Transcript: Greg Searle – Olympic and World Championship Rower (Max#15)

Here is the transcript of the motivating interview with inspiring sports star Greg Searle, Olympic and World Championship Rower sharing his inspiring story helping other people be successful in life.

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Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.

Welcome everyone to episode 15 of Maximise Potential. As you know one of the key objectives of the Maximise Potential Podcast is to bring our audience real stories of success from real people with the goal of inspiring you and others to take positive action within your own lives. And today’s interview is no exception as I am extremely proud to welcome our first Olympic and World Champion to the Maximise Potential Podcast.

Greg Searle won Olympic Gold within rowing at the Barcelona Olympics of 1992 when he was just 20 years old and in the following year he won Gold at the World Championships. In addition Greg has won several other Silver and Bronze medals at Olympic and World level proving year after year that he was one of the very best in the world within his profession.

Today Greg Searle will share the approach that he has taken throughout his life to maximise his potential plus share an incredible ambition that he still has to represent Great Britain once again at the Olympics and win another medal at the London 2012 Games when he will be 40.

Now due to the incredible constraints on Greg’s time currently we recorded this interview via Skype in between Greg returning from training camp in Austria and returning to work in the UK. So I would just like to say a special thank you for Greg just for making that time for us and for appearing on the Maximise Potential Podcast. Please enjoy it.

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Well today we are very fortunate to actually be on a call with former Olympic and World Champion rower Greg Searle. So Greg if I could say hello to you.

Greg: Yeah hello there.

Kevin: Hi Greg well really appreciate you taking the time out of your very busy schedule right now just to join us for a short call for the Maximise Potential Podcast.

Greg: That’s okay it is a pleasure.

Kevin: And what I would love to know is first of all. What is the primary thing that you, Greg Searle, do to maximise your own potential? And this literally could be, it could be a mental thing, it could be a physical thing, but what do you do on a very regular basis that you think has been behind the achievements that you have done?

Greg: Yeah I think the main thing behind the achievements I have had has been doing something that I enjoy and something that I get up in the morning and I know it is going to be tough when I go and do it but I know it is going to be worth it. I know by the end of it I will feel good for the effort that I have put in. So I do enjoy all of the training that I put myself through and I use the words put myself through carefully because I know that I don’t have to do this but I am choosing to do it. And I think by saying that I am aware enough to know that this is a choice no one is making me do it except me. I only get one chance at this life and I want to make the most of it and I am prepared to take on the challenge of trying to be an Olympic athlete again. And so I get up each day and I think right to be an Olympic athlete I go off and I know I need to go and do some things that are going to be painful and difficult but I am prepared to do it because I know I feel good at the end of it by doing it.

Kevin: That is a very good point. Can I ask you as well I mean obviously you have stepped back from the sports arena for a good decade or so and you have been involved in private sector business is that also the same principal that you put into there in the fact that you make sure that your chosen career is something that you genuinely enjoy that you can get out of bed for in the morning?

Greg: Yeah absolutely I think going to work and doing something that you don’t enjoy and you get no pleasure from is just something that is very, very difficult to sustain and sure there is tough days and when I have been going to difficult meetings or meeting difficult people and being you know turned down or whatever that is hard. But the upside of all of the good days and working with people that I really respect and admire and doing a job where I feel like I am adding some value and at the end of the day that is not just financial value that is also doing something that feels worthwhile has allowed me to sustain my effort and to be able to again I guess maximise my potential and do the best that I can within the job that I have been doing.

Kevin: That’s wonderful. That is a very, very good answer. So the key to it there is just to make sure you enjoy what you are doing simple as that.

Greg: Well I think so yeah. I mean I think you are not going to enjoy it every single day but I think as long as you see it as worthwhile and are prepared to put in an effort and maybe sometimes put in more effort than you are going to take out then I think in the round you end up feeling good about it. And in the round ultimately you probably do take out more than you put in.

Kevin: I think that is a very interesting point you just touched on which is being of the mindset that you are willing to invest into something before you may reap the rewards for it afterwards. I think that is very relevant to your life you know right from when you were a very young age I would imagine.

Greg: Yeah I think that is probably quite a good lesson and in fact someone told me about a month before I got married they were talking about the relationship and saying that when you went into a relationship and you get married you have got to be prepared there is going to be times when you need to put more into the relationship than you are going to take out. But if both of you are prepared to sign up to that then hopefully both of you are on to a good thing and again you have sustainability in the relationship. So yeah that is something that I think stands true to the relationships, the job that I do and now ultimately to the sport that I am finding myself doing.

Kevin: And the other question I would I would love to know is who or what has been either the greatest influence or greatest inspiration in your life that you would say has helped you maximise your potential right the way through and why is that?

Greg: Yeah there is a few people who have inspired me along the way if I am honest. Probably the main one might be my elder brother. Johnnie who I rowed with obviously at my first and second Olympic Games we were together. And also the history teacher from my school a man called Martin Cross who was also a rower himself and rowed with the young Steve Redgrave when he won his first Gold Medal, he was rowing with my history teacher. I think what was special about both Martin and my brother Johnnie was that they got an awful lot out of themselves that other people might not think was there. So you would look at them and you wouldn’t say there is a guy who looks like Steve Redgrave, who looks like an Olympic Champion in the making. In fact actually there is a guy who might not look exactly to that model but who was able to work hard at it, to push themselves and effectively I think over deliver on what you might have first expected. And to me that is a real good approach to take to get the very most out of yourself and to actually over deliver on your own expectations and other peoples.

Kevin: And I will come on to probably the mindset of how you actually do that in a minute actually. But no that is very interesting yeah to think that, I think what always amazes me is how small a world it is. I mean to think that your history teacher was in effect sharing history or creating history with Steve Redgrave and the relationship has gone from there and then you have turned out to be an Olympic Champion yourself.

Greg: Yeah absolutely I mean I think it is funny how you have people and moments in your life where you are exposed to experiences, you are exposed to people and you choose to go one way or the other really. And I think having met that guy who was my teacher, to think that he is someone who has really managed to do something special and to think maybe I could actually do that myself. So I would say that when he came back in 1984 and he passed his medal around my history class he didn’t strike me like a bolt of lightening on the head to say you are going to win one of these but it did strike me to say you are capable of achieving anything. And if you pushed yourself you can achieve something. And as it happened I pushed myself and it happened to be in that area but I think that guy had a big impact on an awful lot of people at that time who came all into contact with him and I think realised that it is ordinary people who achieve these extraordinary things. It is just the fact that they have a good mindset and a good approach and they work at it and manage to then achieve it.

Kevin: And I think that is a very valid point because so far everybody who I have had the, been fortunate enough to interview for the Podcast have all said exactly the same. They have all turned round and said I don’t consider myself to be anything special I have just applied myself rigorously and repetitively to a cause in order to achieve a goal.

Greg: Yeah now I think that is the ability I think to recognise. There is lots of people who have the potential but then not everyone actually makes the most of it because not everyone is in the right position, is necessarily lucky enough and able to be coached and to be funded and what have you to actually make the most of themselves. But yeah there, the ability is just to make the most of what you have got and make sure you stick relentlessly at it.

Kevin: Well what I would like to do now and I really appreciate your honesty in answering those and I am very keen now to understand now the Greg Searle, well actually before I even get on to the Greg Searle of 2010 what I personally would love to know is can you tell me what it is like to be standing on that podium with a Gold medal around your neck both Olympic and World knowing that you are the number one in the world at your chosen discipline. I would just love to know what that feels like.

Greg: Yeah and in a word I would say the word is content. It feels like you have done everything that you possibly could and you have nailed it. It is contentment or maybe completion. And maybe that is the interesting thing for me which was that at the age of 20 I managed to do something that felt like it was complete it couldn’t get any better. The problem for me or the downside of that is that I haven’t managed to achieve it again because perhaps I was my thirst was quenched at the first time of asking. And I did compete on to 96, I did compete on to 2000 but my question to myself now and I am thinking you are going to ask me about where I am at right now in my head 20 years on, I hope I have got that hunger back again to want to re-quench that thirst by doing it all again.

Kevin: That was my very next question. I was going to actually say that you know what has happened inside yourself I mean you left rowing you went into a wonderful corporate career surrounded by wonderfully sort of competent people who I know that you resonate really well with and yet all of a sudden you got the itch and it needed to be scratched. And I am very intrigued to know what possessed you to suddenly throw yourself back out of bed at 5 o’clock in the morning again and put yourself through obscene punishment. So yes I am interested to know that actually.

Greg: Yeah it is a very interesting thing. I think the challenge, it is a number of things, but the challenge of going for it aged 40, 20 years on, potentially 20 years to the day from when I won as a 20 year old actually feels like a very big challenge again. And in a way a big enough challenge to get me out of bed in the mornings and make me want to go and do it. So I wouldn’t want to have fallen in to the trap of effectively being a journeyman athlete, a journeyman rower who is just going along because I could, because I could maintain a position in the team. But to actually say now here is a challenge which is big enough to be motivating enough for me to go off and make it happen again. So in one way it is the size of the challenge that makes it worth doing. I mean another one is the fact that it is London and this is an absolute once in a lifetime thing. So winning the Olympics somewhere is going to happen every four years but winning the Olympics on home soil will probably never happen again in my lifetime. So that is an incredibly special and again more motivating thing to do. And that is something that didn’t just happen over night that I woke up one day and said I would go for it that happened from as soon as we entered the bidding process as a nation and London as a city that I realised well this thing could happen in the UK 20 years on from 1992 and then that sat within me really. And then we first of all won it as the host city and then I kept my distance but I did stay fit and stay healthy and do a little bit more training and then it was only actually about a year ago now that I attended the World Championships as a commentator in rowing and realised that I didn’t think I was that far off breaking into the team again. And I looked at the competitors from the other countries and who was still doing it who I had remembered and actually who I had been capable of beating back then and thought well if I put my mind to it I wonder if I could beat those people again. So then I came back and the very next day decided it was time to get back into training.

Kevin: So that was that key moment suddenly being around everybody again just made it go right that is it I can do this.

Greg: Yeah it was a combination of things in fact. It was the key moment of being there and seeing it and then actually the World Championships last year were in Poznan in Poland and I was meant to fly out on the Monday in the afternoon but my plane was delayed because there was a problem with it, some sort of mechanical hitch. Anyway I was sent back to the hotel because there wasn’t a flight available until the next day and what that actually meant was that I had a 24 hour period of thinking time. And I guess that is something that is a real luxury in most peoples working lives and it was certainly a luxury in my working life that I guess as a father of two, someone with a job, someone trying to stay healthy my life was incredibly busy and to actually have an enforced rest the first thing I thought was you know oh my goodness there must be another way for me to get out of here I have got too much to do I am too important. But actually you realise that you are not that important and in fact does it really matter whether I am answering that email, making that phone call, showing up for that day of extra work. And in fact to actually think you know what I could just give that away made me think lets re-evaluate and think what is really important. What would I be really proud of in three years from now? And that is what I really thought about in that 24 hours while I was stuck in the airport in Poland.

Kevin: And can I ask you how did your family react when you actually you know went back from, I mean they must have had an inkling anyway that you were thinking about this but then when you actually went back to the UK and said I really want to do this what was there?

Greg: Yeah the first thing I had to do was speak to my wife Jenny about it and to go through if I was serious about this what would be involved, what would be the implications in terms of family life, time away as well as the financial implications how would I be able to support us for me to be able to do this thing which could be seen as quite a luxury really for a bloke in their 30s to go back and you know want to play games all day. Which is ultimately what it is. So we had to think through that and Jenny was really understanding of it and could see the positives in it as well as being able to see the darker side and see the cons if you like. But I think the pros definitely outweighed the cons and we were able to take the decision together that it was a good thing to do. And then to think about the children really and my kids Josie and Adam are 7 and 9 and now they seem old enough to me that it is okay for me to do this. That in a way you know we are beyond the you know having to do everything for them stage so it is a little bit easier for my wife because my kids are more self sufficient. And also my kids I want to be, I want to be a good role model to them and I want to show them what it means to be sporting, to be healthy and to be active and I also want to be around and be present as much as I can. So apart from being on training camps when clearly I am not present because I am away for a week or two when I am here I want to really be here for them. And actually as an athlete when I am at training I am focussed on the training but when I am away I do manage to walk away and leave it. I don’t walk around with my telephone attached to my ear all the time and I don’t need to sort of work the hours outside of when I am actually there at training. So in many ways I have found it has been good for my family life actually to take this decision and go down this path.

Kevin: And talking about the whole state of where you are now as a person and where your life is now how do you compare particularly your mental attitude and maybe mental maturity, mental strength, things like that, how do you compare how you are as a person now as a 40 year old who has experienced life compared to that of the 20 year old Greg Searle that won the Olympics way back then?

Greg: Yeah, yeah. Well so far I am only 38 so I am fairly wise but I will get wiser. But I do think it is wisdom that is the thing and I think um to realise how lucky I am to be doing it I think. So I have a very healthy perspective on all the trips we do and the training that needs to be done and so on. And I don’t see it as a chore at all I see it very much as an active decision that I am choosing to be there. I think if you like my mental approach is a bit like the mature student at college who is always there actually doing the reading that is supposed to be done and showing up to the lectures on time and making the most of the tutorial groups. That person who really values this opportunity and really is making the most of it rather than the one who is letting it wash over me and saying well I happen to be an athlete I happen to be here because it is the thing that I am doing in my 20s while I am waiting to get on with a proper career. So I do think I really value it and I think that is wisdom and I think I have perspective as well. Because I have a real perspective on what I am doing which is given to me by the fact that I have experienced other things. I have experienced the real world and a proper job and the proper pressure that goes with that and I realise that I still need to have some responsibilities to my family and to my colleagues at work because I am still working part time but use that to help keep some balance in my life rather than to let it be all about one particular thing.

Kevin: And I can imagine as well that if you like having the experience of going through life the way you have it must lead to with that mental outlook it must, I would imagine there is a great deal more patience there with you, there is a great more understanding that it is achieving a goal that is a couple of years away and therefore potentially not to try and push yourself too early like maybe some of the younger people and more inexperienced people would.

Greg: Yeah definitely I think I am able to see the bigger level picture rather than getting dragged in to some of the day to day sort of things that can be there that fill your mind really. So if I feel nervous before a race lets say then I see that in the context of the fact that it is probably a good thing to feel nervous for this because I am going to feel more nervous in London in 2012 when there is more pressure on so lets use this as practice for that. And make sure that I can achieve this thing and then that gives me confidence for the next time when it is going to get bigger and it is going to get bigger. Rather than necessarily getting overawed by this one particular event. I think at times I can see that bigger picture and it does help.

Kevin: No I would imagine that. Is that how you deal with nerves and with anxiety is it all about trying to then reframe it in your mind and turn it into a positive?

Greg: Yeah I think, I mean it is recognising that pressure is going to be there and that pressure is usually when I perform at my best when I have got some butterflies in my stomach and I make this thing matter. Then to know this is what it is meant to feel like it is meant to be difficult it is meant to be hard everyone else is feeling that and it is an opportunity to cope with it better than anyone else and to get the most out of myself rather than this is something that might be crippling and might make me under perform.

Kevin: With regards to this ability to perform at your complete optimum there is something in elite athletes, there is something in people that have achieved you know elite experiences in their lives that they have been able to dig that bit deeper, unlock something that other people don’t get normally anywhere near close enough to unlock. What would you, I mean whenever I watch a rower cross the line they literally just collapse there is nothing left in them and that says to me that you have been able to work out that key. Could you explain that a bit more?

Greg: Yeah I think it is something that we practice for actually. To make sure you empty the tank and you do give everything you can in a set distance or a set period of time. And I think the way it works is just to break it down into small pieces and make sure you do each one as well as you possibly can. So in the case of a rowing race over 2000m, 4 x 500s, each 500 is about 1 minute 20 and each one of those is made up of probably about 50 pulls on the oars so about 50 strokes. So to actually make sure that each one of those 50 strokes is as perfect as it can be. You push yourself as hard as you can to make each one as perfect as you can and then build them up on top of each other. And then by doing those 50 strokes you get to 500 and so on and so on. So you have basically got 200 chances to do this thing as well as you possibly can using the maximum effort that you possibly can and you get to the end of the piece and hopefully you have used up every ounce of energy that you have got in your legs in your back in your shoulders in your arms and then hopefully you are in a position where you are collapsing as you take the last stroke of the race. And that is pretty much what we prepare for and train for.

Kevin: But the key to it is breaking it down into these small chunks, these small manageable bite size chunks that you just attack one bit at a time.

Greg: I think that is absolutely right and then making each one as perfect as you possibly can and that is what we work on. It is just if you are a golfer you want to take you know 70 strokes to go round the course or less. If you are an athlete or rower you take 200 of them or a few more than 200 of them to get down the lake. The only difference is the golfer gets lots of time to think and walk in between each shot and then has a different mental challenge to make each one perfect. We have to make each one perfect and be fit enough to do one after another after another. But in a way you are looking for exactly the same thing but a rowing stroke done well can be absolutely perfectly timed and can move the boat the maximum distance in that stroke just like the golfer moves the ball the maximum distance per stroke.

Kevin: And it made me think as well actually that just the way you are describing that you of course function as part of a team you are not like a golfer you are not doing the single sculls and various other.

Greg: Well exactly yeah that is a good point that in fact not only do you do that on your own but you need to be synchronised and in my case I am in the Great Britain Eight so there is eight of us plus the Cox who is sitting in the back trying to orchestrate it. And the eight of us want to be doing that as well and as perfectly in tune as possible which is again why it is so important that we get the time together and work on it together and trust each other and build on each others strengths in that way to be as much of a successful team as we can.

Kevin: Again complete teamwork, complete cooperation and as you say complete trust.

Greg: Yeah and I think what is interesting in rowing is that unlike in many activity we all do exactly the same thing. So it is a team where you want to be totally synergistic with everyone else. Unlike perhaps a rugby team where you have got 15 people who have all got slightly different skills and sometimes very different skills. And I think that is what makes rowing quite special is that in fact there is not really room for anyone to steal the glory and to be better at it than anyone else you really are only as good as your weakest person and the performance of the crew is absolutely about the sum of the parts and that makes it very special to compete in and makes the relationship and the bond that you need and that we have with each other very special as well.

Kevin: And I am going to start winding down now because I appreciate that you have given me you know 25 minutes of your time but what I would love to know as well is what is the bit of training that you absolutely hate? What is the worse bit of all of this?

Greg: It is really difficult to know because I mean I would say the obvious things will be things like the half hour ergo tests which is the half an hour on the rowing machine basically pulling as hard as you can. And I know when the training programme comes out that is the session that everyone looks for and goes oh no we have got to do a half hour next Wednesday and another one the week after that. Because in a way that is even harder than doing an hour or an hour and a half because in those other things you can pace it more. But I think of that as the session that no one likes but actually it is the session I love. Because it is the session that I am good at and it is the session where I can prove how good I am and I can measure my progress and beat my own goals on what I did the previous time that I did it. So although it is unpleasant and difficult to do I would say it is in a way my favourite session as well. It is the thing I hate the most but it is the thing I love the most as well.

Kevin: I can see where you are coming from with that. And what is next I mean obviously we are reaching the end of the summer now so you have got one full I guess outdoor season ahead of you. How does it pan out for you over the next sort of 12 – 18 months?

Greg: Yeah it is quite an interesting year this one that we are in right now. The World Championships this year are very late because they are happening in New Zealand.

Kevin: Oh right.

Greg: So actually we have had a summer season in Europe where we have competed well in our eight. And consistently been in and around the medals, in fact we have consistently been in the medals. We now need to carry that form on to the World Championships in November time which will be in New Zealand. Then we have a very short year leading up to the World Championships which will be in Slovenia in 2011 where we’ll need to make sure we get Olympic qualification at those Championships in 2011 and then it is the final run with the year building up to London which I think will just be an amazing year.

Kevin: Really excellent Greg. I mean your story is absolutely wonderful to tell. I think you are almost a perfect ambassador for someone who is out to maximise their potential and I do really appreciate the time that you have given up today from your time at home to come and have a chat to us and contribute to the Podcast. So I would like to thank you sincerely for what you have contributed today.

Greg: No Kevin that is fine thanks very much. It is always good to have a little bit of chance to reflect on these things and have a bit of chance to think about it because it motivates me more to go and do more of it.

Kevin: Oh well that is really good to hear and on behalf of everybody who listens to the Podcast we wish you all the best and we really hope that you are going to bring back that gold medal.

Greg: Thank you.

Kevin: So that was Greg Searle former Olympic and World Champion giving us an amazing insight into his life and sharing so openly how he motivates himself to achieve such incredible levels of success. Greg from everyone at the Podcast we wish you all the best with your training and can’t wait to see you on that podium at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

So that draws us to the end of another inspirational interview. And before I wrap up and leave you to reflect on what you have heard on from Greg I just wanted to say a couple of thank yous. Firstly thank you to our sponsors Jenrick Recruitment. It was one of Jenrick’s team that was responsible for setting up this interview with Greg. So Jane Stevens thank you very much on behalf of everyone at Maximise Potential because we wouldn’t have been able to do that without your assistance. So thank you.

And also thank you to everybody that has joined our LinkedIn group recently through their suggestions we have been adding a wonderful array of inspirational videos and articles to the website almost on a daily basis. So if you are only connecting with us through the Podcast please go and check out the website not only for the content that is on there but also so you can connect with us on our LinkedIn group and follow us on Twitter.

Now the next episode well it is going to feature a diary update from Triathlete Elliot Cole where Elliot reflects on his first full season in Triathlon and shares with us the lessons that he has learnt throughout this year. And I am going to make sure that that goes live very soon hopefully in about a week or so. So that is me all done for today. I am going to leave you now with a mellow track from Xerxes music and it is called ‘X-rayed’. Tune in soon and thanks again for listening bye bye.

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We hope you enjoyed viewing the transcript of #15 of the Maximise Potential podcast. Keep a look-out for more motivating interviews from really inspiring people and take your next step towards maximising your potential and being successful in life.

About the Author

I'm Kevin Matthews co-producer of the Maximize Potential Podcast and Website. My goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximize Potential!