Thursday, 16 September 2021

Exclusive: "Why I stepped away from rowing."

ONE of Britain?s brightest rowing hopes has told for the first time why she quit the sport.

ONE of Britain ?s brightest rowing hopes has told for the first time why she quit the sport.

Erica Bodman was tipped to medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 but in the spring she announced her decision to give up ? at age 25.

In an exclusive interview with the Henley Standard, the Leander Club athlete said she was ?stepping away from my dreams? but her heart was no longer in it. Miss Bodman, who is from Guernsey but now lives in Leaver Road , Henley, said: ?I just didn?t want it enough.?

It was after the first world cup regatta in Sydney in March, where she was a spare, that she first had an inkling that she didn?t want to row anymore.

The following month, she was unhappy with her performance at the GB time trials at Caversham Lakes and spent an hour between races with her rower boyfriend, Graham Hall, crying.

She said: ?After that first race I didn?t want to go back but Graham told me I was not a quitter.

?I went back and did better than I expected in the semi-final. I did the final the next day and I had a good race, beating a couple of the girls in the GB squad.?

She expected to be placed in a boat for the second world cup regatta at Dorney Lake in June and returned to regular training at Caversham a couple of days later ? unaware that it would be her last day of training.

?I had my first session on the water and that went fine and then we had an ergo session,? she recalled. ?Usually we do three sets of 6km with a one-and-a-half minute rest but this time we were doing 12k for recovery.

?Halfway through the first 6k I suddenly felt very certain that I didn?t want to row anymore. I said to myself, ?well, I?ll finish this 6k block at least? but when I put the handle down I knew I wouldn?t pick it up again.?

Miss Bodman took up rowing in her second year at Cambridge University , where she studied English with education.

She had previously competed at high jump for Guernsey, including at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2004 where she was up against Jessica Ennis. She switched to a non-impact sport after her athletics career took its toll on her body.

?I?d struggled with my feet since I was about 14 or 15 as I?ve got bunions and my toes aren?t quite straight,? she said. ?The impact of all the jumping and sprinting gave me really sore feet and it got to the point where if I did one session I would be in pain for two or three weeks afterwards just walking around normally.

?My doctor suggested two options ? I could either have surgery or give up. I was advised that high jump puts so much impact through your feet that even if I did have the surgery I could not be sure they would be strong enough to jump on anyway, so I decided to take up a non-impact sport.?

A month later, she joined the Homerton College boat crew and leapfrogged the other novices due to her exceptional performance in the 2k ergo tests.

?We were not known as a very good rowing college but we were called the ?fittest? crew on the river because there were some very attractive girls in the team,? she said. Miss Bodman did two terms of rowing for her college before setting her heart on rowing in the Women?s Boat Race the next year.

However, her tutor told her that she would not be able to take part as her school placements clashed with the trials and she would need to focus on her work as it would be her final year.

?I spent ages trying to organise it all so it would be possible to do both but the trials were partly in Ely and partly in Cambridge and I was told to focus on my studies,? she said.

Then she replied to a GB Rowing advert asking for females over 5ft 10in with little or no rowing experience to join its World Class Start programme.

She was invited to a testing day, which she passed and started the programme in June 2008.

Miss Bodman recalled: ?Our coach was based in Ely so I would go out there first thing in the morning, do a water session, then go to lectures or a school placement before doing another session in the evening.

?It wasn?t easy and it wasn?t a normal university experience by any means but I decided I was going to do it and was going to fit it all in.

?I didn?t have a social life in my final year but I don?t regret it as everyone has to make sacrifices.

?It was heartbreaking having to stop high jump so I really enjoyed finding something else I was good at. They said I had the right physiological attributes to become an Olympian and that was what I wanted to be told ? I might have finished one sport but my sporting life was not over.?

She graduated while completing a year on the Start programme and learning to scull and decided that she wanted to become a professional athlete.

?I felt like I was making good progress so I knew I wanted to row full-time,? she said. ?People said it was a really big decision but it seemed natural to me. I was already rowing almost full-time around my degree.?

She moved to Bath to be with other talented rowers from the programme who were trained by Paul Stannard, the man who first coached future Olympic champions Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.

She moved into a rowing house share that included Vicky Thornley, who is now also with Leander and a member the GB squad.

After nine months she moved to Reading Boat Club as Stannard had landed a job with the GB team and moved to Caversham. She was joined by Glover and Stanning, who then made the GB squad. About 18 months later, in September 2011, she moved to Leander.

Miss Bodman said: ?I had heard of Leander when I was at Bath and once I had moved to the Thames Valley I got to know more about it and got to know a lot of the girls and guys who rowed there.? She continued to train and only narrowly missed out on a place in a boat for the world cup in Sydney . Instead, she was selected as a spare after proving her dedication to the sport. ?They needed someone to be in a pair but 18 months earlier I had said I didn?t want to row anymore, I wanted to scull,? she said.

?I wasn?t used to rowing and I still prefer sculling but I knew that if I wanted to go I needed to be able to do both. I did 10 days? intensive work in Caversham with Zoe Lee, the other spare, so that wasn?t easy but eventually I was selected.

?A spare is not the ideal place to be because ultimately you train to race.? Miss Lee competed because one of the girls in the quad fell ill a few days before the racing but Ms Bodman had to watch from the sidelines.

Looking back, she believes this was when it dawned on her that she didn?t really want to row anymore.

?I think it was in the back of my mind all season but I wasn?t addressing it,? she said. ?I was in Sydney and I thought, ?this is it now, training with the squad, with my friends?, but I just didn?t want it enough.

?From an outside perspective, I was in a very good position in the squad and I would have raced at the world cup. My coach asked me ?how would you feel if you saw a boat racing at Dorney and there were people in it you could have beaten? and I just said it wouldn?t bother me at all.

?That?s when I knew I?d come to the end. If you don?t want it enough then you?ll not be able to put yourself through the training.?

She found it difficult to tell her family and friends that she was quitting, so sent emails because she couldn?t face talking to them on the phone.

Miss Bodman said: ?One of the hardest things about announcing my retirement was having to tell everybody who had wanted this just as much as I had.

?I?m stepping away from my dreams and taking that possibility away from everybody else as well but as hard as it has been, I know it is the right thing for me.

?I?ve been overwhelmed by everybody who has supported me and I am forever grateful to them for allowing me every opportunity. My parents have always been my biggest fans and the Guernsey community is incredibly supportive.?

Miss Bodman is now working as an associate for Curriculum Visions, an education company based in Checkendon but is still involved with rowing. She volunteered at Henley Women?s Regatta last month and has started coaching Sarah Weldon, who is to row in a four across the Pacific next year.

She said: ?I don?t really have any desire to get in a boat competitively but obviously all my friends in the area are rowers so I am going to stay involved in that side of it.?

She will be cheering on her boyfriend, a former Leander rower, who will be competing for Upper Thames RC in the Thames Cup at this year?s royal regatta. Miss Bodman plans to keep fit but won?t be taking up another sport competitively.

She said: ?I?ve been going out jogging and cycling and I am keen to start netball again as I used to play at school and loved it but I don?t want to take up anything full-time. I want to be able to do it when I want to, not because I have to.?

More News:

POLL: Have your say