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How rowing can help you pull ahead in life

Bermuda's Olympic rower Shelley Pearson, who studies at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, believes her own sporting exploits could inspire others who want to pursue a business career.

A sporting background can be advantageous for prospective employees, maintains Ms Pearson.

“We have always been told employers like hiring rowers,” she said. “In rowing the harder you work, the more you get out of it, so the employer gets someone who knows how to work hard.

“I am rowing in singles this year, but in a team boat the sum of the parts is greater than the individual. That's really valuable for learning how to work together as a team.

“I am a huge believer in being able to get back up from failure.

“My dissertation last year was on grit, or resilience. Essentially, it means passion and perseverance for a long-term goal. Athletes are a quintessential example of someone with one specific goal that they focus on.”

The 25-year-old athlete progressed from the heats of the women's single sculls at the Rio Games last week before being eliminated in the quarter-finals after rowing “the best race of my life”.

Interviewed by the university's PR coordinator Tom Pilsworth, the Bermudian told of the sporting passion that drove her to the Games, and the illness obstacles which she had to overcome. Her inspiration came from her father, Kevin Pearson, a former long distance runner who won the May 24 Marathon at his first attempt.

“I was horrible at anything involving a ball but soon found a talent for endurance,” she recalled.

Encountering rowing for the first time after moving to a boarding school, “my dad suggested I try it, and the rest is history”.

However, the road to Rio was anything but straightforward.

“I was diagnosed with an aneurysmal bone cyst in 2012, a condition in which the cyst eats away at the bone from the inside out. “I've had nine surgeries for it since then, and four of those were in my senior year of college.”

After a brief period of remission, the condition returned shortly before she went to Oxford, and her doctor told her to refrain from rowing. Another surgery followed, which resulted in complications including a fracture to her pelvis. Despite six months away from rowing, including two spent on crutches, she said she never lost sight of her goal of being in the first women's boat race on the Tideway in 2015 — an historic event that saw the women's races held on the same course as the men's for the first time.

After recovering, she began training to make the Oxford team in the Boat Race.

“I hadn't trained for six months,” she recalled. “I was so out of shape, I hadn't done anything in so long, and I had four months to get myself into that boat.”

She made it through the race successfully, and follow-up MRI scans showed that the cyst was now under control.

It was then that her Olympic dream became a reality, qualifying at an event in Chile in March this year. Throughout her trials and tribulations, the Bermudian said she maintained her passion for social finance and behavioural economics that she had built upon at Saïd.

She says she's excited to join the world of business, but that she does not want to close the door on the 2020 Olympics.

“I hope to keep fit for the next two years, and then I'll make a decision about whether to go for 2020 or not.”

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Published August 19, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 19, 2016 at 1:00 am)

How rowing can help you pull ahead in life

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