“If I was a young cyclist looking for a change of scenery, I would recommend giving rowing a try”

World Class Start athletes have been rowing, cycling and running for the Blue Peter challenge this month. We talk to two – a former cyclist and runner – about how these sports have helped their rowing

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Earlier this month, Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell teamed up with athletes from British Rowing, British Cycling and British Athletics in the ‘Train Your Way to Tokyo’ challenge, covering the 9448km distance between the Blue Peter studio in Salford and the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo.

We talk to two World Class Start athletes who discovered rowing after coming from cycling and athletics.

At school, Perri McCluskey (pictured above) ran cross-country, high jump and other track events, representing the West of Scotland at the Inter-District Cross Country Championships in 2013. Now an U23 athlete based at Strathclyde Park, Perri only discovered rowing when she went along to a boat club with a friend who was keen to try it.

James Cartwright is a product of the Hartpury Junior programme, coming to rowing through World Class Start in 2015. Since then he has represented GB at the 2018 Junior Worlds and then at the U23 Worlds in 2019. But his first sport was cycling and at school he was in the mountain bike team, winning events at county level.

Looking back, how did cycling and athletics help your rowing?

James: Cycling aided my rowing development as it provided me with great endurance. Most of the rowing sessions that I completed were well under the mileage, and sometimes intensity, of what I was used to training at. If I was a young cyclist that was looking for a change of scenery, I would recommend giving rowing a try.

Cycling and rowing are similar in a way that they both can take you places that you would never have imagined going. For example, I never thought I would visit Racice in the Czech Republic before I started rowing – both sports make for a great excuse to travel.

Perri: I think when I first changed from athletics to rowing, I still had quite a lot of endurance. Prior to rowing, I had never lifted a weight in my life, but, from the strength testing carried out to join the World Class Start programme, I found that I was naturally strong. I also think that being fairly tall (5ft 10) helped a lot as it meant that I had better natural levers in the boat and on the rowing machine.

The transition was challenging but very rewarding as I still had a lot to improve on strength and fitness wise. At the very beginning I went from only training two to three sessions a week to five or six days a week with sometimes two sessions a day.

As I was training twice the amount I was previously, I was noticing improvements in my performance very quickly which also motivated me to continue.

I have always been very competitive, and I love to push myself both mentally and physically. Therefore, I loved the challenge of trying to make myself better a completely new sport.

Cycling aided my rowing development as it provided me with great endurance

What does rowing give you that other sports don’t?

Perri: Rowing is a sport than anyone can participate in no matter their size, shape, background etc. Because of this, you will meet people from all walks of life and will quickly form close bonds with them. Some of my closest friends are from rowing!

There is also a huge team aspect behind the sport. Camaraderie and teamwork is the most important element of being in a crew boat. It’s all about pushing each other to your mental and physical limits in order to be successful.

I loved the challenge of trying to make myself better a completely new sport

James: Rowing offers an experience of new levels of friendship between you and your crew mates.

I feel other sports can almost be too big. For example, a football team relies on many different parties to be successful: defence, midfield, attack, subs, and even the goalkeeper. Whereas in a boat, there are far fewer other people to rely on, and so this builds a relationship far deeper than other sports can offer – in my opinion anyway.

Moving on, how has training been going in lockdown?

James: Lockdown has offered the opportunity for me to get back out on my bike and rediscover what allowed me to become so invested in sports. I have been completing daily cycles as I have not had access to a rowing machine until recently. It has offered a great opportunity to re-discover why I enjoy rowing so much.

Some of my closest friends are from rowing!

Perri: My training has pretty much stayed the same since lockdown started, just minus the time spent in my boat on the water. I have enjoyed the variety of cross training in my programme meaning that I am able to do a lot more running – going back to my roots!

Do you have any sporting heroes – and, if so, who?

Perri: There are so many athletes that I admire and look up to both within rowing and in other sports. However, I would have to choose Katherine Grainger. She started rowing at the same age and at university too and went on to become a five-time Olympic medallist and six-time world champion. It would be a dream to have a sporting career as long and as successful as she did. She is also a fellow Scot!

What are your future goals?

James: My ultimate ambition is to stand on the podium at the Olympic Games with a piece of gold hanging from my neck. I’m sure if you asked most young rowers for their ambitions, they would say the same!

Although I am still early on in my rowing career, I would recommend to anyone taking up the sport to make sure that you enjoy every moment that rowing at a junior level has to offer – it flew by for me!

Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell talked to GB athlete Lauren Rowles as part of the Train Your Way to Tokyo challenge coverage. Catch it on BBC iPlayer here from 18:30 onwards. 

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