Denise reveals fierce drive behind rowing success

Posted on: 29th June, 2017

Category: Sport & Fitness

Contributor: John Bohane

Skibbereen RC member Denise Walsh has made a brilliant start to the rowing season. The talented rower delivered a sensational performance, which enabled her to recently capture a silver medal at the European Championships in Racice, Czech Republic. She quickly followed up her heroics at the European Championships with a very strong showing at the World Cup Regatta in Poznan. Denise finished sixth amongst the world elite. Her recent success on the international stage has only merely served to whet the appetite for this humble Skibbereen sports star. John Bohane catches up with the rowing ace who outlines her ambitious plans for more glory on the world stage.

Denise is still coming to terms with her recent superb achievement at the European Championships in the Czech Republic. She produced an inspirational display in the green Irish vest in the lightweight single sculls, which propelled her to a silver medal. “It was a great achievement. It was really great because I came fourth last year just missing out on the medals and I really wanted to step up my performance this year and compete for the medals. I made a good start to the season by winning silver in Belgrade, before I enjoyed a solid camp in Italy, which really helped my preparations ahead of the European Championships. I was delighted to win a silver medal.”

What made the moment even more special for Denise was the fact she was joined by her proud family members and her Skibbereen RC colleagues Shane O’Driscoll, Mark O’Donovan, the O’Donovan brothers Gary and Paul and their esteemed coach Dominic Casey who all shared in her joy. It was a special moment for Denise to celebrate her success with her proud family. “My dad was out there watching with my uncle and they were delighted when I powered home for a second place finish. I’d say they’re happier than me about it, as I still feel like I want to improve my performance levels. I am always striving for perfection and still looking for ways to get faster. My family has played a big role in my rowing career. Their support has been brilliant and I really appreciate it. They have supported me through a lot of ups and downs, so it’s great to get some medals and results to reward them for all their support.”

Her heroic performance has yet to really sink in admitted the Skibbereen superstar who powered to silver success on Sunday, May 28. Indeed she has only seen snippets of her blistering performance on that fateful day in Racice. “To be honest, I’ve only watched the final race on the way down in the bus from Dublin with the boys when we landed back in Ireland following the conclusion of the European Championships. It looked completely different on screen to how I felt like it was going during the race. Once I get some free time, I’ll sit down and watch it a few times and see where I can improve for next time.”

Denise’s stunning performance coupled with the impressive performances of Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan who captured gold in the lightweight double sculls and the second place finish for Olympic heroes the O’Donovan brothers made it an historic championships for Irish rowing and in particular Skibbereen RC. Their performances helped Ireland secure a sixth place finish in the medal table. Denise was thrilled with the success of her close friends and colleagues. “The boys did great. They always save their best performances for the water and even though they mess around they’re very serious about getting faster. The key to their success is that they enjoy it. It is great to see them winning medals all the time as it makes us want to emulate them and achieve the same. It was a great weekend for the international team and especially Skibberen RC.”

The European Championship medalists along with their dedicated coach Dominic Casey were afforded a rapturous welcome home upon their arrival in Skibbereen that fateful evening. An estimated crowd of a thousand people waited patiently along Cork Road to welcome their triumphant heroes home to West Cork. Denise was thrilled with the reception the Skibbereen RC members received. “It was such a shock, as I didn’t realise so many people would be there. I was pretty wrecked so it was all a bit of a blur. It was so nice to see everyone there and know they are all supporting us.”

Denise is firmly indebted to the local community and the many business owners whose support has proved invaluable in assisting her in her quest for more honours on the international stage, as she revealed. “It has been brilliant. People have been so supportive. It really means a lot to us all. Skibbereen Credit Union came on board with the Rowing Cub this year to sponsor kit for the athletes, as we have never had our own club clothing. It already looks so much more professional and it’s great to see so many young kids wearing Skibb RC clothing. Personally I think the local community has been fantastic with the encouragement we received from the homecomings, cards and well wishes, which have been sent to the club and athletes. Following the completion of the European Championships, Aoife Casey and I took part in the London Metro Regatta and Spearline was able to help fund us towards this trip, which was a great boost to us and really appreciated. We are self-funding all our own training and some trips abroad, so it was great to know we were being supported to represent the club. This makes us want to expand rowing further and involve the community in any way we possibly can.”

Denise enjoyed a great training camp in Italy prior to competing in the European Championships. Her second place finish was a great result for the Skibbereen heroine who acknowledges that the margins for success and disappointment at the top level are so tight. Denise produced an exceptionally strong performance, which propelled her to second place on the podium. Denise in particular produced an outstanding surge in the last 500 metres, which powered her past her Russian and Swiss rivals. “We actually didn’t know how our training camp had gone. It seemed to go well, but I was a bit tired coming off the back of it so we took some light days coming into the competition then to freshen up. I felt like I could get a medal, but I could just have easily not secured a top three place, as the margins are so fine. I was just concentrating on my own race plan, trying to maintain my technique, keep solid in the middle and sprint for the finish. Thankfully it all seemed to work out to plan on the day. I didn’t expect to be so close to a first place finish. I didn’t even realise where the Swedish girl was as I could only see the Swiss girl beside me, so next time I’ll make sure I keen a close look out for her!”

Denise followed up her impressive recent performances in both Racice and London with a strong display at the World Cup in Poznan. Denise finished sixth in the world following another impressive showing. Denise feels however, she can improve significantly on that performance. “I went there with the aim of tying to make the A final, as I had a disruptive two weeks training before the World Cup. The racing went good in the heat and the semi-final, which ensured I made the A final, which I was delighted about. Unfortunately I felt I didn’t race well in the final and placed sixth which I was disappointed about, not with the result as it is still a huge step up from last year. I was more disappointed with the way I raced as it was not reflective of my speed, so I need to go back to the basics and reinforce my own race plan and make sure I stick to that throughout the regattas.”

Denise, who is now 24, initially took up rowing at the age of 12. She thrived under the dedicated and careful tutelage of club coach Dominic Casey. She is delighted to have Dominic involved with Rowing Ireland. “I took up rowing when I was around 12 or so. I started through the schools’ rowing programme and the summer camps, which Skibbereen Rowing Club run for the kids. It is a great incentive to attract new members to the club. Rowing is a hard sport to pursue. You need a few different traits to succeed in rowing. I think everyone is different and you’ve just got to find what motivates you and then can go from there. Attention to detail and the usual determination and drive are big factors in your quest for success. Dominic is a great coach. I think that as Skibbereen RC gets more successful and numbers start to rise, we will need more help and volunteers to cater for the new athletes. It will be good to have him there to mentor all the new coaches and it will make for a good environment to have a Rowing Ireland coach. It is also great that Dominic has now taken over as Rowing Ireland lightweight coach so we are training with his programme and leadership. This definitely makes you more motivated and focused on the training, in a very relaxed environment and adapted to the athletes.”

Denise has made the conscious decision to do the majority of her training in Skibbereen. She is very happy with her training regime to date. “I am mainly based in Skibb this year apart from a few trips to Cork for different training aspects. Training camps and competitions are mostly held abroad so it is good to train and stay at home as often as possible. It encourages a nice routine. Summer training is ongoing in the club at the moment, so if I’m at home there would be daily training at 9am and 7pm, which allows me to get a good break in between the two training times. I have probably trained less this year much to Dominic’s annoyance, but I think what I have done is better quality training. It’s much more relaxed this year for me, as I’m in the single scull and can mix around in crew coats with the other girls. I’m also back enjoying the sport, which instantly makes you faster, something I’ve learnt from the boys. My times have improved both on the erg and water. I think that’s just from managing things a bit better, getting better technique, a training programme that suits me and enjoying it at the same time.”

Denise experienced acute disappointment last year when she failed to gain selection for the Olympic Games. The bitter disappointment she experienced has made her even more determined to achieve her goals of appearing at the next Olympics. “I was naturally disappointed. It was hard being in the double until the year before the Olympics. Not getting to Rio has made me more determined to be first into that boat come Tokyo. I am fully focused on making myself faster and encouraging some of the younger girls coming up through Rowing Ireland that we can produce a top class double for the Olympics in 2020.”

Denise has very specific short-term and long-term goals, which she hopes will all come to fruition in Toyko. “My short-term aim is to get back to some solid training. We have potentially another World Cup in Lucerne coming up very shortly and then the Irish Championships. I will then get a week’s break before resuming hard training for two months before the World Championships in Florida at the end of September. I hope to gain selection for this. Long-term I will be looking to form a lightweight women’s double to compete next year with the aim of first qualifying for Tokyo.”


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