Friday, 30 July 2021

Athlete going for gold

TOM MORTIMER was a typical teenager without a particular favourite sport.

TOM MORTIMER was a typical teenager without a particular favourite sport.

Being 6ft 4in, he was an obvious choice for his school’s rugby team, which he says he enjoyed but was never passionate about.

Then in December 2012 he was spotted by Leander Club’s juniors coach Livinia Cowell-Sherriff as part of its talent identification programme in local schools.

“She goes out and tests physical abilities to show that someone is a potential athlete — strength, fitness, height, shoe size, arm span,” says Tom, who was then 15 and a pupil at Maiden Erlegh School in Earley, Reading.

“I ticked all the boxes and she gave me a month to improve my fitness and to see how I developed and become a better athlete on my own.

“A month later I came back and she said I had what it takes. When a place was offered to me I knew I had to talk to my parents about the implications as rowing is one of the toughest sports there is. I thought that because I had been chosen, or identified, I felt I should give it a go as it was a brilliant  opportunity. I started rowing in January 2013 and was a complete beginner, having never been in a boat before.”

Learning to row on the Thames in Henley in mid-winter “wasn’t pleasant” as he fell in the river so much but he enjoyed the variety of training — on the ergo and in the weight room as well as on the water.

For the first 18 months his training was limited as he had to balance his school life with rowing. Then in September he moved to The Henley College, where he is studying for A-levels in double maths, physics and chemistry.

He is also doing the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence, which educates young athletes in sports science, performance nutrition, time management and financial management. He is one of seven rowers from Leander on the college programme.

Tom, now 17, said: “Moving to The Henley College, which is just up the road from Leander, means that I can train six days a week, twice a day and continue my studies. Now from Monday to Wednesday I live at home in Earley, get up at about 6.30am, have a small/light breakfast, leave home at 7pm and catch a bus to Henley.

Sometimes I will have lessons in the morning and then come to the club, which is a 15-minute walk away. Then I do a couple of sessions on the water on an ergo, or do some weights then go back to college for a lesson until 4pm.

“Then it’s back to the club for more training and then I get the bus at 5.30pm to be home between 6pm and 7pm followed by college work until 9pm or 10pm, then bed.”

On other days he will stay overnight in one of the bedrooms at Leander as it saves him time on travelling and he can eat subsidised meals at the club.

Tom lives with his parents, Marion and Simon, and sisters Ella, 15, and Kate, 12, and says they are “extremely supportive” as he bids to win a place as a sculler in the GB squad for the junior world championships in Rio in August. “They understand how big the rowing is here and the level I’m at,” he says.

“My sisters aren’t too bothered by it all but, of course, they support me too. All they would like is a trip to Brazil in summer — it’s all they’re talking about. We will see if that happens.

“This year is my only chance for GB junior squad. I have been to trials in November, February and then late April. I have been in the top seven or eight so it’s looking hopeful for getting a vest. The final trials are in July where they decide the boats for the junior worlds and the coupe de la jeunesse where the second string juniors compete.”

At Leander all junior rowers only scull to prevent any adverse effects on the development of their skeleton by making them too strong on one side which can occur when a sweep rower. But Tom wants to go to university and have the chance to sweep.

He says: “Rowing can help you get money off university, which is a big incentive. I’ve been looking at a few. I’m more inclined to go out to the States because of the money they can offer out there.

“ I have been in contact with Patrick Lapage, one of the assistant coaches from Harvard. Then again I’ve been to open days at Cambridge and Imperial, which are both quite good at rowing.”

Tom is sponsored by Dubai-based Holborn Assets, which helps with the cost of food bills — having to consumer 6,500 calories doesn’t come cheap. He now weighs 88kg (13st 9lb), the target weight for a junior heavyweight. Tom has already had a number of successes representing Leander.

Last season, he won a silver medal at the national schools championships in a J16 double scull and a silver at the British junior championships as well as winning lots of local events. He also was also part of the club’s second squad that competed in the Fawley Cup at Henley Royal Regatta.

He is not intimidated by the array of Olympic and world championship medallists at Leander. “You know the right environment when you share a clubhouse with those guys,” says Tom.

“If you are hoping to represent Great Britain you’re doing it at the best place possible. I’ve got the best chance of getting a medal or representing Great Britain and getting a vest.

“For anyone who rows at a high level like we do at Leander, the ultimate dream is to represent your country at the Olympics.”

With such lofty ambition and having to combine training with studying, he accepts that he can’t be a normal  17-year-old.

He says: “I don’t get to hang out with my friends as much as I would like to and I’m not always around for socialising. It does bother me sometimes but not everyone gets the opportunity to row at this high level. It opens up so many doors, such as representing your country and the scholarships for university and I’ve made friends at Leander. I wouldn’t give this up for anything.”

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