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From the Tay to Australia: Coaching with Gippsland Grammar

Alumni Eleanor Brinkhoff (middle right) competing in Australia

As the end of final year loomed and fellow 4th years were scrambling to find post grad schemes, jobs and masters I realised that whilst I didn’t have any plans for after graduation, I knew that I wasn’t too keen on entering the real world just yet. A gap year job coaching rowing 10,000 miles away seemed like an ideal way to prolong freedom and the perfect chance to recharge after 4 years of university. Fast-forward 4 months; I had a degree under my belt and whilst walking down the Henley-on-Themes tow path I got the call to say I had the job! After a quick month of goodbyes and celebrations, I boarded a flight destined for Melbourne - 40 jet lagged hours later I arrived in Sale, my home for the next year.

The first couple of weeks passed in a delirious blur as the new arcadian rhythm set in as well as getting stuck into coaching 18 sessions per week. I have to admit that I found this aspect daunting at first. Although I had been part of the coaching team at Dundee this had never involved more than a few sessions per week between our stretch of water on the River Tay and the university’s gym. Halfway across the world, I now found myself set to spend a large proportion of my day in a tinnie or gym, critiquing technique and ultimately trying to make these school students row faster. However due to the all-encompassing nature of the job, as well as having the support of my fellow coaches, the learning curve was steep but I grew in confidence with each day.

We quickly settled into the weekly routine of a day’s coaching and for the first time since I can remember, being able to enjoy our evenings and weekends without a sense of guilt for not studying or being in the library. Our days off allowed us to explore the local area and beyond, with trips to local beaches and rainforests. Also, I got to venture to Melbourne for a weekend away and a road trip up to Sydney to collect a new boat but not before seeing the iconic sights of Australia’s biggest city.

These weekends discovering new places were juxtaposed with head races and a chance for the coaching and training to be put into practice. The freezing cold ice topped banks of the Caledonian canal and Clyde were swapped for the much warmer Yarra and Maribrynong rivers, with our squads starting to pick up wins in various categories, as well as the coaches both competing and collecting their own silverware. The job not only allowed us to spend our days surrounded by rowing but to experience other aspects that the school had to offer including their extensive outdoor education programme. As part of a school camp, we spent a week in Mount Arapiles rock climbing in which I learned a new skill and got to see plenty of kangaroos.

With the end of the school year approaching (in Australia this is December) marking the midpoint of the season, I had reached the halfway point of my gap year and was able to spend a well-deserved summer holiday in New Zealand seeing family, jumping out of a plane (with a parachute) and road tripping around the east coast. Whilst I was away, Australia was undergoing one of their worst Bushfire seasons on record with a severe detrimental impact to the country and the local area. This unfortunately meant the annual training camp was held in Sale rather than going away however it was still a great week to jump right in where we had left off the previous year.

The first months of 2020 saw many more early mornings and tough sessions but this clearly paid off as we watched our squads develop further and contend with some of the top private schools in Melbourne who have far greater resources than us. To watch our athletes pip these to the podium was a fantastic feeling which reminded me of my Dundee days competing against some of the longer established clubs in the competitive landscape. Medals are not won thanks to the best equipment and a fancy boatshed but through a positive yet determined attitude, alongside pushing yourself at every single opportunity in both training and competition.

Whilst the kids were racking up more wins, I was able to continue training around their schedule, finding myself with an extra blade and racing predominantly in the double whenever the opportunity arose. It was great to still be able to have a training focus but with any external pressure removed along with seeing most racecourses from the water as well as the shoreline. With the season ramping up the last big regattas were finally in sight; Head of the Schoolgirls (the largest female only regatta in the southern hemisphere) and Nationals. Unfortunately this coincided with a global pandemic resulting in these final events being cancelled. This was a huge blow to not only the students but the coaches too as we wouldn’t get the opportunity to watch our athletes, who we had worked so hard with all year, perform on the highest stage in Australia.

Despite this final setback, I managed to have an incredible year overseas. It was fantastic to be immersed in the sport I love whilst learning and developing more than I ever could have imagined as a coach and a person. I have met so many incredible people from Australia and developed life-long friendships in the process. To live in a foreign country and discover new places has been an amazing experience, despite the deadly snakes, and something I would recommend to everyone.


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