A ROAD LESS TRAVELLED 03:
James Fox, Olympian
"My biggest strength in getting back to full fitness and winning on the world stage again was the ability to stay logical, set small goals and stick to them. I'm just a normal bloke, but making a plan and sticking to it made me an Olympian."
Olympians are a rare breed. We watch them from a distance as they compete for metal but rarely get a truthful insight into the grit behind their victories. Five-time World Champion and double Paralympic gold medallist, our good friend James Fox spent 18 years relentlessly racing the tide in search of gold, and found a fair bit of it.
What do you think are the biggest lessons you learnt from life as an Olympian?
The biggest lesson I have learnt from being and Olympian is how to work incredibly hard but, with that, how to look after your body in order to allow it to keep up the grind day after day. It's taken a long time to learn my body but it really does make the big training load more of a process and less a chore. Lots of things come into that, mainly nutrition and getting enough rest but sometimes small things can make a difference. For example a fabric conditioner that makes your kit smell nice always makes those really miserable sessions just a little bit more pleasant.
What are the best and worst things about being a professional athlete?
The best thing about being a professional athlete is standing on top of the podium at the end of the year knowing you have achieved everything you wanted. The worst thing is what it takes to get there, I haven't had a proper weekend since I was 11 years old.
What does excellence look like for you and how do you find balance in your life?
Balance is incredibly important to anybody that wants to perform at a high level, it isn't sustainable otherwise. I have always sought to have a social life alongside rowing as much as possible and have encouraged my team to do so too. True excellence isn't just winning one race but maintaining form for several years and to do that you have to enjoy it, people burn out if they don't.
We put you in a 112 year old rowing boat which probably felt quite different to racing today. How do you anticipate rowing as a sport with evolve in the coming years?
The old boats have a charm for sure, but a lot has changed since then - rowing against the tide up the centre of the thames in your boat nearly bloody killed me! Rowing is bound to change a lot in the next few years too; we have always raced on flat water lakes but coastal rowing is starting to take off now. I raced on the sea in Portugal last year and it was great fun! I wouldn't be surprised if that's the next big thing, ironically back in boats more similar to the 112 year old beast you put me in!
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Never say no. Give everything a go, take every experience offered to you. It's a brilliant way to open your eyes, become well rounded and get better at what you want to be good at! And if you didn't like it, you don't have to do it again.
What is your go-to song to get you in the pre-race mindset?
I'm big in to heavy music before racing. Fat Of The Land by The Prodigy is my favourite album, anything from that will get me up for a tussle. Generally I'm a pretty chilled competitor, lots of deep breaths on the start line etc, but something needs to wake you up and get you ready to put yourself in a hole physically.
You’re 5x World Champion and a double Paralympic medalist. Describe the finish line / podium feeling to us non-athletes…
That's a funny question because I don't remember some of the key moments in my career. I remember the medal podium from Rio but none of the race and I remember the whole race from Tokyo but not the medal podium. I have no idea why, maybe the nerves or the exhaustion, but I wish I did remember it all. It would make a lot better of a story for the grandkids! The overwhelming emotion when we crossed the finish line in first place in Rio was relief that we hadn't messed it up followed by complete elation. I was so happy, it was all I had wanted since I was splashing about on the river as a kid.
As a brand we champion those who pursue a road less travelled. Your goal of becoming an Olympic champion is not an easy one and certainly not one experienced by many. What do you think it is that drove you forward?
You're absolutely right, I've taken some twists and turns in my career. In 2010 I fractured my spine in a car crash which almost took me out of the sport for good and in 2017 I had a reconstructive surgery on my hip. Two pretty tough times in my life but they have taught me a lot. In times like that I feel it's ok to have emotion but not be emotional; my biggest strength in getting back to full fitness and winning on the world stage again was the ability to stay logical, set small goals and stick to them. Getting out of bed and stretching could have been one at a real low point but the key is that they're achievable. I'm just a normal bloke, but making a plan and sticking to it made me an Olympian.