Lola Anderson cemented her credentials as one of Britain’s most promising rowers with a demolition display at GB trials this month, after a trophy-laden 2021.
Anderson’s performance, posting the fastest time in the women’s single sculls 5km by almost 20 seconds, is the icing on a calendar year which also saw her scoop solo wins at Henley Royal and the Wingfield Sculls.
These impressive victories followed a first senior call up in June to represent Great Britain at the World Cup III in Sabaudia, Italy where she took bronze as part of a new ‘Project Paris’ squad.
The 23-year-old from Richmond has battled against adversity to reach this point, tragically losing her father in December 2019 and suffering a lower back injury that kept her off the water for more than six months last season.
Anderson admits she was initially put off rowing listening to her father and older sister discuss the sport at length at the dinner table, but quickly grew to relish the challenge when it was offered at Surbiton High School.
She said: “To begin with, I would capsize multiple times every session and he’d always pick me up sopping wet in my third change of kit.
“He was sat there thinking ‘How has she managed to get through all her dry clothes?’
“He would be the one in the car talking me through it saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t give up, it takes a lot of time and everyone develops at different speeds.’”
It would take years for Anderson to stop capsizing, but success was on its way as she first won a silver and then a gold medal in the Junior and Under-23 World Championships respectively.
Both achievements were part of a women’s quad boat, but since her return from injury in late spring this year all her major successes have come in a single.
The Leander Club rower notes she feels a greater emotional satisfaction racing solo, despite the added pressure.
She said: “Whenever I was racing in my single my dad would give me little pep talks before and after races to give me feedback and help me build my confidence, and so when I’m in the single I do feel a little bit closer to him.
“But the nerves I’ve had in my single for the racing have been a lot worse than what they’ve been in previous years.
“If you mess up and you’re in a single, you have to trust that you will be mentally tough enough to fix it.”
And her win in the prestigious Princess Royal Challenge Cup at Henley in August wasn’t without its difficulties when one of her contact lenses blew out, prior to 19-year-old Lauren Henry mounting a late fightback.
She said: “I was just off the start and I must have been really quite stressed out. I wasn’t blinking, it was a windy day, and I lost my contact lens.
“I haven’t been able to watch the race back yet. I think it would stress me out too much because I’m aware that it was really tight at the finish.
“I was watching her coming up behind me, but I didn’t have that much left in me to respond and in my head I thought: ‘I’ve got space, I’ve got time.’
“And then it was about two strokes before the finish line and actually I didn’t know if I did have space or if I did have time.”
Thankfully, November’s open trials in Boston, Lincolnshire were less nerve-wracking for Anderson, who has been training at GB’s national rowing centre in Caversham on a trial basis since September.
However, a tougher challenge is just around the corner, with invitation-only trials taking place at Caversham on 18 December offering Anderson a chance to test herself against returning Olympians.