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How a Namibian became a rower

Posted by Maike Diekmann | 20 Oct 2017

My interest in rowing only started in my third year of university at Rhodes University. I was asked to join the fun crew of our University for the Universities Boat Race that takes place every year in South Africa. I gave it a try and loved every moment of the race, even though all eight of us didn’t really know how to take a proper stroke. After winning the novice race, I got out the boat and my current coach came up to me to have a chat. He saw potential in me and thought I should give rowing a try. I joined the Rhodes Rowing Club for their annual January training camp and I got hooked to the sport.

I got my first taste of international racing only 10 months after I started rowing, I was representing Namibia for the first time in Tunisia at the African National Championships and 2016 Olympic Qualifier Regatta. All I remember from the days of racing is how nervous I was before my heat, the terrible weather did not make things easier. Rowing up to the start I remember paddling next to Micheen “Mouse” Thornycroft, who at that time qualified the scull for Zimbabwe for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I only met Mouse at that event for the first time, and she was already a big inspiration to me! Paddling next to me she chatted to me all relaxed and calm, and I could tell she was used to much bigger and more competitive events than this. I was stressed as the wind picked up and started blowing at an angle to the race course. All I could think of in that race was to stay in the boat and not fall in, which I did uncountable times at the beginning of the year. I managed to finish the race and ended up making the B-Final. At first I was very upset as to not making the A-Final, but a few minutes passed and after gathering my thoughts I realized that I had to be proud of myself as to how far I had come in only 10 months. It was so easy to forget that I was basically still a novice and had so much to learn, that it was only a start to my rowing career. The weather did not change for the finals and so we had to race in a pumping crosswind, it was so hard, so scary and yet I managed to win the B-Final therefore placing seventh in Africa in the women’s single scull. The experience I took home from that event was something that motivated me to keep on rowing and aiming for bigger goals.

In 2016, I had the biggest opportunity yet, I was selected to represent Namibia at the U-23 World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The preparation leading up to World Champs was the toughest, training was hard of course, but so was the mental part. Only two weeks before we left for Rotterdam, I was on a training camp which was held by the South African National Squad. Training with the top SA athletes was exciting but also intimidating, in these last two weeks I managed to have the biggest turn around with my rowing. For the first time I felt that I was actually ready to be competing at such an incredibly competitive event. U-23 was for the first time ever combined with the Senior and the Junior Championships, this made the event even more special. My first impressions were just “WOW!” I could not believe my eyes when I saw the trailers that had arrived over the week of training before the regatta, everyday more boats and athletes arrived at the race course. The event was so well run and the venue and its facilities were top standard. The best feeling by far was the fact that the Namibian flag was flying high amongst other big rowing nations, it was amazing knowing that I was representing Namibia as their only competitor. The nervous but exciting feeling that I got every time I lined up next to the other girls, the eerie silence just before the start, is something I wouldn’t forget in a long time. I walked away with a 22nd place, which would not look great to any outside, to me however it meant a lot more. I rowed my PB in those races, pushed my limits more than before, and walked away with a smile on my face and the determination to train harder in order to be back on the international rowing scene and deliver a better performance!
With me having graduated in April with my Honours in Geology, I have to start planning my next step, I have always loved studying and my future academic plan is to pursue a Master’s degree overseas. I do however have a shot at qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which would be the first time ever for Namibia to be represented in rowing at the Olympics. This seems so unreal and yet it’s a possibility, if I put in the hard work and receive the right support. At the moment it’s all about decisions and what my next few years will look like. I however know that I want to give rowing a try and who knows if all works out, I will make history being the first Namibian rower to compete at the Olympics!

The amazing opportunity to be part of the 2018 Kafue Expedition could not have come at a better time for me. I see this expedition as the ideal break and change of routine that will provide me with everything I need in order to clear my mind and make the right decisions. I am looking forward to meeting a bunch of new, determined and like-minded people on this trip. It is very exciting that we will be taking part in such an important project, raising awareness about some of the biggest issues that Africa is facing. Conservation and poaching has always been close to my heart, I am a nature lover and being born and raised on a farm in Africa provided me with the best life I could have asked for. I feel privileged to contribute to the awareness of conservation of our incredible wildlife and its environment; as well as to the awareness of the clean water issue in Zambia. I am looking forward to meeting up with the active conservationist in Zambia along the Kafue River and discussing important issues, learning from them and getting a better picture of what is going on regarding the conservation issue.

This is definitely a once-in-a-life time opportunity, as I get to go on an adventure in a country I have never been to, while rowing in a boat with people that come from different backgrounds than me. We will be promoting rowing in Zambia and hopefully teaching some of the local kids and developing rowing coaching in Zambia. This expedition will provide us with so much more than we realize. Helping a community, learning new skills, and pushing the physical and mental limits, reconnecting to nature, broadening our horizon, expanding our social circle, doing something good, while having a fantastic time. I hope to be an asset to the team on this expedition and I am positive that we will make a difference with this project, and encourage others to do something good for the wildlife and people of Zambia!

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