nepean River together, enjoying a meal and each other’s company. They were, and are, great supporters of ours.
As we have all experienced, COVID has revolutionised the way we interact and keep in touch with one another, and this was no different for us at the NTC during lockdown. Every Friday at 5pm, a catchup and a beer over Zoom was organised by our coach, Andrew “Randy” Randell. This was a great way to check in on how everyone was going, as well as get an insight into everyone’s life back at home. Jack O’Brien regularly called in from behind the wheel of a tractor, direct from the family farm in Walgett, NSW. The sound of the two-way radio blaring in the background meant we could never actually hear what he had to say, but we appreciated him being involved nonetheless. The meetings were often educational too, as Randy was able to upskill us through his unsolicited, free of charge, parenting advice… This was on account of his presence at home being rightly put to use by his wife Vicky, who under normal circumstances, has to slog it out alone due to his coaching commitments with the team. Jokes aside, it was a great initiative from Randy and something we all looked forward to participating in every week.
The sojourn is officially over now, and we have been back in Canberra for a few weeks. My hands are only just starting to heal properly from all the new blisters, which combined with the freezing temperatures, has made the transition back to on water rowing somewhat of a shock! Nonetheless we are all excited to be back together as a group. Training is mercifully only twice a day for the moment, with the focus on re-establishing our technical skills and getting our systems used to rowing long steady kilometres again. We’ve also been able to blow the dust off our bikes and hit the road in the hills outside Canberra. You’d think we’re preparing for the Tour De France with the way we approach it. Attacks against each other are planned, and timed segments on the road fiercely competed for. We’d probably look like a professional cycling outfit if we weighed 30kg-40kg less… Instead I fear we look like a pack of clowns riding miniature bicycles at the circus!!
To finish, like everyone else, the horizon remains uncertain moving forward, but dwelling on this is frivolous. We are, and will continue to train, with every intention of maximising our performance for Tokyo 2021. Regardless of what happens, as I mentioned above, we are privileged given the context of the times we live in. We have financial security, can train with our friends every day, and live in a country that has fared comparatively better than most of the world when it comes to the fallout from COVID-19. Whether the Olympics goes ahead or not pales in significance to the global situation with the pandemic, however, we’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed that we’ll be on the start line in Tokyo next July!!
Until next time,
Australian Men’s Rowing Team