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Tokyo 2020 Olympian Matilda Horn Talks to St Mary’s – Part 2

matilda horn in team gb outfit
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We recently caught up with alumna of Sports Rehabilitation at St Mary’s University, Twickenham Matilda Horn whilst she was on a pre-Olympic training camp with the Women’s Team GB Rowing Team in Italy.

We spoke to the Tokyo 2020 Olympian about preparing for the Games, her rowing career, her time at St Mary’s, and what is means to be a cox.

Missed part one? Read it now!

St Mary’s alumni have had a lot of rowing success in recent years and there are two other Simmies in the GB Rowing Crews with you, there’s Moe Sbihi MBE in the men’s eight and Karen Bennett in the women’s four. Do you ever find you have a special St Mary’s connection when you train together?

I remember on my Graduation Day, it was Moe that gave the graduation speech, so that was really strange! My partner's brother had rowed with Moe at London 2012, and then was also the spare rower also at Rio 2016, so they knew each other really well and they kept pushing me to have a photo with Moe when I didn't know him that well. So I’ve got this photo of me and Moe from 2015, and then I joined the team at the end of 2016, and now we see each other almost daily.

With Karen, she knows this now (but she didn't at the time!), but I always looked up to her because she was a year ahead of me at uni. I actually knew her a little bit before joining the rowing team, but she didn't know me then, and now we also interact daily. We raced together quite a lot in the eight, which has been really, really fun.

Matilda Horn far left, team gb rower centre, and Karen Bennett far right, rowing in eight boat
Image: Matilda (left) coxing for fellow Simmie Karen Bennett (right)

Karen rowed in the eight at Rio 2016, taking the Silver by just under a length to the winners America. Who do you think are your biggest competition in Tokyo?

In the past, it always would have been the Americans; they have always been the crew that stand out in the women’s eight, but over this Olympiad it hasn't been the case. Because of the covid situation in the last two years, we really have no idea how fast anyone is from outside Europe. We haven’t seen anyone race because they haven't been able to come over, so it's a complete unknown.

The only thing we know is earlier in the year Romania and China were fast. That could all change though, as they were racing at the final Olympic qualification regattas, and the risk for them is that they were competing at their best to secure qualification. So they've already kind of had to peak, and it's a really hard thing to do twice.

But ultimately, it's a complete unknown. Which is really bizarre! It’s something I’ve never experienced before as you always have two or three races leading into the World Championships to see the competition. But this year going into the Olympic Games we've had one race. I imagine anybody could be fast, which also means we could be the fastest!

I saw Sonny Bill Williams walk in, and then I had to leave to go training! I just thought, ‘oh my God what am I doing!!’

What was your favourite memory of studying at St Mary’s?

I remember one day where the All Blacks Rugby Team came in (and this is an example of where sometimes rowing can get in the way). I had to go rowing, and I saw all the All Blacks come into the rehab room. I saw Sonny Bill Williams walk in, and then I had to leave to go training! I just thought, ‘oh my God what am I doing!!’

I think that was probably one of my highlights. Just seeing how big some parts of St Mary’s are for sport. I think that it just cemented that, I was right there thinking – ‘look at all these people who are here where I study!’

The other thing I remember was when I went to watch the West London Varsity in my third year. I hadn't been able to go to the Varsity before because usually, we'd have a rowing event on the day.

I was really excited. It was away at Brunel that year, so we got on the bus and we went over. I remember arriving and everybody was singing songs and everybody getting into the spirit. One of my course mates Rachel was a rugby player who was injured so she was telling us about all the girls that were there, and she knew everything about them. I remember that being awesome and really cool to go and watch and to be part of it.

I remember being in the gym on the rowing machine, and Mo Farah would be on the cross trainer behind me, and I’d be thinking what is happening!! Then you’d have the All Blacks turning up, and you've got the England rugby team just down the road.

What was your highlight from your Sports Rehabilitation degree?

We went to the London Marathon, and we worked for the charity Scope. We had a full rehab setup there and did massages for people running for the charity. The thing that stood out to me were the first two women who came in to have their massages. They were a mother and daughter, and it was the mum’s first marathon. They came in and they were both absolutely beaming, and they were so excited they'd had the best time having run the London Marathon.

They had both run insane times and I couldn't believe it. I couldn't get my head around the fact that they were still walking and talking. The mum was looking at us and just smiling, she could barely talk, and her daughter was just twittering away saying how amazing it was how proud she was of her mum. I think we gave them a massage and we talked them through what they could do their speed up their recovery. It was my first experience of the London marathon as well, so it was a special day.

How did you find balancing your studies around your rowing? Did your academic team support you?

I was a sports scholar at St Mary’s, but I still found it really hard. Sports Rehab is not like the other courses at St Mary’s, you must attend at least 90% of your classes so that you can pass the course because it's so practical.

To me, that wasn't a problem because I absolutely loved my course. I absolutely loved being in there, I loved learning about the body, and I loved learning all the little tricks and the things that you could do to just manipulate an injury or just slightly progress the rehabilitation of an injury.

I think that was probably one of my highlights. Just seeing how big some parts of St Mary’s are for sport. I think that it just cemented that, I was right there thinking – ‘look at all these people who are here where I study!’

Whilst I was writing my dissertation, I was trialling for the Paralympic team, which was interesting timing. Connor Gissane was my supervisor, and I remember going to him and really panicking and saying, ‘I'm not going to get this finished’. He sat me down and helped me prioritise my work and gave me an extension to allow me to compete and get the work completed. I had never been so grateful for his help, it was amazing.

There was also Claire McLaughlin and Clare Gibson, they also were hugely, hugely helpful. They both were just really inspirational, and every single day would make sure I was on top of what I was doing. I had the approach that if I was at uni, I was focussed on doing my uni work, and if I was rowing, I was focused on my rowing. I just had to really compartmentalize those two things.

On top of that, every year we would go on a training camp with my rowing team, and I struggled a little bit financially, but I was given a sports scholarship every year. It was a thousand-pound sports scholarship towards my fees, which was immensely helpful from St Mary’s. St Mary’s were also incredibly helpful in helping pay for two of the training camps that I went on, it just made my life just so much easier.

I think, my biggest piece of advice would be, just use everybody around you because they really care and really enjoy it!

What advice would you have for someone joining St Mary’s this September?

Just enjoy it as much as you possibly can get the most out of every lecture you go to. Get the most out of the lecturers because they are so willing to help and they care so much about you. Also, just really enjoy the history that St Mary's holds, especially in the sporting side, which is obviously the side I experienced quite a lot.

I remember being in the gym on the rowing machine, and Mo Farah would be on the cross trainer behind me, and I’d be thinking what is happening!! Then you’d have the All Blacks turning up, and you've got the England rugby team just down the road. There is also so much history on campus. I think you should look at where you are and look at the buildings. The chapel building is just stunning.

I think, my biggest piece of advice would be, just use everybody around you because they really care and really enjoy it!

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