Leg 2, Day 29 – Never be left with ‘What If?’

Laura Penhaul By

Day 29: Never be left with ‘What If?’

In recent blogs, Nat and Lizanne have talked of life defining moments and their approaches to life, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you mine. ‘Never be left with ‘what if?” A quote by Chrissie Wellington (4 times World IronWoman Champion). I believe that this is a question that I have asked myself a million times over when I’ve been faced with a fork in the road over the years. ‘What if I take this opportunity to work with the GB Ski team but I lose my job in the NHS?’ ‘What if I stay with my job in the NHS but therefore have to say no to the opportunity of working with the GB Ski team?’ Which am I most likely to regret having not done?’. For me the answer was as clear as day, of course I’m not going to turn down an opportunity to work with the GB Ski team, even though it’s only temporary, even though there’s no longevity in it and even though it means walking away from the security of a 9-5 NHS job with pension and comfort of a steady pay packet. Why? Because deep down, regardless of the concerns of my parents for stepping away from security, I had a strong belief that it would be the best thing for me. So that’s what I did and from this stemmed more and more opportunities to work in elite sport and better still, to start specialising in what I was most interested in, Paralympic sport. 6 months after being in Argentina on a Southern Hemisphere ski training camp, I got approached by the GB Disabled Ski Team. They were just under 2 years away from Vancouver Winter Paralympics and had some good medal hopes on the team. They didn’t have any medical support at the time and were looking for a Physio. Perfect timing! I applied and got the job, albeit a Volunteer for the majority of it which in turn would result in taking up most, if not all of my spare time, but I didn’t care, I loved it and saw it as a hobby rather than a chore. After being fortunate to have the opportunity to go to Vancouver 2010 Games with them, I then crossed over to Summer sports working with Paralympics GB through to London 2012. It was in January 2012 that the row entered my life and suddenly, instead of my career being my focus, the row was. I had to make it happen, I had to make it work because again, deep down I had a strong belief and vision that it would be the challenge of a lifetime (I just hadn’t realised how much of a challenge that was going to be!). Many people questioned it and many obstacles were put in the way of getting to the startline, but it seemed strange in that the more hurdles that were overcome and the more negativity received, it only drew me more determined to make sure it happened, a little like a stubborn child! Typically when you’re on a path and pretty occupied with it, opportunities that you would have killed for before, suddenly come along in abundance. After London 2012, I was approached by a couple of sports regarding full time Physio roles. So I’d ask myself, ‘what if…. I apply and get the job but I don’t do the row? Or I do the row but I miss out on a great job? Which will I regret the most in the future?’. For a couple of options this wasn’t too hard to decide, I was doing the row and if I miss a job opportunity now I’m sure there will be others on my return if not in the near future. However, this was a different story when one of the jobs was an opportunity to be Lead Physiotherapist for Paralympic Athletics – aka. My dream job! They knew about the row and the time out it would require, but regardless they were still interested in meeting me for interview. I started working with British Athletics in April 2013. So 2013-14 was a juggling act between ensuring I gave 110% at work as well as to the row in my spare time. Work became my release from the row and the row became my space from work, which clearly left very little social time, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was determined to ensure I could make both work out, because when it came down to it, if asked to choose between doing the row or Athletics, I honestly wouldn’t be able to. The support I’ve received from Neil Black (Performance Director of British Athletics), Dr. Rob Chakraverty (Chief Medical Officer of British Athletics Olympic and Paralympic) and Paula Dunn (Paralympic Head Coach) has been unbelievable and it has made me even more dedicated to ensure its success, so that my time away has not been wasted and more importantly driven my passion further for getting back to them and the athletes before Christmas.

Without a doubt, it is the athletes that have inspired me to be here, to be doing this row. I never expected this row to take 4years, to take a Paralympic cycle in its preparations and execution, but it has. It has thrown me curve balls, set backs and many hurdles to overcome, which I can only relate to the difficulties faced by our athletes when injury strikes at inopportune moments. If I can take from this row a glimpse of what mental strength it takes to overcome some of the difficulties our Para athletes and others have to face, then this row would have been a success. I always work hard to relate to my athletes and people I treat, so hopefully this will give me some level of deeper understanding when they need it the most.

Quick shout out to the British Team currently competing at the World Championships, wish I was able to watch it all live but thanks to Izzy and friends for the updates on email.

Update: This morning, just as Ems and I finished off our all day breakfast and granola, noises of excitement on the oars from Nats and Lizanne were heard. There was a pod of about 12-15 dolphins all swimming around the boat. It was magical and as they swam away one jumped fully out of the water as if to say a fond farewell.



  1. Jim Andrews says:

    A reminder to us mere mortals, of the special stuff you are made of. Having the courage to make huge and often selfless decisions with only short term reward. You seem to have made all the right decisions so far? I have no idea what your long term plans are but you are creating a unique, record breaking and fantastic peice of sporting history in this epic row. Continued success and stay safe. XX

  2. JG says:

    As I’ve said before – all this deserves recognition and at the very least I hope to see you all on the Queens Birthday Honours list at some point. Keep safe and continue to enjoy your challenge.

  3. Eleanor says:

    Laura – your blog today brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing journey you’ve been on and wonderful decisions that have led you to this path. (Or row!). Keep going! Very inspirational xxx

  4. Rashid says:

    And your our inspiration too! Keep it going you! You girls are smashing it xx

  5. Kathy says:

    Wow what a blog today! You are very gifted Laura I can see a book in the making. You obviously are pouring your heart & soul into the row as you do your job. Your such a credit to us all. Love reading all the girls blogs, stay safe xx

  6. Simon TY says:

    Laura, darling, Imalways knew you were going to get this done. Steely determination, no other choice, but always with a smile and a sparkle in yr eye. You will come back stronger,( more blistered), wiser and with 1000 stories to tell.

    You are almost half way through your dream. Smile at that, give us one of yr inane grins !!!!

    Keep going, be strong, be safe

    Lots of love Simon TY

  7. Sean Magill says:

    Laura this blog is so inspirational and from the heart. It takes great courage to do what you and your friends are doing. The only way one is going to find out who we really are you have to take risks. To be the person God intended you to be and achieve what He planned for you to achieve have to take risks. This gives hope to others to step out of the comfort zone.
    Keep it up

  8. Liz Davey says:

    Fantastic blog Laura, we are all so very proud of you down here in your Cornish family, we are daily inspired by you and your team and are spreading the name of Doris to anyone who will listen. All my shared blogs are now being liked and shared by my friend in Australia so hopefully you will achieve your “likes” target! Lol girls xx

  9. We think the pod of magical dolphins had just read your blog and the one that jumped fully out of the water had come up to say “well done Laura”.

  10. Catherine says:

    Great Blog Laura. You are inspiring. Nice that you had the dolphin visit.

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