MELISSA WILSON started rowing at university as a way to keep fit and enjoy the outdoors. At the time she had no idea this would lead her to representing Great Britain and travel the world to pursue the sport.
Here Melissa talks to us about winning silver at the World Under-23 Championships as well as some of her other career highlights to date. Read on to find out how she balances training with study and work as well as what she has lined up for the year ahead.
When did you start rowing and who inspired you to give the sport a go?
I started rowing in my first week at university – the club held a barbecue and I just went along with friends. I’d thought about trying rowing before I got to the uni, as a way to be outside, but got sucked into it much more than I expected because of the kindness and motivation of the other students in the club.
Tell us about what it’s been like rowing at university and of some of the success you have had?
After my first year I moved from training with a college club to the university team, which meant doing twelve sessions a week and getting up at 5.15am to get a train through to row on the river in Ely. I’ve absolutely loved it – before rowing I’d never been part of a proper team, and coming together in order to row the Boat Race is a very special experience.
I rowed in the Boat Race in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 2015 was the first time that the women’s clubs raced on the same day and the same stretch of water as the men. There were 4.8 million viewers, which at the time I had to just try to block out!
How hard has it been training and competing alongside studying for your degree?
Some points have been tougher than others – one that stands out was when we were away racing at a regatta in Germany the weekend before my Finals. I knew that all my friends were bedded down in the libraries back in Cambridge, and ended up taking some massive mind-maps in my suitcase to stick up in our accommodation. Most of the time though you just get swept along with the other people around you in the rowing team, who are balancing the same pressures. I actually returned to studying this year, partly because I think I operate best when I have something else to focus on other than my sport. Otherwise, for me, there’s a risk of overthinking things.
When did you first get selected to represent Great Britain and how did that feel?
After my first year training with the university my coach helped me to trial in the GB set-up. I won silver in the GB eight at the World Under-23 Championships that summer (2014), before winning bronze in a four the year after.
That first year, I really couldn’t believe it once the final trials had happened and we were heading to Italy. I was convinced that something would go wrong and that I’d pick up an injury, or get ill, or be replaced by someone else. But once the racing began it was absolutely amazing.
What have been some of the highlights of representing your country?
Last year I took a year out of studying, and trained with the GB Senior Team from January through till the summer. It was amazing to train alongside those athletes, who have so much experience and professionalism and were preparing for their Olympic Games.
How far do you feel you can go in the sport and what is next in terms of competitions and other life projects and goals?
I’m back at university, training for a fourth Boat Race and studying law – which I love. My big hope is to end up practicing as a barrister, so there’s quite a lot of work ahead!
After this course, I hope to return to training full-time with the British team and go through till the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.