Lawrence Brittain: the South African rower following a family tradition

WE TALK to Lawrence Brittain about beating cancer and going on to take Silver in rowing at the Olympics.

Lawrence Brittain

Lawrence Brittain overcame cancer to become one of the world’s best rowers.


LAWRENCE BRITTAIN grew up in a rowing-obsessed family and it wasn’t long before he was on the water and following in their footsteps. 


His whole family are involved in the South African rowing team and he exceeded all expectations by taking Silver at the Olympics last year.

In this inspiring interview Lawrence talks about his dedication and passion for the sport as well as how he’s had to fight cancer while persevering to be one of the world’s best rowers.


When did you start rowing and who encouraged you to give the sport a go at the beginning?


My family is rowing crazy and we are all heavily involved with the sport. My dad was in the national team when my brothers and I were little and I remember going out to the dam to watch him race.


I started rowing when I went to high school at Parktown Boys High. My older brother was already rowing and really enjoying it so I couldn’t wait to get going.


Now my whole family has South African colours for Rowing, my dad, myself, all three of my brothers and my mum is the doctor for our Olympic team. So, you can say I was born into it.


What were some of the earliest rowing successes you had?


I was South African u19 champion at school in the single back in 2008 which was a great result, I actually beat my current team mate John Smith for the title so that is a great on to keep reminding him about.


Later in 2010 I raced the pair with John at the u23 World Championships where we won South Africa’s First ever Gold at a Championship regatta.


When you were diagnosed with cancer how hard was it to focus, beat the disease and then get back to the sport?


I had to completely shift my focus. When I was diagnosed my life just completely turned on its head. I went from training one week to starting chemotherapy the next, it was crazy.


Rowing is an all-consuming sport, you really have to commit 100 per cent to it and I think what I did is turn the huge focus I had for rowing into beating the cancer. For the first time rowing had to get pushed to number two, now there was something more important. I think that drive and hunger I have as a sportsman really helped me deal with the treatment.


Coming back to rowing was incredible, for a long time I didn’t know if I would be able to row again (chemo is not the most healthy shit to put in your body) but when I got back in the boat for the first time since my diagnosis after 6 months of treatment it was such a great feeling.


I was fat and so unfit but I was back to chasing my dream.



Lawrence Brittain

Lawrence Brittain represents South Africa in rowing, a privilege which runs in his family.

How did it then feel to win Silver at the 2016 Olympics and how hard did you have to work for that?


It is really hard to describe. I had dreamed about standing on the Olympic podium since I was little and it managed to outdo all that expectation. So it really was better than I could have ever imagined, it was just amazing, which makes me wonder how much better Gold would be, and that just makes me want to train even harder.


It is hard to explain to someone how hard we train and those months leading up to the Games were outrageous testing your body and pushing it to the limit nearly every day.


Rowing is a particularly painful sport. Some other sports or events might be harder but I have yet to find a sport that causes so much pain in such a short amount of time.


Lawrence Brittain

Lawrence fought cancer and has gone on to become an even bigger rowing force.


What have been some of your other biggest accomplishments in the sport?


My Olympic Silver is obviously my biggest as well as my u23 Gold.


I also have an u23 Silver and some rowing World Cup bronze medals. Earlier this year I won the Grand Challenge at the Buffalo Regatta (South Africa’s Most prestigious fours race) with my brothers. It was the first time four brothers have raced together and we managed to get our names on the trophy which was incredible.


I have also been South African Champion 14 times in various boat classes.


I also have eight wins for the University of Pretoria at South Africa’s University Boat Race.

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