From Super Saturday to the Scotland 500 | Kat Copeland MBE
How did you get into rowing?
I was very ‘unsporty’ and overweight when I was younger. I remember coming second last in my year group at cross country and only being able to do 1 1/2 sit ups in fitness testing when I started secondary school. When I was 14, one of my friends wanted to try rowing but didn’t want to go on her own as she didn’t know anyone there. She asked me and I said no. She then asked and asked again- the sixth time I said ‘yes, but only for one session!’. I went to that one session and fell in love with the sport- I loved being outside and on the river- it felt like pure escapism and my first coach made it really fun for us.
Did you have a sporting hero/heroine growing up?
I have a few- my dad used to play a lot of rugby and loves going to the gym. His work ethic and consistency of training really inspires me. I look up to Fran Houghton, another GB rower, as I really value her insight and experience, and am inspired by how generous she is in sharing that with the people that she trains with in order to make the whole team better. I also feel really lucky having trained with the rowers that I have- every day they would inspire me to work hard and be a better teammate. I could always look around in the gym and use someone for inspiration to either push myself harder, row technically better, or communicate and act better to get more out of whatever crew I was in at the time.
What was the biggest challenge you faced with the sport?
Probably two- one was in 2010 when I’d left college to row full-time, but a year on I had struggled to make weight and had probably put in some of my worst performances that I’d ever done at national trials. It was two years out from 2012 and I had lost all my confidence and direction. The year that followed, I implemented changes in my programme and team and turned into a completely different athlete. I realised the importance of finding love and enjoyment of the sport in the day to day, and surrounded myself with people who made training fun and bolstered my confidence. The second was after a disappointing performance in Rio, I’d decided to carry on and returned back to the team to try and better what we’d done. Pretty shortly after starting back, I’d just picked myself up and was feeling really good, when I suffered several stress fractures in my ribs, then was diagnosed with overtraining, then my pairs partner suddenly retired. These were really hard blows to deal with one after the other when I had just started to feel like I’d just picked myself back up. I spoke to Fran and remember her saying that everyone takes a different path to the top- I feel like this was another pivotal moment for me and developed again as an athlete and a person. I learned to accept the reality of my situation and just re-route my training and mindset to make sure I still got to where I wanted to get to.
What attributes helped you reach the top of rowing?
The ability to get the best out of the people around me, being conscientious and committed to my goal in all areas of my life (e.g. recovery, nutrition, day-to-day training) and the ability to work my guts out- even when I didn’t want to.
How does it feel to look back on 2012 and realise your Olympic win started ‘Super Saturday?!
Even years on, it still feels quite surreal and almost like it wasn’t me that won. I feel very lucky that my Olympic experience coincided with a home games and I got to wear the GB vest alongside such amazing athletes. That really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Was 2012 your best memory in rowing?
Yes and no…! Yes, it was one of the best, obviously. The feeling when we crossed the line was indescribable, and I remember hugging Sophie and just having those few private, special moments before it all went crazy appreciating everything we’d gone through together to achieve that result. For me though, I equally loved the quieter moments in sport that no-one really sees- mornings when I’d pull up to Tees rowing club (my home club in the north-east) or Varese rowing club, Italy, where we’d go on camp a lot- two of my favourite places in the world- and the water would be flat and slightly misty, the sun would be rising, and it would just be me in my single, out on the water and it was completely quiet- those were equally some of my favourite memories.
How does British rowing look as the team heads to Tokyo?
We have a lot of new, young talent this Olympiad and a really inspirational, exciting new set-up in leadership so I can’t wait to cheer my friends on and watch them race. I think it will probably be more nerve-wracking watching than competing!
Are you still involved in sport since retiring?
Yes, I love the sport and feel strongly about all the things rowing, and sport in general, can teach people about themselves and life. I coach part-time and also act as a mentor to younger athletes in the sport. I like the combination of staying involved but also branching out and seeing what the wider world looks like outside of rowing in my other roles!
What’s the best thing you’ve done since retiring?
That’s a hard one! Being able to explore different interests and parts of my personality outside of being in elite sport has been really transformational for me and a massive learning curve. Some of my favourite things have been cycling the Scotland 500 with my dad (so beautiful but one of the most savage things I’ve done with the weather in the highlands!); training up to teach yoga and starting my own yoga business- and in less than a year working with companies like Halifax and Purplebricks; graduating from University and learning to ski (badly!). It’s also just really nice having more time to spend with people now and having the energy to put into relationships with people that I really care about.
What next for Kat Copeland MBE?
I’m still figuring it out! In 2020 though my plan at the minute is to continue working, but also spend some time doing things just because I enjoy them- I’m going to travel more- at the minute I am going to South Africa, South America and Canada, and also another cycling challenge around Portugal with my dad in March…. and probably the biggest thing for me personally is that I’m getting married in September!