A Post-Race Reward Better Than Gold

Mahe Drysdale and his Two Biggest Fans

L to R, Boston, Mahe and Bronte Drysdale (Photos by Samantha Barry)

By Samantha Barry – Posted on October 21, 2018

After hearing cheers from the crowd all the way up the race course during Saturday’s Men’s Championship Singles race, Mahé Drysdale docked at the Cambridge Boat Club and was greeted with cheers and smiles from his two biggest fans–his kids, Brontë and Boston. Drysdale may have finished fifth in yesterday’s race, but to Bronte and Boston, their dad is always a winner.

Drysdale has been rowing in the Head of the Charles for more than a decade and has continually come back because of his love for the sport, and for Boston. This year was the first time his kids made the trip to watch him compete. This is a momentous family occasion, for it marks his son, Boston’s, first visit to the city he is named after. Although Drysdale said the kids originally had some trouble getting used to the time zone, on the day of the race they could be seen running around the boat club itching to spend some quality time with their dad.

It’s one thing to win an Olympic gold medal, but it’s another thing to be a parent and continue to compete. “I think it changes your priorities. I’ve had a couple years off now to be at home with my family and I think rowing has been easier with kids,” said Drysdale. “You know there are nights where you don’t get much sleep, but then there are days when it’s just really nice to come home, forget about everything that’s happened during the day and just spend time with your kids.”

Always a favorite to win whenever he takes to the water, the reigning Olympic gold medalist was philosophical about his fifth-place finish. Drysdale last rowed singles in July—he rowed in the New Zealand quad at the World Championships—took four weeks off after the worlds, and although he said he was happy with his performance on Saturday, he felt a bit rusty getting back into the boat.

“The international rowers are generally all just coming off a break so they’re a little bit underdone,” said Drysdale. “You have to remind the body what sort of pain you have to put yourself through and it never gets easier whether you’re fit or not, but this event is a great way to get back into the season.”

He added that being a parent gives him a new appreciation for rowing and helps him recognize the privilege he has to have a job doing something that he loves. That being said, he understands that his time as an elite competitive rower is nearing its end.

He turns 40 next month, and believes the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will be the last games that he competes in. “For the next two years, I’m focusing on the singles for 2020,” said Drysdale. “No matter what the result is there though, I’m already starting to push my body beyond its limits and I don’t see myself being there again at 46 years old.”

Drysdale is determined to make the sole singles spot on the New Zealand team for the Tokyo Olympics to defend his gold medal. He knows winning Olympic gold medal at the age of 42 is almost unheard of. But he feels no looming pressure on him to go out with a bang.

“Once I won the Olympic gold in London that really took the pressure off,” said Drysdale, who had already won bronze in Beijing and five world championships in the single. “That was what I wanted to do and while I’m still very much focused on winning, I knew I’d done it once,” he said. “I’m doing it now because I love it and that makes it very easy to get out of bed and train every day because you do feel a sense of privilege. You know that it’s only a finite period and then you’ve got to go and find a real job.”

This year’s Head of the Charles marks the beginning of the last leg of Drysdale’s international rowing career. While he will probably never hang up his oars for good, he has built a legacy granting career that will forever keep his rowing spirit alive.  For him, this means continuing to push the limits of his body to new extremes. “Rowing is a sport that just keeps giving back and you know I just love the experience and I will always love trying to push myself to a place that no one has really been before,” said Drysdale.