- Written by Catherine Rees
Oonagh Cousins, 26, is a professional rower who joined Great Britain’s Rowing Team in 2019. A late comer to the world of professional sport, Oonagh first started rowing in 2014 whilst studying at the University of Cambridge.
But shortly after being selected by Team GB for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, in February 2020 she contracted Covid-19. Since March 2020, Oonagh has lived with the severe and debilitating effects of Long Covid and was unable to compete in the recent Olympic Games. She is currently planning her return to professional rowing and recently attended Switch The Play’s Bootcamp whilst taking time out of sport to recover.
It’s definitely been a difficult time for me. All my plans went out of the window, and I’ve had to use the skills I developed through sport to get me through.
“The hardest part was at the beginning of my illness; I couldn’t do much at all. You never expect to be ill for that amount of time. I kept thinking: I just need a few weeks then I’ll be better. But it's just been a long process of very slowly getting better over time and being able to do a little bit more each month, as my energy levels have allowed."
“I haven’t given up on rowing and have used the time to reflect on what’s important to me. I haven’t been able to exercise, so instead I've focused on my master’s degree studies, tutoring, and I also attended the Switch The Play (STP) Bootcamp.
“I started rowing quite late in my life, so becoming a professional rower has been a surprise in some ways. I’ve never seen myself as just a rower. I’ve always known that it’s important to have other stuff alongside it. But when I got into the GB team, it did become all consuming. It became harder to say: I need to do other things because you want to give it your all. And personally, I wouldn’t want to look back and say that I haven’t done everything I can to be the best rower I can be.
“But research shows that if an athlete has interests outside of their sport, it can make them happier and a better athlete. When I return to rowing, I will continue doing all these things as they’ve brought me a lot of happiness. And hopefully, I won’t feel guilty about it. I’ll know it’s making me the best person and athlete that I can be.
Having stuff outside of sport gives perspective. It enables me to ride those highs and lows and gives the resilience you inevitably need in sport - as no one has a smooth ride!
"Planning forward to your transition means that you won’t have all your eggs in one basket, and you see sport for what it is. You can still be fully 100% in, which I definitely am - I’m in this for the long haul! But I can see that there’s a life outside sport too. The STP Bootcamp helped me realise this.
“I really enjoyed the bootcamp. It came at a point in my life where I really appreciated it. It was so nice to meet athletes from other sports - I don’t normally have the time! It was good to talk to people who understood the emotions we all go through. We’re going to stay in touch too, so we have a support network.
The bootcamp also showed me how important it is to prepare for my transition out of sport when the time comes.
“In the last few months, I’ve turned a corner with my health and am back on the road to training. This year is going to be about getting back to full fitness and full time training, but I’m not sure how long that’s going to take. I’m aiming to compete in Paris in the 2024 Olympics. In the meantime, I’m doing a part-time master’s degree and some tutoring."
“One thing I would say to athletes who are looking to, or thinking about their transition out of sport, is to talk to people and reach out. There’s so much great advice and wisdom out there - and people really do want to help! It’s easy to think I’ll do it later but if you can find the time it’s worth it. It’s really comforting and reassuring to know that things will be OK.”