Videos: Silken Laumann, Rowing

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I started rowing with the women’s lightweight eight which I was about a foot taller than any of the other women, and it was sort of decided that I was not going to be a women’s lightweight rower, that I was probably going to be better in open class. And so they put me out in a single and I just loved it. So I was mostly in the single those first few years.

Right before the Olympics in 1992 I was broadsided by a men’s pair in Essen, Germany and it was completely you know unexpected obviously but also incredibly bad timing. I mean I was in the best shape of my life, I was the World Champion. I was preparing to what I believed to be the peak of my career which was hopefully winning a Gold medal at the ’92 Olympics which had been my dream for a long, long time. And then there I was in a hospital bed. I had, I shredded the muscle between sort of my knee and my ankle. I broke my ankle, I had a little bit of nerve damage, I just had massive muscle damage and skin damage. And the doctors of course said the Olympics are over, you know you’ve got a broken ankle, you’ve got huge amounts of muscle damage.

I just remember listening to the doctor telling me all this stuff about my injury, but then thinking yeah but he doesn’t know me, you know and he doesn’t, you know he’s talking about the injuries he’s not talking about me. You know I have this stationary bike on the bed beside mine and I would wheel up to the stationary bike and the pedals had been taken off the stationary bike and a set of handgrips had been put on. And I worked my upper body and my lungs for 90 minutes and there was just a sense of sort of it all being kind of magical, that, surreal I guess. And it was a race, you know oh my gosh there’s you know two weeks left and I’m still improving. I didn’t even tape it for the Olympics because I just kept improving all the way into you know racing that first race.

I got through my first race and I remember through the semi-final I was so nervous.  You know I couldn’t accept just being at the Olympics, and I’ve done my best and now I can relax a little bit. I was still putting huge amount of pressures on myself to have my best race and to be a competitor. I’m not actually quite sure where, what I drew from at that time. I mean maybe it was just that you know I’d been through so much already and to now find myself in fourth position and so close to winning a medal and I had nothing to lose. You know I had nothing to lose by going for it even more. And yeah and I just was able to lift my rate and I went really, really hard those last four hundred metres or so. And to the point of I really don’t remember, I don’t remember that whole last part of the race. And I didn’t even know how I’d finished when I crossed the finish line.

Becoming well known in sport and having done something that puts you into a league of all these other fine athletes that our country has, that has been part of our country for decades and decades, I mean it’s like, it’s a huge honour. These are things that I’ve accomplished in my past and I’m very proud of them, they are in the fabric of who I am as a human being, but I’m not going to stop here. You know the most richest and the most giving part of my life is still ahead of me.

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