Hong Kong raised, Melanie Wilson, chats with us as she competes this summer at the Rio Olympics!
When we heard that one of our own was competing at the Olympics, we knew we had to grab the chance to chat with her as we’re all about supporting Hong Kongers and #girlpower at Sassy HQ! Melanie Wilson spent most of her childhood in the 852 and then eventually moved to the UK for school. She is now gearing up and training for the Rio Olympics as she represents Great Britain in the Women’s 8 Rowing Team.
Sharing from Germany where her and her team is currently training, she dishes on what she misses the most about Hong Kong, how she was didn’t plan on competing professionally in this sport, and what she’s learned from all the training through the years.
Thank you so much for taking time to chat with us! Tell us a bit about yourself.
No worries. I’m definitely a Hong Kong kid (barring a few years in Japan when I was very young), I lived and went to school in HK until I was 18. Growing up, I attended the Peak School, and then went to Island School, before moving to the UK for university. I’ve been in the UK since, studying, working and rowing. Last summer, I qualified as a doctor, and having taken this year out of medicine for the Rio Games, I intend to start work in London in November.
What’s the one thing you miss the most about Hong Kong when you’re away?
Too many things. Hi-C Lemon Tea, pot noodles with a fried egg on the beach, dim sum, being able to be in the middle of the buzzing city one moment, and then out in Shek O the next and of course, my friends.
When did you get into rowing? What inspired you to compete in this sport?
Actually, I got into rowing quite late, when I was 23 and had just moved to London to study a masters. I did a couple of months rowing at school out of Middle Island, and really enjoyed it but I was more into swimming and water polo.
While in London, I thought I’d give it another go, and was lucky enough to join a great club. The coach there saw something in me, and pushed me quite hard to take the sport more seriously than I had intended. It paid off and I fell in love with rowing. The club I trained at was in West London, and the peace of being out on the river in the early morning, right before the city was due to wake up, will always be one of my favourite things about rowing.
Congratulations on competing at Rio! Can you tell us about your road to the Olympics?
Thank you! It’s been complicated. I decided I wanted to retrain as a doctor relatively late, right about the time I got onto the British Team, so it has been a bit of a juggling act. Fortunately my University allowed me to take time out before the London Olympics, and have helped again this year. It’s tough because it isn’t a case of once you’re on the team that you feel relatively safe. There is a brutal trialling regime every year, and out of about 30 women training full time, only 12 end up being selected.
Do you have any rituals before a race? After a race?
I was told early on that this isn’t a good idea! I do wear a necklace that my Mum gave me. I was told it is a Saint Christopher pendant that’s meant to protect you when you’re travelling, but it is actually just a little angel. Other than that not really. Spare socks. At my first international race, I had my socks in my pocket and managed to flush them down the toilet!
What do the Olympics mean to you?
Our sport runs in four year cycles based around the Olympics, so this really is the pinnacle. To me it partly means an opportunity to share what I’ve been doing with friends and family. It is also about being able to stand up and test yourself against the best in the world. It feels very pure and simple in a sometimes complicated world, and an incredible privilege.
If you could compete in another sport at the Olympics, what would it be? Are there any other sports you’re interested in besides rowing?
Pole Vault! Perhaps because it looks like one of the least likely things I could ever do. I love watching them soar through the air.
We’ve always wondered what an Olympian workout entails. What does your training schedule look like?
It’s a pretty full time job. We normally get one day off every other week. Other than that it is 2-3 training sessions a day, a variety of rowing on the water, on a rowing machine, and lifting weights. We also spend some time cycling. We’re away on training camps for up to five months of every year.
We all have those days where we feel exhausted and getting to the gym is a challenge… What motivates you to train even on those days?
It’s not that hard when you have a whole team of people expecting you to turn up. But in the years when I was training on my own, I would make sure I focused on small goals. Getting out of bed at 5am because you hope to go to the Olympics in 3 years time is too overwhelming, but if you know you have something to aim for in a week or two, you’re much more likely to appreciate how important that session is.
Tell us a bit about how you stay healthy and eat well while training. Do you have a cheat day, and if so, what’s your favourite thing to indulge in?
I grew up in a family that always ate healthily, so most things are second nature. When we’re in a hard training period, like now, it is four big meals a day. I have become more aware of what I am eating, for example making sure I eat enough protein when we’re lifting weights, but in general it is just healthy and colourful food. I’m not sure about a cheat day, but I love melted cheese and peanut butter on toast.
What skills have you gained from rowing that you could apply/use in everyday life?
There are loads. It took me a while to appreciate it, as I felt as though my life was ‘on hold’ until I stopped rowing, but now I can really see how much the experience is going to help in the future. I think big companies are starting to realise it to, and there has been a bit of a recruitment drive to get athletes into business. I am starting work as a doctor, so I think dealing with a team, and learning how to get the most out of yourself and those around you is going to help.
Which other female athletes do you admire most/inspire you.
Mainly my team mates. We used to have a cox on the team, and although as a cox you aren’t physically an athlete, she was in every other way, and more than anyone else I know. She never left a stone unturned in anything she applied herself to. I still go to her for advice, and faced with a tough decision, I’ll often think ‘what would Caroline do!?’ She teaches children with special educational needs now, and turns her drive to that. The kids are surpassing expectations by a mile and it is no surprise to me.
All of us at Sassy HQ wish Melanie and her team the best of luck at the Rio Olympics!
We will be cheering for you!