Axel Dickinson’s Blog

Limiting Factors

This blog is good therapy for me. I know this blog tends to have a different tone to the others with me talking about my experiences and stuff that I went through in my journey rather than anything directly helpful to you improving your 2k time etc. I hope some of you can take something or relate to this story in someway perhaps shedding light on things you had already believed.

I had an interesting moment of reflection the other day. I’ve got a group of girls I coach aged 15-19. Some work incredibly hard, others find excuses and just do what they need to do to get by. The sad thing is at least this early in their athletic careers some “lazy” ones are also some of the best athletes. It seems unjust that some of those who put in less work perform better than those who work their tails off everyday. It got me thinking about my own journey and lessons learnt along the way.

I was never a fantastic rower at school. The Maadi Cup (worth looking up) was the gold standard for all school kids. I was from a small club without a school program. I rowed with adults, kids form different schools, it didn’t matter. In my Maadi Cup career I got one bronze medal in perhaps the most meaningless event at the regatta (Novice 4+). In reality there would have been about 50 odd rowers more capable than myself by my last year at school. Yes I was fit, yes I was strong, yes I was determined but many kids were further along the curve than myself. I look back on last season to see I’m the only male rower in the country left from the class of 2008.

This got me thinking about limiting factors and how athletes progress. We had some absolute studs come through high school. Guys and girls that made winning multiple golds look easy. They had it all, strength, fitness, technique and mentally clued up enough to put it all together when it mattered. That was another world to me, they seemed super human. By the end of that week 80-90% of U18’s at Maadi Cup will never row again. For the remaining 10-20% they would drop like flies over the next 1-4 years. For the 80-90% they were either burnt out or not passionate about the sport enough to want to continue. School rowing was the pinnacle of the sport for most kids from big rowing programs. For the 10-20% this included either die hard fans like myself or the remaining “studs” who could see a path to the top.

The studs progressed, juniors, u21’s, u23’s, they’ve always had a natural ability for the sport and not much of an obvious limiting factor. I was naive, hard work was the answer to everything and it was, although I wasn’t addressing the elephant in the room (technique) I was progressing. Like Daredevil I heightened my other senses to make up for my limiting factor. I still couldn’t put it all together but I was driven and persistent. The studs didn’t seem untouchable anymore. Their puzzle was near complete and I was still finding the edges. I never reached a point where my limiting factor was completely resolved but I became competent enough to make it to the elite level. The studs got a real life and moved on, they had done their winning over years and years, I had only just started to realise my potential.

It would be amazing to know how many talented rowers there were out there who sold themselves short because they weren’t top dog by age 17. This sport is a long game and it’s not fair on anyone to feel inferior because they haven’t put the puzzle together quicker. Often that is largely up to genetics, environment or just dumb luck. So I believe and quietly hope that the hardest workers I coach will get their dues one day. It might not be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year but it will happen. For all those reading this try think about what your limiting factor might be and focus on it. For too long I undervalued its importance but you’ll never know its impact until you explore it.

Attitude is the biggest limiting factor in sport. At least I got that part right.

Great Things Happen if Your Mind is Right

Believe it or not my rowing career actually started on the erg. Rowing on the Wellington Harbour is about as bad as it gets. Strong southerlies funnelling in through the Cook Strait, getting on the water is a rare treat. For me I spent 95% of the first 5 months of my novice season on the efullsizerenderrg, I was a scrawny 14yr old, 70kg, 6ft 2″ kid but I had a knack for the erg and loved numbers. I was never a fantastic athlete up until that point. I played Rugby, Cricket and Basketball all with great effort an
d mediocre/poor skill. The erg was objective, input = output, this was something I could work with, all of a sudden my greatest strength (ability to work hard) had a direct translation to results.

I spent the winter travelling the country competing in indoor rowing competitions. Run by a vibrant character Bob Bridge a former powerlifter he was in his 60’s and had lived a fascinating life. We got to know him quite well, it was a labour of love for him and was someone who was quite instrumental in giving me belief that I could be good at this sport. While still lightweight I broke numerous NZ records all below 2000m (lacked the endurance to nail 2000m), finally a sport that seemed right for me. Your typical on water rower falls in love with the sport when they get on the water. I was content with sitting on an erg and challenging my resolve on a daily basis.

The erg continued to play a huge role in my training over the years. In Wellington it’s bread and butter. They say if you’re still rowing after 3 years in Wellington you either have no life or really love the sport, I fell into both categories. As my rowing progressed through club grade to regional representation and onto NZ rep the erg was always the objective judge of my fitness. I would compare and set goals as to where I need to be on the erg to be physically capable of rowing at the next level. Erging is far from being the gold standard of rowing ability but it sure is a good indicator of your physical ability. Slower ergs can beat faster ergs on the water. The old adage “ergs don’t float” is true but no one is winning international medals without an at very least decent erg score. fullsizerender-1

Rowing is one of the toughest sports known to man. The erg is bloody torture but it’s not the enemy. If the erg is an enemy then why do we hang out with it everyday? This bizarre willing desire to bury yourselves in an abyss of pain is something that is foreign to the majority of the world. Rowers are slightly nuts and slightly obsessed. I respect the indoor rowing community because it reminds me of when I was a 14yr old kid falling in love with finding my limit, excited by what’s possible if my mind wants to take me there. It’s a love I still have, I still haven’t reached my physical peak, I still have mountains to conquer.

Injustice has smacked me in the face recently and forced me to step away from competing (for now). I still have goals, I’m stepping out of a bubble I’ve lived in for 11 years with wide eyes. Possibility is limitless when responsibilities are limited 😂 I fell in love with coaching in 2013. A broken wrist during my U23’s campaign required surgery when I got back from Lithuania which pushed me into coaching. What was a small, poor club on the Wellington Harbour made a splash at the Nationals with all 12 rowers in the club winning medals with me as the sole coach. Three years later and the people in my life revolve around what we did that year. 4/12 of that squad now row for New Zealand. To see how a broken wrist ended up influencing so many lives is amazing. That is what I love most about coaching. The ability to affect people’s lives for the better and that’s why I’m so happy to be able to work with Sam Blythe and the whole Fitness Matters team. We see the same thing from different perspectives, with great attitudes, it’s an enjoyable thing to be a part of.

Great things happen out of bad situations if your mind is right.