A Day in the Life of a World Champion Rower

6:12:19!! In that short amount of time five students (Joshua Wilson, Oliver St Pierre, Brandon Smith, Joseph Lynch and Ryder Taylor) from St Augustine’s College became World Champions!!

Like many of you, I was streaming the final live in my living room at 8:00pm last Sunday night. My wife and children jumping up and down with the sheer thrill of competition and anticipation. All of us willing the boys from the 500m mark to keep pushing, keep fighting and then they won!! The commentators called it, we could see them cross first! They did it! The elation was real, there were tears and hugs all round. For 6:12:19 we rode with those boys and celebrated with them as they crossed the finish line first. One second outside world record time.

For the boys and families involved in the sport of Rowing though, this was not 6:12:19. This was years and years and years of work in the making. This was a barrage of early starts, limited sleep, healthy eating, gym sessions, erg sessions, a balancing act of being a boy growing up on the Northern Beaches and committing to something you love that may in fact break you.

I thought it would be interesting to send the boys some questions to give us some insight into what they go through week to week. The results they sent back are amazing but show that these boys are special individuals that have the drive, the discipline, and the ability to push themselves further than they could have ever thought.

I asked the boys firstly what a typical week involved. While most of us are generally grouchy and tired with an early morning wake up ‘in the 5’s’, these boys are waking regularly at 4:30am, getting rugged up, sometimes in ski clothes in 5° temperature, to leave the house by 5:00am and be on the water by 5:35am. Some boys will have a light breakfast like Weet-Bix or Up and Go before they get on the water. A normal morning might involve a twenty-kilometre row from The Spit at Pearl Bay, up the waterway and back. The boys are back by 7:30am to clean the boats and the sheds. No-one does this for them, and the coaches insist they look after their own gear by themselves. Breakfast is usually at 8:00am at the Rowing shed and the boys get to school by 8:40am to start their day. Like all St Augustine’s College students, the boys attend classes, meetings, and socialise with their friends throughout the school day. If they haven’t got a gym session (which is every Wednesday) they will generally train for 60-90 minutes on the erg and be home by 6:30pm to eat dinner and spend time with family until it’s time to study. The Senior boys (Oliver, Joshua, and Brandon) usually study until 9:30pm when the eyes become too heavy and sleep calls. All of the boys will make sure that before their head hits the pillow, they pack their bags for the following day. As Ryder is in Year 8 (and was the youngest competitor at the Junior World Championships) his afternoons after training involved socialising with friends and family, bike rides and resting with the Senior boys, enjoying time to unwind also by watching YouTube, NRL or UFC to recharge the batteries.

All the boys agreed that it was essential to relax in their very limited down time they have. Playing on their phones, riding bikes, watching TV or listening to music were all things the boys held as sacred in their busy schedules.

I asked the boys about how hard it is to stay disciplined when their friends don’t have to worry as much, they were all very sensible and reflective. Ryder’s concerns, in the lead up, were more about getting COVID-19 or getting injured doing something silly, like all young boys do. The older boys talked about having to miss friend’s 18th birthday parties and the difficulty of feeling like you are missing out. The early mornings, long training sessions, weeks away from home on training camps all become rewarded and the feelings of satisfaction and triumph all become worth it. The boys did remind me of their coaches saying, “The best party is the one with the gold medal around your neck!”.

As you can imagine, each student has a unique and interesting approach to the lead up to the race. All of them are meticulous in their preparation, they will listen to music and chat to people to keep their mind at ease, even going as far as putting their phone on flight mode the night before to block out unwanted distractions. This all helps in being able to block out the outside noise and keep their focus. They all go through a pre-race routine, and all have a quiet confidence that they have done the hard work, done it together and trust each other and the process in its entirety. This has been instilled in them by their coach, Judith Ungemach, over the years.

I finished by asking the boys what they thought was the best thing about Rowing and what they could contribute their success to. Each of the boys mentioned the tight knit Rowing community. The fact that everyone involved is willing to go the extra mile to make things better. They talked about teamwork, and the sheer delight in doing this with a group of boys who you can rely on, who you trust wholeheartedly and who you enjoy being around. They are also drawn to the high risk to reward factor involved in their sport. This all contributes to making the wins extra sweet.

When talking about the contribution to their success, they all mentioned their parents and the sacrifices that they make allowing the boys to fulfil their dreams. The constant early morning lifts to training, to regattas, the food bills, the travel expenses, and the emotional support have not been forgotten by these students. They also mention the amazing impact that Judith and Matthias Ungemach have had on the group. Judith, especially, has coached the boys since Year 7 and has been such an amazingly positive influence on their rowing. All the boys mentioned the life lessons Judith and rowing have taught them: discipline, ownership, accountability, teamwork, hard work and the drive to succeed no matter how hard things become. This sport has not only opened many doors for the boy’s future but given them some amazing characteristics that can’t be overlooked.

These boys are an absolute credit to their school and their families. Upon speaking with numerous ex-rowers about this group they mentioned that there had never been a school-based crew, kept together as a group with their coach, win Gold at the Junior World Championships. Never. Unbelievable!

As a St Augustine’s College community, I hope you enjoyed a bit of insight into their lives as rowers and follow them as they continue their journey into an extremely exciting future.

Click here to watch The Race…

Jonathan Harvey
Assistant Principal – Sport and Co-curricular

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