Standing on top of the Olympic podium in Rio de Janeiro was incredible. I often get asked what it felt like, and I find it really difficult to express in mere words the feelings that washed over me in that moment. However, let me try! The sense of satisfaction, relief, happiness, exhaustion, pride... Every emotion under the sun comes to mind! To do it alongside Sas, one of my best friends, was so special and something I will never, ever forget.
What is less special are the feelings experienced in the aftermath of the Olympic Games. The questions that start to enter your head… the confusion about what comes next. At the age of 28, having achieved your life’s dream, realising that potentially nothing else you will ever do can match up to this one moment. It was similar after London 2012, however that was a slightly different scenario, which I will talk about at another time!
I knew Sas was going to retire from Olympic sailing after the Rio Olympics. As for me…I had no idea. Leading up to the Games there were so many emotions fluttering through me. I was tired of the travelling, constantly living out of a suitcase – we spent around 150 days in Rio de Janeiro alone during the 18 months leading up to the Olympics. I was exhausted; the constant pressure, day in and day out... controlling my emotions to make sure my performance in training or competition was as good as it could be...going through my routines… not letting anything slip. Striving for perfection. You become so immersed in what you are doing, that nothing beyond those 2 weeks in August really matter. It is completely and utterly absorbing. And it is awesome.
That is what I live for. I absolutely love the competition, trying to peak for that 1 week in 4 years, getting everything in place and executing it at exactly the right time. I love dealing with the inevitable setbacks and challenges that get thrown in, even during the week of competition! It’s about dealing with these things better than anyone else in your race can, as a team and with a common objective.
The period after the Rio Olympics was an interesting time. Some amazing bits and some less amazing bits! Having learnt from the aftermath of London 2012, I had some things booked in, to keep me busy and moving forward. I didn’t want to be just sitting and waiting for ‘the next thing’ to come along! This is by far one of the most important lessons I have learnt from all of my Olympic campaigning. Don’t just expect things to come to you, get involved, put yourself out there – even if it isn’t necessarily what you think you want to be doing, things will start to come to you if you make yourself available and, slowly, you will start to get clarity about what it is you do want to do.
I was unclear about my path and what I wanted next.. Was Tokyo 2020 for me or not? Did I want to find a ‘real’ job? A job that would mean not having a life lived out of a suitcase..but routine, and plans at the weekend.
In June, a few months before the Games in Rio, I managed to organize one month of work experience in London during November 2016. I was looking forward to it, and when the time came I worked for Musto in their marketing department. I got fully stuck into London life, commuting and all that came with it, living in Sutton, catching up with friends on the weekends. I had a great time, met some fabulous people and I really loved the challenge and change that came with it. I learnt so many new skills and had some amazing experiences, but most importantly, this work experience time gave me clarity. I knew that someday I would love to have a ‘proper’ job, like many people out there - to be in control of my own destiny and run my own business. I realised that I will likely need to gain a lot of experience working for others before this!. But I also realised that, for now, that is not what I want. Often trying things and understanding that they are not for you is where you can learn the most about yourself.
I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do, for a variety of reasons, and I also know that Tokyo 2020 could be my last chance to do it. As you get older, nothing is certain but opportunities are often few and far between, so why would I not grab this chance with everything I have? My goal now: To become the most successful female Olympic sailor of all time. All I need to do now is to win another gold in Tokyo 2020! I am quite sure that if I hadn’t cracked on, tried out new things and gone down routes where I didn’t know the outcome, I wouldn’t be as resolute, determined and focused on this goal. I would, most likely, still be unsure, unclear, uncommitted and generally a bit low on life.
My advice to anyone in a similar position: Be pro-active. Don’t feel you have to have the answers right away, commit to things with good intentions and see where they lead you.