In the Same Boat

Kiwi superstar rowers Caroline and Georgina (Georgie) Evers-Swindell talk to Jo Bailey about the high points and challenges of being World and Olympic champion twins.

eversswindellThere’s nothing us Kiwis like more than celebrating the success of our sporting heroes, and champion rowing sisters Caroline and Georgie Evers-Swindell have certainly given us plenty to cheer about over the last six years. With four World Championship titles and an Olympic gold medal to their name, it’s obvious the twins share not only their blonde good looks, but also the talent, drive, and determination to take them to the top and keep them there.

Being a professional athlete is a serious business, especially if you’re a successful one. So just how do the sisters cope with the pressures of holding on to their position at the top of the rowing world, and meeting the New Zealand public’s very high expectations? By simply taking it one day at a time.

While the Beijing Olympics in 2008 are a long term goal, Georgie says they have too many daily, weekly and monthly goals to tick off before they can give it any real thought. “We leave all the long term planning to our coach Richard Tonks and the High Performance Centre at Rowing New Zealand as there is still lots of little and big things we have to achieve before we can get to Beijing. We very much approach our lives one day and one training at a time.”

Caroline and Georgie are currently preparing to compete at the 2007 World Championships in Munich in August where they hope to avenge their shock loss to the Australian and German crews at least year’s event. “We’ve shared some amazing experiences but it is when times are really tough, like last year’s loss at the World Champs, that I appreciate being with my twin sister the most,” says Caroline. Georgie adds that after years of almost continuous success, the loss gave them valuable insight into their ability to cope under the pressure of defeat. “I used to wonder in the back of my mind what would happen when we did get beaten, but we totally supported each other, and didn’t blame each other. It was a huge relief to discover that we didn’t want to give up – that despite the loss we were just as determined to give it another go.”

Being a professional rower is a full time job for the Evers-Swindells. Their training starts at around 7am each day with a stint on the exercise bike. After a hearty breakfast they meet down at the lake for some intensive training sessions, which continue some days until well after 5pm.

Caroline says she and Georgie are lucky they can share their career and successes, but adds the relationship takes careful management. “We flatted together up until two years ago, when it became just too difficult for us to do everything together.” Unlike other New Zealand rowing crews who are taught by sports psychologists how to bond more closely, Caroline and George have had to implement rules to give them greater independence from each other. “We made a few changes to start with, things like doing different jobs in the boatshed, and taking separate cars to and from training. It seemed quite ridiculous to follow each other down the road, but it was the only ten minutes a day we had to ourselves.”

Finally, after the Athens Olympics, the sisters decided to move into separate houses. “We knew if we wanted to make it work for another four years we would have to have our own space,” says Georgie. “Being able to go away and have some time out has really helped us appreciate each other so much more.”

It is surprising to learn that rowing is the one sport Caroline and Georgie didn’t start competing in together.
Caroline joined her high school rowing team in 1995, and it wasn’t until she won four gold medals at the Maadi Cup later that year, that Georgie’s interest in the sport was finally piqued. Georgie remembers waiting at home for her parents and Caroline to return from the regatta, while reading in the newspaper that Caroline was going to be the next big thing in rowing. “I thought bugger this, it must be easy, I have to give it a go,” she laughs. Soon the twins were rowing together with equal success, making the New Zealand Junior Rowing team in their first year. By 1998 they had reached elite level, and in 2001 won their first World Championship medal.

Although they have always had the talent and drive to pursue a professional sporting career, Caroline says they couldn’t have achieved the success they have without the financial and emotional support of their parents. “We relied fully on Mum and Dad in the first few years. It was great when we got our first performance-based grant from SPARC in 2001 as we could finally ring our parents and say ‘you can stop paying our rent now’,” says Caroline.

Along with their PEGS (Performance Enhancement Grant) grant from SPARC and support from Rowing New Zealand, the sisters are supported by PGG Wrightsons, NZ Beef & Lamb, Orca, Samsung, Weleda, adidas Eyewear and Leppin Sport. “We feel honoured to have a cool bunch of sponsors who believe in us and enable us to concentrate on our rowing full time,” says Georgie. “They are all a really good fit with us, as we are great believers in all the products and brands we endorse.”
The Olympic champions are also assisted by a “big group of people” including their family, and manager Tonia Cawood who manages their relationship with sponsors and organises the sister’s speaking engagements and media commitments.

As twins with such a close connection in both their personal and professional lives it’s not surprising to learn Caroline and Georgie share many of the quirks so often associated with twins. “We sometimes tell people a story in exactly the same way, or say the same thing at the same time,” says Caroline. “What we find most frustrating is that we have similar taste in clothes, and often turn up to functions wearing almost identical outfits. It drives us crazy.”

With female rowers not peaking until their early 30s, the Evers-Swindells could have a good few years left at the top. But with their focus very firmly on their next day’s training and their next regatta, neither Caroline nor Georgie will predict what the future might hold. “We don’t think or plan that far ahead,” says Georgie. “Whether there are another couple of Olympics in us who can say? What’s important to us is that we love what we’re doing, as that is what keeps us going.”

Caroline and Georgie’s Top 5 tips for Being Part of a Professional Sporting Team

Have a clear team goal
Respect your team mate’s ability and commitment to achieving that goal
Be willing to compromise
Be supportive of each other
Be able to listen