An interview with Sam Courty: highs and lows, from race day to injury

Sam Courty has only been rowing since she started studying at the University of Bath, but after just two years on the water she has already won a silver medal at the U23 World Championships. Sam had the incredible start to her international career that most athletes dream about, including a second U23 worlds medal in 2016 and at her inaugural Senior World Championships debut she took a promising 7thplace in the four. Sam, now a National Lottery funded athlete, is currently recovering from injury and kindly took time to speak to AllMarkOne.

Sam may not be fit to race currently, but her ambition maintains unwavering with “an Olympic gold medal” her ultimate end goal- “I never thought about if I ‘could’ be a professional athlete it was more ‘when’ and in what sport”. Her career highlight so far was; “to be selected for my first Senior World Championships last year in Sarasota, especially as two other members of my old training group from Bath were also selected”. 



Although she is proud to be a Bath graduate, her favourite stretch of water is Varese- “It can provide a great lightning storm, but the water can be very thick there. If Bath didn’t have so many bends then it would be a harder decision because 99% of the time it is perfectly flat”. When asked if she could pick any international rower to row with she undoubtedly chose Hamish Bond, “because his dedication to the sport is unquestionable and the amount of thought he gave to every small detail is fascinating”. 


Something that we can all relate to is the pain endured on the ergo, but Sam recommends that all clubs should install a “PB bell”. “We have recently added one and it’s a great way to acknowledge a teammate’s success. When someone PBs the bell gets rung and it’s just a bit of fun”. The road to a PB is tedious and can sometimes seem ever-lasting but, for anyone currently waiting on a break-through performance, Sam says, “Be patient. Progress is never a straight, upwards line… if it was, we would have achieved everything in a year! Keep working hard and trust your training, your time will come”.



Sam admits her worst ever session was “4x500m flat-out with 1min rest. It’s a good session to test your body’s tolerance to lactate which you need for racing.”  Something that often keeps us all going when we’re in the depths of muscle pain is music, Sam would love to have Calvin Harris or Sigala as the resident Caversham DJ but admits that she has “no idea what songs are played when I do a 2k”.


More and more mental preparation techniques are being used in sport. Sam would say, “Pre-race keep it simple. There is nothing you can change technically at this point so go over the racing calls one final time. Personally, I avoid focussing on the overall outcome as that can’t be achieved by getting the process right. Post-race I prefer chats to be later on after the race to allow time to reflect on the outcome and any immediate emotions to have settled. Say what needs to be said in the meeting to avoid you overthinking it later on. This is very important when racing over multiple days as you need to be able to switch off between races and not dwell on what could have happened.”



In the immediate after-math of a disappointing race, Courty explains, “Always remember, your crewmates will be feeling as disappointed as you, acknowledge the effort that everyone put in and analyse what went wrong later. The result is the result and there is nothing you can do about it. Be honest but be respectful”. Sam tells us that before a race there is nothing better to eat than a jaffa cake- “I doubt they offer much nutritional benefit to me but as a last -minute snack this is my go-to. They don’t make me sick and they taste great!” If all of us should be wearing one piece of kit Sam recommends a visor- “It does everything; it keeps the sun off your face, it stops the rain dripping down into your eyes and it helps keep your hair under control”.


Sam knows all-too-well what it’s like to be faced with injury and has even created a whatsapp group for the injured members of team GB to talk to each other, in what can-be the most challenging times of their career. “Injured athletes are very rarely looking for sympathy, so special treatment and over-the-top caring isn’t necessary. Ask if they’re ok and offer your services if they need you but don’t push yourself on them. Most importantly, just try to carry on as normal and be supportive”.



As for the coaches, Courty says, “I think coaches need to be able to see athletes as humans as well as athletes. Remove any pressures of deadlines to be fit again and allow them to fix properly and in their own time. One of the main causes of stress for the injured athletes is the perception that they are worthless and so they try to get back as soon as possible, sometimes too soon. A coach should provide the environment where the athlete can focus purely on their rehabilitation with as little stress as possible.”

Sam is a “very goal driven person” so sets goals for her rehab which helps with motivation and tracking of progress. She says those injured should, “work closely with their coach and physio so they can support you”. In terms of preventing injury, we should all look to, “stretch, warm-up and if something hurts put your hand up.  It’s a lot easier and quicker to treat something earlier rather than later. Also remember altering a couple of sessions is better than missing a week of training. Once the injury becomes too painful to train then you’re in trouble.” Possibly the most relatable side-effects of rowing are the somewhat painful blisters, Sam says keep them clean and she keeps her hands soft “by doing the washing up!”.

Read Sam's fantastic article covering mental health in sport with WeRow here. Physical and mental health are both so important at all stages of life but can be particularly sensitive amongst young people. Never be afraid to reach out for help- in its partnership with Sport England, the charity Mind is a fantastic resource. 

 Many thanks to Sam and our brilliant team member, Emily



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