ZOE Lee’s Olympic dream was looking less and less likely in March when she could only watch on as her potential teammates battled it out for selection.
But with an Olympic silver medal dangling from her neck after a fabulous performance as the stroke in the women’s eight, she admits the hardest year of her life did have a happy ending after all.
The 30-year-old from Richmond in North Yorkshire helped create British rowing history on Saturday as her crew became the first British women’s eight to win an Olympic medal.
Having struggled to deal with finding a balance between her PhD in geography and training to make the boat in Rio, Lee has had to dig deep to get where she is. On the day it was only the USA who were better – their boat stretching their unbeaten run to 10 years – but Lee admits from where she was earlier in the year a medal is a reward for her determination to bounce back.
“I had no real idea what was going on, if I am honest,” she said. “Obviously, I am right at the front and I can’t see anything.
“At one point I saw Zoe look across and try and assess where we were and she didn’t say anything at that point, that’s normally a bad sign.
“But I knew how far into the race we were, I knew how good our second kilometre is, she’s got this, she knows what to do and the seven girls behind me will give us everything we need.
“At that point it started to blow up a little more and those are the conditions we relish so we just took that on.
“It’s crazy, the whole Olympiad has been crazy. I broke into the team in 2013 but this last year has been one of hardest years of my entire life.
“I had to hand in my PhD a month after we qualified the boat at the world championships last year and it just put me into this physical hole that I didn’t really know how to get out of.
“I didn’t end up competing in our final trials and I had to watch these amazing girls go and race each other and I had no power to go and show how great I could be.
“I was just grateful that Paul Thompson [coach] took that chance and said ‘ we know what Zoe does, we believe in her’ and he put me in that boat.”