Meet the Team: Melissa Wilson

GB Rowing Team sculler Melissa Wilson answers this week’s questions


(c) Nick Middleton

Sculler Melissa Wilson put in an electrifying performance at the 2019 World Rowing Championships, where her crew secured a women’s quadruple sculls berth at the Olympics for GB for the first time since 2012. We caught up with her about school sport, Olympic postponement and Normal People…

Melissa Wilson. Credit Nick MiddletonWhat do you love most about rowing?

A combination of:
1) the freedom I can feel on the water
2) the opportunity to explore what my body and mind can do
3) the strong bonds that can be created going through great and tough experiences with team-mates.

I wouldn’t be able to pick one.

When did you first start?

In 2011, when I began at university in Cambridge. Each college has a boat club, and they all hold barbecues for the freshers – I got drawn in then.

How did you get into rowing for GB?

After a year of rowing for my college, I trialled for the university and rowed in the Boat Race. The head coach, Rob Baker, was really supportive of athletes trialling for the national team, so the next autumn he took several of us up to Boston for the trials there. I raced in the Under-23 team the following two summers, before progressing into the senior team in 2016/2017.

What’s the best thing about being part of the GB team?

Being in an environment that encourages you to become the best version of yourself.

What’s the biggest challenge?

At times not feeling much freedom to give time and energy to other things you care about.

What are your career highlights?

Winning the Boat Race in 2017, then coming 4th in a pair with my best friend Holly at that summer’s World Championships.

Qualifying the Women’s Quad for the Tokyo Olympics last summer.

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

I used to try very hard to avoid sport at school – I lacked co-ordination and wasn’t very confident – so it often seems surreal that I am part of a national team! I wish I’d known how broad a range of strengths can be accommodated by different sports, and known to try other sports, because getting to university and being part of close teams has been such a wonderful experience since then.

How did you react to the Olympic postponement?

I found it really hard. I’d felt like I was in the last 250m of a 2km race – the Olympic team had almost been selected, I just needed to keep my head down and bring the most I could to my crew over the coming months. To have that target pushed back felt like someone coming up in that last 250m and announcing that I had another 3km to go! I’d been very focussed on Final Trials and the testing that followed, so I hadn’t been engaged with the signs that postponement was on the cards.

How are you finding training in lockdown?

Actually really positive! I’m very lucky because I’m in isolation with my team-mate Holly, so I have a great friend to train with and share motivation with, who also understands the ups and downs of this period. I have also loved having more flexibility in my day – cycling more, going on walks, incorporating yoga. And lockdown has given me the opportunity to really think about why I’m doing what I’m doing, and connect with what I love about it.

Other than training, how else have you been spending your time during lockdown?

I’ve starting to do some legal work that I had hoped to get involved in after the summer. It’s a mixture of research about environmental law and COVID-related issues. I’ve been watching ‘Normal People’ on iPlayer, and National Theatre Live productions that are being streamed on YouTube. I’ve also been reading more – currently I’m reading a really amusing novel called ’44 Scotland Street’ which is set in Edinburgh, where I grew up.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a rower?

I feel very lucky to be involved with some legal projects, because if I wasn’t a rower that is what I’d be hoping to do full time. But, to be honest, I hope my days would look very similar to how they do now – though I’d have less excuse to spend as much time on my bike! I’m finding that lockdown has given me time to reconnect with what I really love doing, and the mental space to do it.

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