What motivates you? Tom Hutchinson’s story
Behind every athlete is a story; I’m keen to share mine today. You may ask why this is important, but when I was asked what motivates me, I believe that my past experiences are the single most important factor.
My sporting background was rowing, I started when I was 13 through a recommendation from a friend at school. It was a steep learning curve and a brutal sport, with nowhere to hide and an unequivocal balance of power and precision. I very quickly became hooked and over the next few years improved hugely, which let to me being recruited by our club’s senior squad when I was only 16 years of age.
As time went on, my aspirations grew to representing Great Britain at the Under 23 World Championship in the lightweight category. The only real prospect of doing so, was to go to university and row at Newcastle University Boat Club (the top rowing university in the country). The rowing training was based on the Italian Olympic rowing programme, quite frankly I can’t begin to conceptualise how tough it was. It was a known fact, that if you turned up to training consistently and didn’t quit, you’d at the very least have earned the respect from the Italian head coach and be a winner in his eyes. With the support of fellow teammates this taught me how to train hard.
My first year of training and racing with the university was going great, as part of the lightweight squad we’d got plenty of great results and I was far surpassing my expectations during fitness tests. I enrolled in the Great Britain trials programme, hoping to gain some experience before giving it a proper go the following season. However, I surprised myself by passing through the first two stages to get an invite to final trials, where the boats and athletes would be selected for worlds. This is when things started to go downhill for me, niggles started in my lower back which hindered training and my performances. It is noteworthy that to get down to race weight, I also had to hit some pretty serious calorie deficits which resulted in a lot of muscle loss around my core and back, which I believe was a contributing factor. Unfortunately, I didn’t get selected for the U23 GB team but pushed through the final few races of the season, racing at Henley Royal Regatta and with my final race being the European Universities Championships in Croatia, after our boat won the British University Championships earlier that year. We won the silver medal (picture below) which would mark my last ever rowing race…
My back deteriorated and I had to take some time away from training completely. I tried to return to the sport on many occasions with no luck. I got an MRI, which showed that I had bulged a disc in my back, which explained the sciatica I was experiencing down my leg! I was told that it was unlikely that I’d be able to row anymore, which took me a while to comprehend. Quite honestly, I didn’t feel myself. I tried various treatments over the preceding year and a half, with the chiropractor and a rigorous strength and conditioning programme obtaining the best results. I still do sometimes get issues with my back but now have the knowledge and ability to manage them a lot better.
I still reflect on my rowing days; I have a lot to be thankful for during this period and met some truly inspirational people who dedicated a lot of time and effort into me. Moreover, in those dark periods, I learnt a lot about myself and my body and believe I became a more rounded athlete as a result; namely the ability to step back and look after my body and put in the work to maintain overall body wellness.
As one door closes and another one opens: Naturally because cycling was used as cross-training for rowing, I started to get out on my bike as things got better. A couple of years had passed since my injury and while speaking to a friend he recommended I go try out my local 10-mile Time Trial, he thought I might like it - well, he was correct! Let me tell you, in those 25 minutes that passed (road bike), I had forgotten about all the troubles of the last two years and felt energised once again. I very quickly saw this as something else to work towards.
With the similarities between rowing and time trialling (e.g. my developed ability to pace hard efforts), without any support, I very quickly invested heavily into the sport in a last ditch effort to prove something to myself; that I still had it in me. Cycling and Team Bottrill has given me a second chance to be the best I can be. That alone is all the motivation I need.
Reflecting on the history that got me to where I am today, I enjoy the process and train with clear purpose irrespective of thinking about the end goal, racing or chasing podium places. This was something that became particularly apparent during the months when there were lockdowns. Instead of allowing all the uncertainty around whether any racing would go ahead to influence training in a negative way, I found myself completing some of the most consistent training blocks I’ve ever done. I believe motivation is embedded in all of us, we may just need help to identify and nurture it.
My finally thoughts are that coaching, and structure are also critical elements that contribute to managing my motivation during training. The ability to ‘leave it to the professionals’, reduce the variables and trust in the process, means that irrespective of where you’re at or where you’ve come from, all you need to worry about is ticking off the sessions and looking after your body. Logging into Training Peaks and seeing positive comments about how the session was executed is always in the back of my mind when conducting the prescribed sessions. Similarly, that developed relationship between the coach and athlete, builds trust and an understanding of each other for when those sessions don’t go to plan, or when you’re hit with adversity. For me, this is something I believe we have developed very quickly during my time as a coached athlete.