British rower Debbie Flood, already a two-time Olympic silver medalist, discovered her skill for rowing nearly on accident. She began her athletic career in judo, transitioning to rowing as a teenager when someone at the gym where she was working out noticed her talent on the rowing machine.
“I was always sporty and used to do a lot of running. I started doing judo and got into the junior judo squad when I was 16. I was still doing a lot of running, often with my dad,” says Flood. “When he injured his knee and couldn't run, someone suggested that I use the rowing machine in the gym to keep up my fitness. Then one day someone said, ‘you're doing good times; why don't you give rowing a try?’”
There was not a strong rowing program in the area where Flood was living at the time, so she traveled to London.
“I went to London on two sculling courses and found them fun and the people very friendly. So I changed from judo to rowing,” she recalls.
In just over a year Flood was winning the junior trials and earned bronze at the Junior World Championships.
In pursuit of gold
In addition to her three World Championships, Flood has experienced success in two Olympics. The first came at Athens in 2004 when Great Britain’s quadruple sculls team earned the silver medal. Flood remembers how her extensive training efforts created high expectations going into the race.
“That I had been rowing for seven years to get to the Olympics put a lot more pressure on me, particularly as there would not be another one for four years. It is a little bizarre to think of training so much, effectively for one race,” she says.
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the team brought home silver for the second time. Despite the great achievement of winning another Olympic medal, at the time it seemed a devastating disappointment. The British team maintained a solid lead throughout the contest, seeming on the brink of gold, only to be defeated as the Chinese team pulled ahead at the finish.
Following the 2008 Games, Flood took a year off from training to qualify as a prison officer. Inspired by her experiences visiting schools and speaking to students following the 2004 Olympics, she discovered a passion for working with children and began mentoring students who had fallen behind in academics. Eventually this grew into a desire to work at a young offenders’ institution.
Flood’s time away from training doesn’t appear to have diminished her success on the water. She came away from the 2011 World Cup Series with gold and bronze medals and is poised to help her team capture the gold medal that has eluded them in previous Olympiads.
“My real identity is not in my successes.”
Flood is quick to speak of how her Christian faith has helped her remain grounded throughout the ups and downs of her career.
“I am disappointed when I do not do as well as I wanted to. I want to win. I am very competitive, but I also know that my real identity is not in my successes; it is in my life with Christ and how I live,” she shares.
Accordingly, Flood feels that rowing is as much part of God’s plan for her Christian life as church.
“God is interested in every single person and in everything we do. I really believe that God has put me in rowing to be a witness for him. There are not many Christians in rowing,” she says. “If there are no Christians in the rowing team, how are the others going to find out about God? God has given me the gift of being able to row, and I want to use that ability as best I can.”
As she strives for the gold at the London Games, Flood is confident, knowing that she already possesses something that is worth more to her than the gold.
“Jesus is more important than a gold medal, because a gold medal is temporary. Gold medals will be forgotten about, and I won’t be taking [my medal] with me when I pass away,” she continues. “In the light of eternity, Jesus surpasses everything else, and I feel that gives me a wider perspective when I train and race.”
Stuart Weir of Verite Sports contributed to this story.