Growing up I was always running, most times getting myself into trouble but I never stayed still. Looking back now I can see how I found myself on this path - it was my mom who was my first source of inspiration and admiration as she would train for ultra-marathons on our dusty farm roads in the Eastern Cape Drakensberg. I felt that through her running I understood the essence of what makes us human beings and that is to endure and persevere.
My journey in the rowing boat began in 2008 when I started high school at St. Andrews College in Grahamstown. After spending my primary school years scraping the bucket in the bottom end of D teams on the cricket field I decided that a new summer sport was in order. Rowing was the choice (a good choice it seems in retrospect) over basketball and I was instantly intrigued by the craft and how different this was to anything I had tried before; for a farm boy it was a hell of a lot different to the usual cricket bats and rugby balls.
My high school rowing wasn't particularly successful but I still enjoyed every season in the rowing boat. As the years went by I began to identify with the sport more and more. I enjoyed the reputation of rowers being tough bastards and training harder than most schoolboys. My final season of rowing at school in 2012 was perhaps my hardest season I have done yet, but not because of the training. The end of season we came 7th at SA Championships, a disappointing result that left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
I decided to push myself on and try out for the junior team after being invited to trial. I didn't want that final race to be the final statement of my rowing experience. However, I did not make the cut at selection, not being fast enough to make a boat competing at Junior Championships. Frustrated, I decided to cut my losses and throw myself into the rugby season at school. My decision to take the sport further came after watching our lightweight four win the gold medal at the 2012 games in London. I remember running around my house going berzerk, celebrating the success of South African rowing. This was further cemented after watching James Thompson and Sizwe Ndlovu speak at our school later in the year; seeing them in person made me realise that there wasn't a reason I couldn't do that.
2013 was my first year at the University of Pretoria and my first year training with the SA squad- I decided to give my dreams of being a South African rower another chance. I did not get selected that year for any boat but I redirected my energy into making the 1st 8 to row at Boat race later that year, which I did. With a boat filled with National rowers and Olympians it was a big step up from my days at school and a special year winning my first Boat race.
On the back of my first season in Pretoria I continued training with the SA squad, still adamant on being selected. 2014 was a breakthrough year for me as I finally qualified a boat to row at University Champs in Gravelines, France. David "Noddy" Hunt and I went on to win the silver medal in the men's pair; a special moment wearing my country's colours for the first time.
The beginning of the 2015 season saw the emergence of a larger heavyweight squad, all vying for position's in boats that would hopefully qualify for the Olympics in 2016. Being at the bottom end of that squad meant I had a lot of boxes to tick if I stood a chance of making a boat. That season Leo Davis and I raced in the Pair together in Italy, Korea and later at World Champs in the coxed pair finishing 4th. While I didn't race in the four or pair, I learned a lot and gained much needed experience which I was lacking.
2016 would become the year of my life. Starting the season it was all about making the four which I missed out on the year before. After an intense round of selections I managed to cement my spot in the stroke seat of the four, which would then have to qualify at the Final Qualification Regatta in Switzerland, as the previous year the four had missed qualification by finishing 12th at World Champs. We went on the qualify for the Olympics by winning the regatta and earning a spot with the rest of our Olympic team in preparation for the Rio games.
Getting to race at the Olympics was an uncanny experience, after the steep progression of the previous years it didn't feel real to me. A roller-coaster ride saw us go from scraping through the repechage to coming down the track in the A final and finishing 4th, missing out on a Bronze medal after holding that position for most of the race. While it may have been a result beyond what we thought capable, it was a difficult defeat to stomach and I couldn't help but feel disappointed with the result.
The Olympics gave me the confidence that nothing is out of my grasp and the best is truly achievable here in South Africa. It also reaffirmed my pursuit in the rowing boat and the dream more alive than ever.
2017........well we will have to wait and see.