From sibling rivalry to world-level success
Jo Cook, part of the GB Rowing Team women’s eight that narrowly missed out on a medal at the 2010 World Rowing Championships, tells us how she got into rowing, as well as her hopes and aspirations for the coming season with London 2012 set in her sights.
Jo Cook began rowing aged 12 at Lady Eleanor Holles School (LEH) after being persuaded by her best friend to join her in giving the sport a go. Jo was a talented sportswomen, participating in several other sports at school including Netball, Lacrosse and Athletics. The school also had a good reputation for its performance in rowing.
“LEH was one of the best schools in the country for rowing. I was inspired by looking up to the older girls in the school, some of whom represented GB, and so I decided I wanted to aspire to do the same.”
Jo soon realised after taking up the sport that this could be a realistic aspiration for her as she experienced early success. She was also highly competitive with her twin sister Pippa, who rowed at the time and won several medals at school.
“We rowed well together, at trials we would always put in a team effort to give us both the best possible chance of selection but at school I always wanted to be better than Pippa so I would always try to beat her at everything!”
Jo continued to play other sports at school, mainly Netball, until about the age of 16 when increased rowing commitments after selection into the GB Junior Team meant she could no longer carry on.
“A real turning point for me was when the female women’s quad crew that had just won silver at the Sydney Olympics spoke at our annual school dinner. Katherine Grainger, Gillian Lindsey, Miriam and Guin Batten spoke about their rowing careers and Sydney in particular, from then on I knew that I wanted to go to the Olympics too. I don’t think I would have carried on rowing otherwise because it is an all or nothing sport that requires a huge commitment.”
In 2000 Jo competed at the World Junior Championships with twin sister, Pippa in the women’s eight where they were placed sixth. After competing in several World Junior Championships Jo made the step up for selection to the World Rowing U23 Championships in 2004 and 2005.
Jo went on to study Psychology at Nottingham University and during her time there was coached by Ade Roberts. Pippa also went to Nottingham University, however she had stopped rowing at that point. Even though they were identical twins Pippa is a couple of inches shorter than Jo and lighter so would have possibly been considered as a lightweight rower. Pippa studied History with Chinese Studies, having got straight A’s at school, and since last July has been living out in Hong Kong.
On completion of her undergraduate degree Jo moved back to London, joined Leander Club where she trained and worked part time at an admin company. She jokes that they nick-named her ‘Josephine the scanning queen’! However Jo quickly realised it was hard work fitting in both training and a job but even harder to watch her training partners and friends make the Olympic team when she was just off the pace.
2009 was the year that Jo got her call up into the senior squad, since competing in several World Cups and the World Championships.
“I love the competitive nature of rowing, I find it addictive especially when you get into a rhythm in the boat and it’s going well as a team. It is very much about teamwork when you are in the boat with your crew but I also thrive on the individual competitiveness and challenge to work hard in order to make or retain your own place in GB squads”, she said.
Jo identifies several attributes that she believes it takes to be a successful rower, one of which is to have big lungs! Additionally, the training requires a big commitment and is very hard work, so in order to make it in rowing you have to be mentally tough.
“The training is intense, completing weights three times a week and we are on the water normally twice a day or the rowing machine. We also complete other essential core and stability work throughout the week and we occasionally get Sundays off.”
Jo also points out that having certain physical attributes, such as being tall, are an advantageous pre-requisite, however it is not necessarily always essential.
“Most rowers that are successful are over 5ft 9″, however I am probably one of the shortest in the squad at 5ft 8″ so it’s not the be all and end all. There are many rowers roughly about my height that have made it to the top.”
Jo’s best piece of advice for someone wanting to be successful in rowing would be always try to surround yourself by people better than you. She emphasises how it certainly brought out the best in her because having a tangible goal to work towards makes people push themselves that bit harder.
Jo’s aim for this season is to medal and hopefully win the World Championships, looking longer term to be at the Olympics.
Her hobbies outside of rowing include seeing her boyfriend and enjoying all that London has to offer by going to the theatre, afternoon tea and watching shows. If Jo wasn’t a rower she would like to be playing Netball socially and career wise, high up in a company perhaps doing something related to her marketing qualification that she is currently completing this year.