Loe fends off doubters to become a world champion
Olivia Loe wouldn't be told she was too small and not good enough to be a great rower. Despite constant knock-backs, she's now a world champion, writes Juliette Drysdale.
Olivia Loe’s story is one we can all take something from.
Last year, with her crewmate Brooke Donoghue, Loe became a world champion in the women’s double scull. It was a small miracle, given Loe had repeatedly been told she was too small and not good enough, and was overtly dismissed by rowing selectors.
Yet she never once considered walking away from the sport that she adores. Each time Loe was delivered a blow to her aspirations, she thought to herself: Challenge accepted.
The daughter of well-known All Black Richard Loe is stubborn by nature, extremely hard-working, her own harshest critic and, by her own admission, prone to developing tunnel vision when it comes to her goals.
Growing up, Loe tried and loved playing a wide range of sports. At the age of 10, obviously inspired by her father, she wanted to be an All Black.
“I was very disappointed when I found out that girls weren’t allowed to be All Blacks,” she says. “Mainly because I was playing with boys at the time and thought I was better… I couldn’t understand that if I was better than them, why couldn’t I be an All Black?”
Now 26, Loe says her parents had different attitudes when it came to sport - her mother more focused on doing your best and having fun, while her father was more centered on winning.
“Whenever we used to watch rugby as kids on a Saturday night at home, Dad would pause the TV, get out a bar stool and we’d have to reenact different plays they’d done and how he’d do it better. Every opportunity was an opportunity to learn, whereas Mum would say ‘have fun and enjoy yourselves’,” she says.
“I love a challenge. If someone says I’m not good enough or says I can’t do it, I just feed off it."
- Olivia Loe
Olivia’s initial drive to pursue rowing was ignited by her sister Jessica, who had rowed both at school and as a New Zealand representative at junior level. Olivia was significantly smaller than her elder sister - at 170cm, she is a seriously small athlete in the rowing world. But she certainly punches above her size and weight.
“I think it’s actually probably why I’m successful now - because I had to work so much harder. It was never natural speed; I had to be technically better,” Loe says. “I was always short so they said ‘You have to row longer’, so I would row longer, longer, longer, and now they’re like ‘You’re too long, row shorter’.
“I was always trying to do more and it was never enough. Because working as hard as anybody else is never enough for me. I always feel like I’m pushing for more, looking for more and never really satisfied with what’s there. And that’s the only reason why I was able to do what I did last year.”
Over the course of her career, Loe has been discounted and dismissed by selectors numerous times, but also credits those experiences for her mental toughness and huge work ethic.
“The only way you can fight back against people who don’t believe in you is to make it blatantly obvious that you are meant to be there and you deserve to be there,” she says.
“Insanity is thinking you can keep on doing the same thing and not change and expect a different outcome. You might be working hard and trying hard but you need to be exceptional, you have to do something different.”
Loe spent four years rowing for New Zealand at the under-23 level, and two years as a reserve, one of them for the New Zealand Olympic team.
It’s no secret that as a reserve, you can be treated like a second-class citizen. It’s also no secret that it’s a seriously tough gig with the level of training expected, all on the small chance that you may get the call-up into the crew.
“I guess the second time I was named reserve it was pretty heartbreaking, because it was the Olympic year. I felt like I deserved to be on the team, but then I had to weigh up whether one more year as a reserve was worth pushing through. I still loved it and, as hard as it was watching a crew that I wanted to be in go out training and be successful - it was fuel as well.”
Loe, who lives in Cambridge where the national rowing team is based, now draws on those two years for motivation, and thrives on being the underdog.
“I love a challenge. If someone says I’m not good enough or says I can’t do it, I just feed off it,” she says."I don’t know why but, if someone says no to me, then I think: ‘Definitely then?’
“As a reserve it was so tough, battling away day by day. It makes the sessions now seem a little bit more bearable - you’re on the team, you’ve got a big goal, you’re working towards something.”
Last year, Loe finally got her opportunity when she was selected with Donoghue in the elite women’s double. The satisfaction of being crowned world champions must have been immense given Loe’s progressive, but slow, rise to the top. The new combination was unbeaten over the international season, winning two world cup regattas, the overall world cup series and then the world championships.
“I just don’t think anyone would have expected me to end up where I have ended up. I was always trying, always improving but I think it just took a long time to for me to prove myself,” Loe says.
“I wasn’t going to get in on natural talent or potential. It wasn’t going to be handed to me. I knew that because, on paper, I wasn’t anybody’s favourite.”
Together Donoghue and Loe are now striving to improve on all the milestones they achieved in 2017. An Olympic gold medal is firmly set at the top of their list of goals.