The journey each athlete takes to the Olympics is unique. Rhydian Cowley is training for the 20-kilometre men’s race walk at the Rio Olympics while studying for a Bachelor of Arts/Commerce online at Deakin University. By contrast, Chris Erickson scored an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship in 2007, and has since competed as a walker in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. This time he’s training for the 50-kilometre men’s race walk while starting a family with his wife and working as a support officer at the Deakin University Student Association Clubs and Societies. Both walkers share their experiences as athletes working towards Rio.
As an eight-year-old, Rhydian Cowley preferred to participate in the walking events instead of the running events at little athletics. But it wasn’t until he competed in the World Race Walking Championships at 17 that he began to work towards becoming one of the best in his sport. ‘On that team I was hanging around the likes of Jared Tallent and Nathan Deakes. Being in that company showed I could do more if I stuck with it,’ he recalls.
After completing his degree, Cowley put professional career plans on the backburner and started training for the Olympics full time. Making it through the Olympic selection period can be as gruelling as the race walks he competes in. The selection process took from January 2015 until May 2016. ‘Because it’s a long distance event we can’t compete week in week out. There’s a big timeframe to get enough races in,’ Cowley explains.
Now he’s on the final stretch, completing two 20-kilometre, race-distance walks per week as well as completing high-intensity intervals and gym sessions. Next he’ll fly to St Moritz for a month of altitude training, followed by team camp in Florida ahead of their arrival in Rio.
Of course there are times when it all feels a bit too hard, he admits. ‘You need a network around you when you feel like things aren’t going to plan,’ Cowley says. But he adds, ‘The things you really value don’t come easy. You have to stick at it and have the confidence that you’re doing the right thing to achieve your goal.’
If he’s excited, he’s hiding it well. ‘Things can still go wrong, so I’m trying to keep as much of a lid on it as I can until I get to the start line,’ Cowley admits. In the lead up to achieving his goal, Cowley says it could be tempting to step up the amount of training he’s doing, but he’d prefer to get to race day feeling fit and healthy. Using a walking analogy he calmly concludes that it really is as simple as, ‘one foot in front of the other’.
'Things can still go wrong, so I’m trying to keep as much of a lid on it as I can until I get to the start line'
Walking is in Chris Erickson’s blood. His dad, Tim, was selected for the 1978 and 1982 Commonwealth Games walking events. So when Erickson and his three siblings started little athletics they had an advantage, receiving pointers and extra training from their father. With this early guidance, Erickson’s potential was recognised; by his early 20s he was focused on Olympic training.
He won an Australian Institute of Sport Scholarship in 2007 and since then, Erickson has been selected to participate in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. ‘This is my third Olympics. It’s handy not being daunted, I’m calm and level-headed these days,’ he says. Although there’s always a buzz entering the Olympic village, he says. ‘You walk into a dining hall and get an idea of the scale – it’s beyond anything you’ve ever attended – people from around the world, so many athletes. You could sit there and people watch for hours,’ he says.
This time around, he’d expect the feeling of being surrounded by the entire Australian team to be one of the highlights. ‘Everyone’s really supportive, there’s a strong team camaraderie,’ Erickson says.
The lead up to this Olympics has been different to the past, though. ‘My wife and I have started a family,’ he explains and admits juggling work, family commitments and training can take its toll. But now that the finish line is nearing, he’s committed to doing his family proud at the games.
To athletes that aspire to reach an Olympics games, he simply says, ‘Dream big. With a good support crew, family and sporting club, anything is possible.’
Rhydian finds time to study and train as an Olympian by studying online via Deakin’s Cloud Campus.
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