Our Stories: Sarah Ashlin

International Women’s Day takes place at the pointy end of the rowing season for our Director of Rowing, Sarah Ashlin. She took time out of her packed schedule this week to speak to us about her rowing journey, inspiring the next generation of female rowers and coaching the Launceston Grammar teams.

When did you start rowing? 

I often wondered if rowing could be the sport for me growing up listening to my dad and his mates talk about their own rowing journey. I started ‘land training’ at North Esk Rowing Club in 2016 whilst recovering from an injury from another sport. The Club Coach heard I was injured and encouraged me to come along to improve my fitness for when I was cleared to run again. Rowing quickly became my number one priority, and seven years later I am still there. I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of not only pushing myself to be physically fit but also learning the importance of technique on performance. Although I train five mornings a week on the water in my single scull, rowing is certainly a team sport. I thrive off pushing myself for the benefit of the team, which is something athletics does not necessarily encompass for me. 


What has been the highlight of your rowing career so far? 

I have learnt a lot about myself as an athlete over the past seven years. I have experienced the many highs and lows that come with any sport, but on top of that, I have found rowing to be the most challenging sport I have participated in. I came into the sport when I was 18, with most of my fellow club mates having participated in school rowing for six years. I did not comprehend how technically reliant the sport was, to begin with, and soon found that at the national level, all my competitors were not only great athletes physically, but were also technically. I have learnt a lot from my clubmates and would proudly say my career highlight has not been an individual performance, but rather a team performance. There is something about getting up at 4:30 am most mornings and knowing everyone is in the same boat (quite literally…) that just makes success so much sweeter. At the recent Tasmanian Club Championships, North Esk Rowing Club won both the senior men’s and women’s eights. This was a first for the Club and the first time in Tasmania since the early nineties. In those moments, the rough on-water sessions and the dreaded 2km ergos do not enter your mind, it becomes clear it is all part of the road to success. 


What would you like to tell a young girl who is nervous about getting into rowing? 

Rowing can be seen as a huge commitment and is often referred to as a ‘lifestyle’. Rowers can spend most of their weekends for six months of the year at Lake Barrington. In addition to this, up to eight training sessions per week can seem daunting. Rowing provides many opportunities for everyone through different boats. You can push yourself individually to the limits in a single scull, or you can be a part of an eight where you push because you want to make it easier for your mates in an environment where only the boat matters. It is a great opportunity to get involved with a group of like-minded people all working towards the same goal. The hardest part is getting up in the morning, so find what drives you to get out of bed in the morning. Persistence leads to success, and you must trust the process to succeed. Do not be afraid to work hard and not only commit for yourself but your crew mates knowing that everyone is pushing for each other. 


Why is coaching the next generation of rowers important to you? 

Rowing is a unique sport in that it combines the self-discipline of an endurance sport with a highly repetitive technical motion which will take years to master. There are several factors that can influence performance; whether it be an oar, boat and rigger set-up, steering a boat straight, technique, or rowing fitness. The overall training plan needs to include both on and off-water training, encapsulating the right combination of aerobic training, technical drills, strength and conditioning and recovery work. A rowing race is generally over 2000m which requires different energy systems to be trained to ensure the fastest time possible. A good coach needs to be able to say the same thing in a wide variety of ways so that it makes sense to everyone in the boat. Crew cohesion is vital to success, so each rower needs assistance to figure out how to be a part of the whole. A coach and your crew become a second family when you spend a few hours at either end of the day with them, so it is vital rowers are surrounded by a positive and supportive environment facilitated by the coach. Rowing is an extremely challenging sport both physically and mentally and therefore coaches must be aware and responsible for recognising the best course of action for their crews and athletes to move forward.