‘Consistency is the key to performance.’ Lee-Ann Persse – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 88

Christian: Today I am joined by Lee-Ann Persse, Lee-Ann is a double Olympian, representing South Africa in rowing at the London 2012 Olympics and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Welcome, Lee-Ann.

Lee-Ann: Thank you, thanks so much for having me.

How she got into rowing

Christian: Lee-Ann, how did you get into rowing? I don’t think that’s the first thing that a young girl is looking for as a sport to join, how did you get into it?

Lee-Ann: I was actually at a school that I started to get involved with rowing, I was more of a ball sports player, like hockey, tennis and then a lot of my friends were doing rowing at school. They told me they needed someone to come and join the team and I was nice and tall and looked like I was suited to rowing.

A lot of my friends were doing rowing at school, and they told me they needed someone to join the team.

I went and join them for a session, I did like really well, on the Ergo machine, which is like a rowing testing machine, I got a really good score and that was like the last time I saw any other sport, and I was fully into rowing after that.

Christian: That’s cool. At what age was that?

Lee-Ann: I was around 16 years old.

Christian: Do you think you could have been better if you started earlier?

Lee-Ann: I actually had this conversation with someone the other day, but no, I don’t really think about it. The fact that I experienced other sports was actually really good for me. And I don’t think I would have been any better if I started earlier.

The fact that I experienced other sports was actually really good for me. And I don’t think I would have been any better if I started earlier.

At such a young age, you just enjoy the sport at the time anyway so for me, it was the perfect time.

Her darkest moment

Christian: In your athletic life, what was your darkest moment?

Lee-Ann: It was definitely the results from the London 2012 Olympic Games, myself and my partner had only been rowing together since 2011, so basically, one and a half years to London, when we rowed together, and there was just a lot of pressure on us to get a good result.

I think we were putting pressure on ourselves and we felt external pressure as well. But we were still a very young crew and, we weren’t really ready for the moment. It’s a really big moment and when you’re not expecting it, then your nerves and emotions just take over.

For me, especially I just kind of gave in to the nerves and I wasn’t really able to perform to my best at the time, I think the moment was just too big for me.

We weren’t really ready for the moment. For me, especially I just gave in to the nerves and I wasn’t able to perform to my best at the time. The moment was just too big for me.

I’ve come to realize is that it was just too much and I didn’t know how to deal with the pressure at the time, I didn’t know what to do and I was just so nervous and I just so badly wanted to perform well and we didn’t in the end.

And the other South African crew that was with us, they won gold, so it was quite a feat for them and then we came eighth and it just felt like so much disappointment afterward. All the hype was obviously around the guys winning gold and you just kind of feel quite dejected and you feel like you’ve let people down.

I didn’t really know where to go from there. It was definitely a very low moment and definitely my darkest moment in sports. It was a hard time.

You just feel dejected and you feel like you’ve let people down. I didn’t really know where to go from there.

Christian: And if you say you gave into the nerves, how do I have to think about that, you went out too strong or what? What happened, in terms of performance, on the moment itself?

Lee-Ann: For me, the nerves resulted in, that I couldn’t row as hard as I wanted to. You know you get like this jelly kind of feeling and you’re not as sharp as you mean to be.

When you put the blade in the water, rowing is quite a technical sport and you need to be on it, all the time.

It just didn’t feel like I was like on it, I wasn’t the hundred percent there and the nerves made it worse.

Christian: And then two follow-up questions, how did you recover from it and what did you learn for the Rio 2016 Olympics?

Lee-Ann: It took us a while to figure out how we wanted to recover. We both, me and my partner at the time, we stepped away from rowing for a bit, and we had a break.

We felt that was the best thing to get away from each other and from the team.

Also, South African teams, normally after each Olympic Games, they have like a three-month break. You’re still training but you’re away from the team, and you’re reassessing the next cycle.

I spent quite a bit of time with my family, and me and my partner, we went and rowed in France, we didn’t actually stay away from rowing, we did something that was really fun.

It was kind of a detraction from like the seriousness of rowing for South Africa and trying to achieve and we made a whole lot of new friends and it was in a different country. It was like a lot of fun.

And we had conversations during that time about how we’re going to do things better going into the next four years. And we both decided that we definitely did not want the next Olympic Games to be anything like the London Olympics, and we wanted to prepare as best as we could so that it wasn’t the same feeling and it wasn’t the same experience for us.

We had conversations during that time about how we’re going to do things better going into the next four years. And we both decided that we definitely did not want the next Olympic Games to be anything like the London Olympics.

We wanted to perform, and we wanted to enjoy it most of all. We decided that and from there, we just asked ourselves how are we going to do that? That was when we started talking about the mental aspect of things, and how are we going to deal with nerves.

How are we communicating with each other properly? Do we have good communication with our coach? Is the person coaching us the right person? All those conversations and we almost felt like we needed to start all over again.

Christian: And also looking a little bit at the bigger picture, right, so conversations around the right strategies and the right support staff.

Lee-Ann: Definitely, and just being realistic. I think that was the main thing is that we felt, we weren’t realistic with our expectations of our result and that’s why it was so much harder to deal with.

We weren’t realistic with our expectations.

We went in there believing as we could do so well and we actually went at that level and it makes it even more disappointing when that happens. From then on, we were always just going, to be honest with ourselves about how we feel like we can perform at every race we go to. We needed to say what we believed at what level we can perform. Can we get this result and we needed to be honest about that. Because if you’re unrealistic things can just unravel.

If you’re unrealistic things can just unravel.

You have to be so realistic about where you think you’re at and how good or bad you think you’re going to perform.

Her best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Lee-Ann: Rowing at the Rio 2016 Olympics was just so different from the London Games. Going from London to Rio, we put a plan into place, and we made it a much better experience. Even in the end, I actually rowed with a different partner in Rio, but I still worked with my partner from London, through a lot of stuff and it made us better athletes and people.

In the end, I actually rowed with a different partner in Rio, but I still worked with my partner from London, through a lot of stuff and it made us better athletes and people.

I was just feeling like I was so prepared when I got to Rio, I was prepared for the nerves, I was prepared for the moment. I felt like I could just get in race as hard as I can and that’s all I needed to do. I didn’t need to worry about anything else.

The whole South African team did things very differently. The whole team learns from cycle to cycle, how to prepare better. The whole team vibe and the whole team preparation was a lot better so that also helped us.

I just felt ready to race and ready to perform and I felt like I could do that to the best of my ability when we got to Rio. And once you race and you feel like you’ve put it all on the line and you’ve given it everything you’ve got, then what more can you ask for?

Once you’ve put it all on the line and you’ve given it everything you’ve got, then what more can you ask for?

There’s nothing really more you can ask for after that.

Christian: So it’s all in the preparation is what I hear.

Lee-Ann: Definitely.

Her advice to a younger Lee-Ann Persse

Christian: If you could travel back in time, 10, 15 years, what advice would you give a younger Lee-Ann?

Lee-Ann: The people who follow me know, that I talk a lot about my retirement from rowing and the advice that I would give myself is definitely will be that you won’t always be a rower, you won’t to always be an athlete and there will be a time where that ends and there’s another part of your life.

I would have really liked to prepare for that moment a lot better. So, that’s definitely advice I would have given my younger self. As well as just spending more time with my family, and realizing what an important part of my life they are. I lived away from home, my parents live in Cape Town, I lived in Pretoria, for 10 years and it is hard to be away from your family for so long.

But I’ve only really realized what impact it had on me when I stopped rowing. I really would have liked to have more balance when I was rowing. And spending more time with my family and include them in the things I was doing.

I really would have liked to have more balance when I was rowing.

So, definitely preparing for retirement one day and balance is really important.

How to prepare for retiring from professional sport

Christian:  And about the preparation for retirement. What exactly would you advise someone to do? How would you prepare for that?

Lee-Ann: Everyone’s different but I think studying is probably a good place to start, maybe having something to do as a backup. Getting a degree or some experience in some form. Financially, it’s really tough because, especially in South Africa, we rowers, we don’t earn a lot of money, so putting away life savings while you’re training and competing at the Olympics is quite tough. So financial planning is also something you have to think about.

Think about how your life is going to change once you stop being an athlete and how you’re going to deal with that.

Think about how your life is going to change once you stop being an athlete and how you’re going to deal with that.

Those are like the logistical side of things, and then there’s also the mental side of things as well which is a massive thing. Just the way that it hits you that you’re no longer part of a team or you’re no longer training so hard every day, those things also take their toll.

So, it’s both logistical things that you need to think about and the mental side of things as well,  because the mental side can put you down for a long time as well, it can really stop you from moving on with your life.

Her recollection on the Freedom Day in South Africa

Christian: Talking about a younger you, today is the national holiday, the Freedom Day in South Africa. 26 years ago, was the first post-apartheid elections. Do you have any recollection on that day? How it was before and certainly how it was after?

Lee-Ann: I, unfortunately, do not have very good memories of that time. A lot of it is in the history books and we learn a lot about it in school.

And a lot of our history that we do in school is surrounded with Nelson Mandela and what he did for our country. I probably did like five or six projects on him when I was at school, through my school years. So, I definitely learned about it, but my recollection of those times is unfortunately not very good.

Her memories on the 1995 Rugby World Cup, where South Africa won after not being allowed to participating in the previous Rugby World Cups, and the effect on the country

Christian: Then the next question on the same topic, in 1995, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup and that was the first time South Africa was allowed to play in the Rugby World Cup, and they ended up winning. How was it for the country?

Lee-Ann: It was amazing. I was also quite young then, but I do remember painting South African flags on my face and watching some of the games. It was a massive step in the right direction for our country and just helped to unify our country even more.

It was amazing. It was a massive step in the right direction for our country and just helped to unify our country even more.

Sports is such a massive part of South Africa and whenever athletes or teams do well in sports in South Africa, it seems to just boost our nation and boost morale. You can’t believe what good results in sport can do for a nation. It’s crazy.

You can’t believe what good results in sport can do for a nation, it seems to just boost our nation and boost morale.

I was just watching like a recap of the World Cup that we just won. And as well, it’s the same thing, it just unifies the nation, and brings up everyone’s morale and you just can’t believe what it can do for a country. It’s amazing.

Her success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful person or an athlete, and or athlete?

Lee-Ann: There’s something that I always live by and that’s consistency, in everything that you do. It was something that we definitely learned leading up to London is that we didn’t have enough of it, we didn’t have enough consistency in our training.

Consistently doing the same thing, it was making us stronger, and it was making us faster. We need to be consistent in our preparation, it even comes to simple things like stretching, nutrition, preparing for sessions, all those kind of things. Consistency is the key to performance.

Consistency is the key to performance.

And I still believe in it, even if I am not an athlete anymore, consistency in life is just as important. So, from London to Rio, it was my mantra, consistency, consistency, consistency.

If anyone asked me, what are you doing? I’m like, consistency is key. That is my mantra.

And it really worked for me and it was great. And then I’d say, belief, belief in myself, belief and the person I was rowing with, belief in the team, belief in the training program, those are all really crucial things. And if you 100% believe in what you’re doing and that it’s working, then it’s all in the mind, and you know you can achieve anything.

And the last thing is honesty. That’s a massive thing to success is just being honest with yourself, about your performance and your training, being honest with the people that you’re rowing with, your team, and making sure that you’re honest with your coach.

You know, you’ve just got to put everything on the table, you can’t have secrets, you can’t have darts. So, everything’s just got to be set out there and clear.

Why rowing makes tough

Christian: I’ve seen in the documentary about rowing a few years ago, and something that stuck with me, it said, rowing makes you tough. And the explanation was because it’s on the water, every single day, whether it’s good whether or not, you have to be out there. Talk us through that.

Lee-Ann: Yes, it’s not very often that the rowing session gets canceled. Only if the waves are like tsunami size, and they fall in your boat, and you capsizing then. Then you can maybe look at getting off the water. But we always say that we train in every condition so that we can race in any condition. And that was kind of the mantra.

We always say that we train in every condition so that we can race in any condition.

The weather has to be really bad for you not to get out there in the water, very heavy rain and heavy winds, all those kind of things. So, you just put your boat on the water, head down and you go and that was it.

There are no excuses. If we can train in the worst weather, then we can race in the worst weather, so that was the mantra for that.

Her morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine?

Lee-Ann: At the moment not really. But, when I was an athlete certainly, basically you wake up at the same time every morning for training, I would always get dressed first, then coffee and breakfast, then prepare all my water bottles and my post-training shakes or whatever it was.

Then into the car and off to training. It wasn’t really anything hectic, but very structured, you get into a rhythm and your days just start blending into each other.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: Okay, cool. How do you prepare for important moments?

Lee-Ann: It’s an interesting question because I’m actually someone who doesn’t like to think about things too much.

So, if there is an important moment coming up, for instance, it’s a rowing race or important trial, training trial, I’d just try not to think about it and to block it out as much as possible.

I focus on the things that are happening during the day, like the training sessions. But going up to that moment, then I am going to do the session the best as I can.

I face the session afterward and evaluate, and then move on to the next sessions. It’s kind of like breaking it down, and not trying to think too far ahead.

If you are thinking ahead to a big moment, that can almost overtake all your thoughts and then you start to get really nervous, it starts affecting your training and it starts to affect the way that you’re thinking and everything you do.

If you are thinking ahead, that can almost overtake all it starts affecting everything you do.

Summarizing I would just say like, I like to break it down into little bits, and just focus on one thing at a time and then take it from there.

Christian: I’ve never rowed in my life, or at least not competitively. But I believe I have a decent understanding of different sports and the demands of the sport. Your sport is considered as one of the most brutal sports around there, just because of the duration and what the body has to go through. So, if you’re on that start line, and you know, if you want to do well, you have to go through extreme pain. How do you deal with that, do these thoughts come up?

Lee-Ann: It’s definitely part of the nerves that you feel, you’re sitting on that start line and you start to realize that you will put your body through a lot of pain. You know that lactic acid is going to kick in, your legs are going to be screaming at you, your lungs are going to be screaming at you and you are going to kind of just blank it out.

You don’t want to think about it, it comes into your mind that it’s going to be so painful. But then you’ve got to focus on the tasks, your starting strokes, focus on how the first strokes are going to be, keeping my blade in the water, and break it down into small steps.

I think about that first stroke, then the second stroke, then third stroke, and then you kind of move into the race.

Thinking too far ahead almost blurs your vision and it doesn’t allow you to focus on what is important right now. We always say that we never think about the finish line until we get there, meaning you don’t want to be sitting at the start line and think about the finish line because there’s a whole lot of stuff you’ve got to do in between.

We never think about the finish line until we get there because there’s a whole lot of stuff you’ve got to do in between.

And, the pain aspect, definitely comes in there, however, it’s going to sound maybe harsh, but sometimes the pain is good. It confirms you’re working hard.

The biggest thing about the pain is when you’re in the lead, which doesn’t always happen that often. But when you’re on the lead and you’re feeling pain, then you know you are going to inflict pain on to the people that you are beating.

When you start thinking like that, then you don’t feel as much pain anymore. That’s one of the bits of the game. As a rower, you get to a point where you actually start almost like loving it, it’s a good feeling, you know that you’re working hard, you know that you make your body stronger and that you’re in the right place. It maybe sounds a bit sadistic, but the pain can sometimes be good.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?

Lee-Ann: It’s a tough one because every setback is different. Most of the time, you almost got to take the time to step away and think about it.

Sometimes I can be like quite an emotional person and react straight away and I’m not thinking clearly at the moment itself. It’s better to step away and evaluate, what you’re upset about or whose fault it is, whose fault it is or isn’t, who performed and who didn’t perform, or even none of these things.

Hence, a good way for me to overcome the setback is to like step away from the situation, and think about it logically. Why did this happen? Were we prepared? If we were prepared, what went wrong in the lead-up? Were consistent in our training? Weren’t we aware of an injury or illness, could the training have been better?

Step away, break it down, and evaluate logically.

So, just breaking it down and trying to like to look at it logically and clearly is probably the best way because then you can also like plan a way forward from there. If you can look back and see, for example, the training wasn’t going well, and I wasn’t getting the scores that I was meant to, how am I going to change that going forward so that it’s going to be better next time.

Breaking it down so you can put the right steps in going forward, would be the best way to do it and see if there’s something that we learned as we progressed as athletes or as I progress as a person to be more level headed about things and try not to be so emotional about results.

Mental health issues in sports

Christian: I wanted to touch on a delicate topic, I saw you bravely talked about mental health issues in sports and the need for education on that topic. Can you talk us through that?

Lee-Ann: From personal experience, I had some trouble with mental health while I was rowing. It started with not knowing how to, maybe cope with my nerves, and feeling like I needed help.

Maybe being a little bit more emotional than other people, I thought that there was something wrong with me, why weren’t other people struggling, why was I the only one struggling?

I thought that there was something wrong with me, why weren’t other people struggling, why was I the only one struggling?

For a long time, I thought I was showing weakness if I wanted to go that route of asking for help. So, it took a while before I knew what I needed to do, and get some direction from a sports psychologist, and really put in some work to improve the mental aspects of my sport.

I’ve spoken about that I struggled a lot with nerves and I knew that I had to change something so I could cope with them and that was what I had to do to cope with them. I had to get some help, I had to get some tools to be able to deal with those situations better.

And, for me, I want to give people and give athletes the feeling, that it’s okay to look for help if they’re not coping. Yes, we’re athletes, but we’re also only humans, we struggle, we can’t be strong all the time and it’s okay to ask for help.

Yes, we’re athletes, but we’re also only humans, we struggle, we can’t be strong all the time and it’s okay to ask for help.

I know there are people out there who relate with me on this subject. I just really want to make it okay for athletes to be able to ask for help, and admit when they’re not coping, and when they’re struggling.

So, it’s getting like our stories out there and relating with other athletes, and also not making it a bad thing to ask for help. There mustn’t be a stigma around it. It’s fine, it made me a better athlete, when I looked for help, and I got it.

Check out Lee-Ann’s talk about mental health and asking for help

If I hadn’t done that, it would have been worse, I would have been like holding all the stuff inside, not knowing what to do. And then it probably wouldn’t have turned out very well.

It’s about really educating athletes and making it okay in the sporting field to reach out for help on the mental side of things.

Christian:  I think it’s important to raise awareness for it because I’ve heard athletes talking about it and there is this stigma around it, as you have outlined, that it’s considered showing a weakness.

Lee-Ann: It’s certainly not uncommon, but I think people are just sometimes afraid to do it because of the stigma around maybe showing weakness. I believe that’s something that we just need to eliminate because it’s really not a weakness at all.

Christian: The question that pops up in my head is, if you would advise a younger athlete, you mentioned you were a bit more emotional at times. If you go through a hard training cycle, it drains the body and it drains the mind. How can you distinguish whether the emotions you’re going through are a side effect of the training or whether it’s something you really need to seek out to get help?

Lee-Ann: I think a lot of the time the training load can emphasize issues that maybe you’re not dealing with outside of your sports. The advice for me is that you need constantly assessing what’s going on in your life, whether it be in your sport or outside of your sport, and that you’re aware of how it’s affecting you.

It’s really about being aware of yourself as a person, and knowing how things affect you because definitely, the training load has an influence. We used to go up into the mountains and up the mountains, we did high altitude training, we literally broke our bodies down, and you’re just exhausted, you’re absolutely exhausted, and your emotions are high.

I’ve had some very emotional times on those training camps. You just have to make sure that you’re not letting the emotions get in the way of the training. It’s making sure, as you feel you’re getting emotional, you talk about it, it sounds stupid, but you’re like, I don’t know why I’m getting emotional or maybe I don’t know why I’m like crying now but, I feel like I need to speak about this.

You just have to make sure that you’re not letting the emotions get in the way of the training.

You go to the coach or whatever the support staff is there at the time, or even someone you feel comfortable talking to, even if it’s a teammate. You need to get it off your chest, and sometimes, doing that helps you to realize that you are just exhausted by the training. You need to learn to listen to yourself, being honest with yourself, and not hiding what you’re going through.

Everyone at that stage is exhausted and everyone’s going through it, confide in a teammate, because they might be telling you that they’re going through the same thing, and then you both feel better about yourself.

So, being honest with yourself, really listening to your body and your mind, and allowing your emotions to come up, don’t try and suppress them. To suppress emotion makes things a lot worse.

Christian: Yes, and if you suppress them, they come back even stronger, most of them.

Lee-Ann: Absolutely.

Her role model

Christian: Who’s your role model and why?

Lee-Ann: I definitely have athletes that I look up to in sport and people who I love to watch. I take a lot of inspiration from people around me all the time.

I don’t like to look at one specific person and like, they are my absolute hero. I have a lot of people that inspire me. It can be a friend who’s done something that I think is amazing and inspirational, and for that day, they will inspire me to do something.

I believe it’s a great thing, that anyone can inspire you, and you don’t have to be Roger Federer, who is actually my favorite tennis player but you don’t have to be him to inspire someone. It can just be a friend or family member, and it doesn’t have to be something massive that they’ve done.

You don’t have to be Roger Federer to inspire someone. It can just be a friend or family member, and it doesn’t have to be something massive that they’ve done.

During this period, we’re on lockdown at the moment in South Africa with the Coronavirus, and a lot of people have been raising money and do amazing things, while we are all in lockdown.

There have been so many people that inspired me and do cool things. And it’s even better if it’s a close friend of mine because then I can tell them. That’s what’s awesome, it can be people really close to you that can inspire you.

I believe the important thing to do is if someone in life does inspire you, or motivate you, that you tell them that they’re doing that. Because it’s so important for them to feel like they’re making a difference.

If someone in life does inspire you, tell them. Because it’s so important for them to feel they’re making a difference.

So, I wouldn’t say I have one role model, but I try to look for inspiration all around me, all the time.

Why she likes Roger Federer

Christian: I read in an article that you like Roger Federer, why’s that?

Lee-Ann: I’m not sure, I’ve always just been drawn to him, because he’s just so cool, calm collected. I don’t know how else to explain him.

He’s always just so calm, everything’s always in place like his hair’s always in place and his clothes always smart.

That backhand of his is just so sweet. And I just love watching him play. And he’s basically South African as well so that makes it even better. His mother’s South African.

Christian: And his first coach was a South African guy.

Lee-Ann: Oh, is it? Okay, I didn’t know that. Yes, so we like to claim him.

I was like a keen tennis player when I was younger. I always just watched him from a young age and I really enjoyed him as an athlete. And he is also just very, very good at what he does.

Christian: There’s a story about this, his first coach Peter Carter [actually Peter Carter was Australian, Christian got it wrong], who was his coach during all his youth. Apparently, Roger Federer was as a youngster very different than he is nowadays. He threw rackets, and he wasn’t well behaved.

His coach always tried to change that. And then this coach passed away in a car accident on his honeymoon and that was the day Roger Federer said to himself that he’s not going throw a racket anymore, not going to misbehave anymore and that’s the day apparently everything changed.

Lee-Ann: That’s a cool story. Well, sad story but a powerful story.

Christian: And even nowadays, when he gets asked about this first coach, he still, eyes either water up or he really starts crying.

Check out Roger Federer talking about Peter Carter [in 2019]

Lee-Ann: I’m sure I can believe that, must be very emotional for him now.

The best advice she has received

Christian: What is the best advice you received and who gave it to you?

Lee-Ann: I really can’t remember who gave this advice to me, it might have actually been my psychologist at the time. But basically, one of the best things that I was told was, just control what I can control.

One of the best things that I was told was, just control what I can control.

I believe that’s really important in many parts of life, not only sport. So much of the time, people are worrying about what others are doing, and what other people think. In sports, we’re always looking at how others are preparing, and what are they doing.

But you can’t control what they are doing, you can just do what you can do, and to the best of your ability, and believe that that’s enough. There’s no point in wasting time thinking about what others are doing and how they’re preparing. And as an athlete, that was always something that we said, to control what we can control.

So, focus on ourselves, focus on what we’re doing, that we are keeping the process going, and that was the most important thing for us. And then, to add on that another thing, we always wanted to keep it simple. You know, sometimes we can make things so complicated but just stick to the basics. That is very important in sport, stick to the basics.

A typical training day in the life of an Olympic rower

Christian: Back in the days, how did the typical training day look like?

Lee-Ann: It all depended on the day. We had different stations on different days. But most of the time included one water station, sometimes two water stations a day, and then we had, some days where we had like a station in the morning, gym in the middle of the day, and then a water session in the afternoon.

Every other day was two stations a day and Sundays normally just one session a day. This went on a six-week rotation, and then we get a Sunday off and then back on to another six-week rotation.

We also had some different days at times where it was more steady training, like a lot of endurance work and then we had days when we had race pieces and test pieces. That was how the week went. Six hours of training a day, I would say, on average.

When you think about it, it’s not only like six hours of training, it’s also getting to the venue, warming up, cooling down, and then there’s food.

We eat a lot of food as rowers, we never stop eating. So, a lot of time also goes into food preparation, eat the food, then can I fit in the nap before the next session? You never felt like you had enough time in the day to rest basically.

Her involvement in the Girls Only Project

Christian: At the moment, you’re running an interesting project, The Girls Only Project, tell us a bit about that.

Lee-Ann: Yes, I’m actually just an ambassador for the project. But there’s a psychologist in Durban who started The Girls Only Project. Basically, the mission is to raise awareness about gender equality in South Africa.

We promote the ability to play a sport or have access to facilities to play sport. We want to make sure that women are getting the equal opportunity as men to play sport, therefore we need to start in our own country.

We want to make sure that women are getting the equal opportunity as men to play sport, therefore we need to start in our own country.

But obviously, everyone’s looking for quality within the whole world and I think it’s something that I feel strongly about, and also the lady who started the project. So yes, at the moment, we’re just trying to raise awareness through the project and we started a podcast, which I’m hosting at the moment and basically, we’re just sharing stories with other female athletes.

They don’t have to be South African, however, we’ve interviewed quite a few South Africans at the moment, but we really want to just go worldwide and speak to as many women as possible and hear their stories, their challenges, how they think we can help women to get more exposure in sport, equality and an even playing field for both men and women.

We are speaking about prize money, someone’s supposed to be given the same prize money, someone’s supposed to be given different prize money. Why is that? How can we make it better? How can we change it? How can we change the way people see women in sport? Just like discussing those issues and challenges that we’re currently facing.

Christian: Do you think you’re facing more challenges in your own country than in other parts of the world?

Lee-Ann: I don’t have enough knowledge of other parts of the world, but, I have no doubt that the other parts are struggling as much as we are. We’re definitely making strides, and we can see it.

But you know, these things take time, they really do take time to change people’s minds. And you speak to women from other parts of the world, they seem to have some of the same challenges.

So, there’s definitely a connection worldwide, it may not all be the same challenges, but we can definitely all relate to each other in some way or another.

Her interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Lee-Ann: You know, I, I did have someone in mind, they also row in there and they’re also South African as well.

It’s another guy who rowed in our team at the time, Lawrence Brittain, he actually had cancer for a while, while he was rowing, so he had to stop. He then fought cancer, came back, and he won a medal at the Rio 2016 Games.

He’s an inspiration and someone I look up to as well for what he’s achieved and what he’s overcome. He would be a great person to hear from, in terms of how he’s dealt with everything. Those stories are really inspirational.

If I had to nominate someone off the top of my head right now, I would say him but I’ll definitely give it some thought and maybe find someone else in a different sport to nominate.

Christian: If you happen to know the dad of Chad Le Clos, that would be an interesting one.

Lee-Ann: I do actually know a friend of his, so let me see what I can do.

Christian: I guess he just became famous through this interview he gave at the London 2012 Olympics, right? That was pretty cool.

Lee-Ann: Yes. I’ll see if I can get a contact for you.

What’s going on in the life of Lee-Ann-Persse at this moment in time

Christian: What’s going on in your life at this moment in time?

Lee-Ann: Well at the moment, we are in lockdown, the whole world has obviously been hit by the Coronavirus.

I am still working for a company and we do sporting events, hockey, indoor hockey, and we have a clothing line as well.

But we with the current situation, everything’s a bit up in the air, we’re not quite sure what the next step is, and we’re waiting to hear from our government, what they decide. I had quite a few things planned this year, but obviously, all those have now been put on hold.

I put a lot of focus into like my Girls Only Project Podcast, and a lot of work into seeing who we can get on the podcast.

That’s about it, really hoping that we’ll get back to work soon. But unfortunately, this pandemic has hit the world quite hard, and everyone’s kind of in limbo.

Christian: And I saw you studied sports science, are you still studying?

Lee-Ann: I’m not studying anymore, I studied sports science when I was rowing, and then I did actually sports management course on top of my degree, and I actually did quite a bit of coaching.

Now I’ve kind of moved into this other company, which is more focused on events. So, it’s kind of a bit all over the place, not really using my degree much. I’m just trying to find what works for me and what I’m passionate about, sort of outside of rowing at the moment.

Christian: You can also say you’re an all-rounder, not all over the place.

Lee-Ann: An all-rounder, okay, that’s awesome. I really like that; I’m going to use that.

Where can you find Lee-Ann Persse

Christian: Where can people find you?

Lee-Ann:  I have an Instagram account, I am on Facebook, I’m on Twitter as well, that’s where you can find me and follow what I’m doing.

Lee-Ann Persse’s social profiles





Christian: And the Girls Only Project I saw it’s also on Instagram.

Lee-Ann: Yes, they have an Instagram account and they have a website as well that you can go and look at.

Girls Only Project on Instagram

Girls Only Project Website

So, definitely, go have a look there, and then there’ll be links to the podcast as well. So, if you’re interested, go and have a listen.

Christian: Cool. Thanks a lot for your time.

Lee-Ann: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed chatting to you. It was awesome.