Joining this year’s line-up of Athlete Mentors is Olympic rower and World Champion Toby Garbett.

Toby first represented Great Britain when he was only 19, and has since competed in five World Championships and two Olympic Games.

He won his first World Championship gold in Zagreb in 2000, competing in the coxed four. He added another gold to the collection when he won the coxless four in 2001 in Lucerne, before taking home two silvers from the 2002 and 2003 World Rowing Championships.

Having retired from rowing, Toby gained his second GB vest when he started competing in Triathlon. In 2012, he became National AG Champion and repeated the feat the following year. He placed 6th at the World Triathlon Championships.

Focussing his mentoring role on this year’s canoeists, rowers and Laser Run athletes, Toby has plenty of experience and advice for our young competitors!

We sat down the Toby to find out about his sporting journey and whether he has any top tips in the run up to the National Finals…

Toby, what’s your proudest achievement to-date?

I think becoming World Champion for the first time in 2000, after lots of ups and downs of injuries and illnesses.

Where did you study?

Looking around Loughborough University now I wish I had come here! But, I had a difficult dilemma; I did quite well in my sport at a young age (I was the youngest person on the GB Senior rowing team) and I took an opportunity to go to a rowing club to train with Olympic champions…

So, I did that in my gap year and I then had to choose whether to carry on or go to University.

I made the decision to go to Farnborough College of Technology and do a Higher National Diploma in Sports Leisure and Recreational Management, which allowed me to carry on rowing at the nearby heavyweight training centre.


What would you be doing nowadays if you weren’t an athlete?

When I was a kid I was always thinking about climbing trees… so I thought about being a lumberjack! I was putting my very raw sporting, energetic into running around climbing trees.

I think I’d probably be in the police force, the army… maybe a teacher. Something along those lines; I really enjoy working with the Youth Sport Trust and visiting schools.

Who do you look up to?

I think it’s really important for young people to have role models, whether that’s inside the family or outside the family.

I seek aspiration all the time from people I see in the media or in sport: Serena Williams is one at the moment balancing Wimbledon with motherhood.

Even though I’m a man, I’m still hugely motivated by that – it’s amazing!

I was lucky enough to be rowing with someone called Steve Redgrave, who at that time had won three Olympic gold medals. He went on to win five! So I think he was my main role model.


Any study tips to share with our student athletes?

The work-life balance (balancing social life, studying and training) is a difficult one and something has to give.

If you think you can try and do all three to 100% it’s just not going to work.

To my mind, it’s the social side you have to look at and think how much you really want it. The study side of life needs to be valued because there’s life after sport!

It’s about getting supportive people around you and letting them help you with your goals.

But also, it’s important to be organised with small things like putting your trainers by the door, pre-packing your bag, getting stuff ready, eating and sleeping right, it all adds up.


Have you got any tips about how to get the most out of training?

I’ve been debating the importance of social media and the internet and I’ve recently realised that there’s so much out there that I didn’t have.

I’m a visual learner to looking at videos of the perfect rowing technique and getting top tips from experts on the internet, seeing images of different drills, can be really rewarding. There’s so much out there.

Alongside that, don’t forget to do the basics right. Make sure that you rest and recovery as well as train. Get the ratio right – it’s really important!

For rowing, if I were to do it all again, I would focus a lot more on my stability and my core strength in my middle, rather than just thinking about lifting heavy weights!


What about any teamwork tips?

I think rowing is the ultimate team sport – but I am slightly biased!

Whether you’re doing it as a pair, or in an eight, you’ve got to apply the pressure at the same time in the same way. You’ve all got to turn up to training, and also communicate effectively about each other’s goals and training.

You need to establish what everyone wants: some people might be going for gold but others might say they are just happy to reach the podium. Spend that time chatting and make sure you’re heading in the right direction together.


How do you prepare for competitions?

I’m aware that some people have superstitions like wearing their old school socks to the Olympic Games and those kinds of things… but for me it was always about being as relaxed as possible.

Taking myself out to the bottom of the boat bay, practising relaxation, breathing, channelling positivity, really helped me. It took me a long time to get to that stage.

I made lots of mistakes and got myself too nervous, so I really had to organise and relax!


Has anything embarrassing ever happened to you at a competition?

After my year out halfway my 12 year of rowing and did a year of swimming… I did it quite competitively and started wearing the speedsuits.

They’re the most uncomfortable thing to wear – it makes Lycra look baggy!

Sometimes you’d race in the morning and the afternoon, but if you took it off in between you’d never get it back on again.

There was one time where I’d finished my race and I wanted to get it off as soon as possible; in swimming they have communal showers but I wasn’t aware… so I got into a situation where I got my speedsuit down to my ankles and a woman walked in!!!

I couldn’t pull it up because it was so tight, so I was stood there with a girl screaming and it was just so embarrassing!


What’s your best strategy for overcoming defeat?

I think it’s important to come away and ask why it went wrong. Don’t just bury your head in the sand and train like you were: ask yourself why it went wrong and what you can do to improve.

Also, in all the athletes that I’ve ever met, nobody has ever had a perfectly smooth pathway. Nobody has gone from gold to gold to gold… we all have ups and downs.

You can’t expect it to go 100% your way all the time.


What was the most difficult country/environment you’ve ever competed in?

The Athens Olympics was about 90 degree Fahrenheit heat, so it was really hard.

The rowing lake was right next to the sea too, so the wind was significant. The way around it was to race at about 7am, which means getting up at about 4am.

We had to train our bodies to be able to do that in the run up. We had clocks that slowly started to glow to wake us up naturally, we were going to bed earlier… it was a difficult situation and we just had to adapt!

Have you got a standout childhood/school memory?

As a dyslexic child at school, sport was my outlet and it became a form of confidence when other things weren’t going so well.

A stand out moment for me was when a teacher said “I think you’re quite good at this!” and gave me the opportunity to go for it. That’s why, when I look at the School Games, it’s just great not just to be at Loughborough with these facilities, but to be part of a mini-Olympics style event. It’s fantastic preparation.

This event reminds me of the moment I was first presented my ‘big opportunity’ so I just hope that the athletes make the most out of it – it’ll go quickly! They don’t want to look back and think of things they wish they’d done differently!

What’s your favourite cheat meal?

I do like chocolate! So, probably melting dark chocolate and adding ice cream on top.

It’s pretty simple but so good. The hot and the cold is great.

Lastly, what’s your favourite wind-down technique?

I found it really hard. The rowing training I was doing was seven days a week and we got one day off every six weeks.

It was hard to switch off. But I like to just watch some trash TV so you don’t have to concentrate, or going to the cinema. The cinema is great because for that time, you have to focus on the film and there’s nothing else going on!


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