03:18PM, Tuesday 14 December 2021
Helen Glover and Polly Swann, who finished fourth in the women’s pair final. Credit: British Rowing.
Cookham's Helen Glover has been awarded the Spirit of High Performance award from UK Sport after becoming the first mother to row for Great Britain at an Olympics.
The 35-year-old took a four-year break from rowing after winning gold in the women's pair alongside Heather Stanning at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
During that time, she had three children, including twins, and only made the decision to return to competitive rowing a little over a year before the delayed Tokyo Games eventually got underway.
Given the constraints of her time away from the sport, and the difficulties of juggling training with family life, it was an daunting challenge but, not only did she make it onto the Olympic team, she also finished fourth in the women's pairs final alongside Polly Swann.
Chasing further Olympic glory Glover and Swann - who herself was working in a hospital just a year before the Games - were narrowly edged out of medal contention by winners New Zealand, the Russian Olympic Committee and Canada in third.
The Cookham athletes said afterwards she couldn't have been prouder of their achievements and hoped she'd been an inspiration to her own children, Logan, Kit and Bob, and others.
Glover tweeted this week: “Absolutely blow away to receive the UK Sport Spirit of High Performance Sport award.
“So proud to represent parents. women and anyone who is told they can't do something. Plus, the whole team behind me.”
Reflecting on the tenacity and spirit she showed to get back to the top of her sport in just 12 months, Robin Williams, GB Rowing's head of performance, said: “We did a couple of sessions, and she confessed her ambition to come back and said, ‘I am mad, is this unrealistic?’
“If you’ve got the appetite and you want to do it, you’re good enough, but don’t underestimate how tough it will be.
“I hope we’ll find other female athletes have longer careers as a result, but also achieve the things in life they want to achieve.”
Jamie Harris, Glover's lead coach added: “Putting a mother on the start line in a rowing boat, is something that hasn’t been done before at the Olympic level.
“So, we had to learn, and learn quickly given the time frame we had.
“Relentless would probably be a good word for her in terms of her pursuit of perfection, whether that’s in rowing or in her family life.
“She was massively impressive rowing a time she’s never rowed before, going faster than she’s ever gone before, being physically better than she’s been before, just hugely, hugely impressive.”
Her indefatigable will to break boundaries and compete at her third Olympics after such a long break has inspired others both inside and outside of the sport.
Her physiotherapist, Liz Arnold, said: “She wanted to come back and be exactly the same person that she was when she originally left us. But what she discovered very quickly is she wasn’t that person. We talked about, you know, ‘super mum’, but she had all these other superhuman strengths that came with it.
Nicole Chase, her strength and conditioning coach, added: “The rest of the team look up to her in terms of what she’s achieved. She’s seen as the definition of high performance.”
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