Karen Bennett rejects day job for Olympic training
A taste of a desk job did not satisfy Karen Bennett, inspiring her return to rowing with the Olympics in her sight
By Tom Harle, Sportsbeat
A few days in a desk job were enough to drive Karen Bennett back into training for the Olympics.
The Edinburgh rower stepped away from the sport last summer to spend time with family and signed up for work experience in a sales role.
It’s fair to say it didn’t float the boat of the two-time Olympian.
“I was just turning up and thinking, ‘this is it now, for the rest of my life?’” said the 2016 Olympic silver medallist.
“If I hadn’t come back to the sport and answered the question, right now I’d probably be in my sales job thinking ‘what if’ and mentally tripping myself up.
“You’ve only got one life, so I might as well give it a shot.”
That carpe diem mentality is far from a throwaway line - it has taken Bennett a lot of pain, patience and practice to get to that point.
The 34-year-old’s world was turned upside down when her father, Davie, passed away just eight weeks before the Tokyo Olympics.
Family tragedy has sharpened Bennett’s focus on health and wellbeing to such an extent that she has started a personal training business and it played a part in her decision to return to rowing.
“You want to live life to the fullest and that’s what I’m trying to do,” she said. “I’m trying to make my family proud and get the family name out there, as well.”
Congratulations to our #GBRowingTeam juniors for a great weekend of racing at the European U19 Championships! 🇬🇧
Full race report 👇https://t.co/b2Qb77MzJV pic.twitter.com/rfNpIJPAZY
— British Rowing (@BritishRowing) May 22, 2023
Eighteen months later the weight of grief still lays heavy - too heavy for Bennett to take with her into the boat.
“It’s tricky because when I think about it, I get really emotional,” she said. “If I think about him on the start line, I’d be in a hysterical state.
“It’s in the back of my mind and there is that hunger to do it for him, but it’s still hard to talk about. I’m still going through it and it’s part of me.”
Last summer, Bennett and the rest of the rowing world sat back and watched as the British team stole a march on their rivals.
Bennett’s women’s four was one of six Team GB crews to finish fourth in Tokyo and the bounceback from that disappointment was instant and emphatic as GB came top of the World Championship medal table.
“The girls were doing so well and performing the best they have for a long time and I wanted to be part of it,” said Bennett.
“It’s a different type of training now, we’ve got a new head coach (Andrew Randell) who’s doing a really good job and helping my body get used to it.
“I’m a year older and coming back in, I’m thinking about things differently and it’s been a positive comeback.”
Like Bennett, two-time Olympic champion and mum-of-three Helen Glover is back in the breach at Caversham and building the momentum behind the women’s squad.
The road to Paris 2024 continues at May's European Championships at Lake Bled with the Worlds in Belgrade in September offering crucial Olympic qualification opportunities.
The prospect of a third Games with Team GB gives Bennett another layer of motivation - if she needed it.
"A third Olympics would be massive," she said. "My quest from silver in Rio was to do better in Tokyo, but that didn't happen, so the drive is there to get another medal.
"That's the goal and I am building towards that."
British Rowing is the governing body for the sport and is responsible for the development of rowing in England and the training and selection of rowers to represent Great Britain. The GB Rowing Team is supported by the National Lottery Sports Fund. To find out more, and to follow the team, head to https://www.britishrowing.org/