For Mahé and Juliette Drysdale, 2015 has been a big year. Between preparing for the Rio Olympics and raising one-year-old Brontë, the pair haven’t had much time to themselves – which is why a relaxing island getaway to Hawaii seemed like the perfect solution.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the Weekly catches up with them just after their return from their 10-day jaunt, the rowing legends reveal they didn’t spend their break lying down.“I guess we’re what you call active relaxers,” laughs Mahé (37).
“I wouldn’t even define the way we holiday as ‘relaxing’,” Juliette (33) adds. “We packed in a lot of activities in the 10 days we were there!" Zip-lining, snorkelling, hiking down canyons – with Brontë strapped into a front pack no less – and kayaking replaced the usual itinerary of sunbathing and cocktail drinking. “Being away from training schedules and baby routines was relaxing enough,” says Juliette, who retired from rowing after winning bronze in the coxless pairs at the 2012 London Olympics.
“It was pretty action-packed, which is just the way we like to operate.” In fact, it’s the first time the trio had spent 10 uninterrupted days together since their baby girl was born in October 2014 – and it turns out, she has inherited her parents’ love of action and adrenaline.
“Brontë’s a pretty adventurous little baby,” Mahé tells. “She really loves the water; she couldn’t get enough of the slide at the hotel pool. She’d be splashing around in the pool
for a bit, but she’d get bored and then want to go down the slide again.”
“It was hard to tell who was having a better time – Brontë or Mahé,” Juliette laughs. “I think you can see it in her face – she was definitely having the better time!” Mahé protests.
Shaking her head, Juliette continues, “Mahé has said to me, ‘Isn’t it lucky that we have a baby who loves the rough stuff?’ But I’m not entirely sure she has a choice! She’s even been out in the surf– Mahé took her. She giggled all the way through it and when a wave broke on her, she’d just laugh!”
Their first year of being parents has gone by in a flash for the couple, who married on the grounds of their Cambridge home in 2013.
“Parenthood suits us very well, actually,” tells Mahé. “We’ve really enjoyed it. There have been challenges, definitely, but it’s actually been easier than we thought it would be! Brontë’s such a good baby.”
One of those trials, Mahé and Juliette admit, is the onset of the tantrums. “We’re just discovering more about those. Up until now, Brontë’s been such a lovely, easygoing little girl!” Juliette says.
“But she’s so much more than I could have ever imagined. She’s brought such life into our family and is an absolute joy. We are so proud of her every day. We have really enjoyed watching her go from a tiny baby to taking her first steps and saying her first word, which was ‘Daddy’.But we think everything she does is amazing!”
Indeed, Brontë is proving to be very much a daddy’s girl – and she’s even helping the Olympic champion with his rowing. “This past year was one of the best of my career and I think she’s been a big part of that,” Mahé explains.
“It’s been really nice to come home and completely switch off from rowing and enjoy being a dad. I‘ve had balance because of Brontë.” That balance is about to
be compromised, though, as preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics pick up pace. So the timing for their family holiday couldn’t have been better.
It did mean a bit of long-distance flying, especially for Juliette and Brontë. They met Mahé in Europe before the World Champs, and being by yourself with a one-year-old for more than 27 hours of flights and transfers is a special kind of hell for any parent, as Juliette can now testify. “It was pretty challenging,” says Juliette in what’s likely to be a huge understatement. “She didn’t really sleep at all.”
However, as soon as the trio hit Hawaii, it was strictly family time.
“It was so nice to have that downtime – it was very invigorating,” says Mahé. “It gave me a chance to reflect on the year and get ready to go again, and being in a spot like that, well, it’s fantastic. It’s the perfect place to do nothing – or in our case, do everything!”
Mahé and Juliette started the trip at the Westin Princeville on the island of Kauai, where the slower pace of life was very welcome after a hectic rowing campaign that saw Mahé take home a silver medal in the men’s single sculls.
“We took a road trip around the island and we hiked down Waimea Canyon, which was very impressive,” he says. Juliette chips in, “The sign by the path we took said ‘difficult’, so I thought it probably wasn’t a good idea to take the baby down there. But nope, Mahé just strapped Brontë in to the front pack and off we went!”
After a few more days on Kauai, which included an adrenaline-filled zip-lining and kayak expedition, the Drysdales travelled to Honolulu, on the island of O’ahu, where a little history about Pearl Harbor was mixed with surfing, swimming and snorkelling.
But the number-one priority was spending time with Brontë. “It felt like Christmas feels to most other people, I think,” Juliette shares. "Mahé only gets three weeks off a year, so we made the most of it!”
Now back in New Zealand and focused on Mahé’s Olympic campaign, Juliette, who has recently taken a part-time media and communications role with Rowing New Zealand, reveals everything is now invested in Rio.
“We say that we’re part of his team,” she tells. “I’m always telling Mahé that we’re in the boat with him. Although when he had a bit of a tough race, he said to me, ‘Maybe next time, can you guys get out of the boat? You’re heavy!’ How rude!”
“Rio is definitely the big goal,” Mahé nods. “After Rio, our lives will be up in the air, especially now that Jules is working, which was a goal for her. And as for me, I have a decision to make as to what happens – do I keep going or retire and do something else, which will be quite a different place to be!”
It’s a dynamic time, but both Mahé and Juliette reveal they’ll definitely be trying for more kids sometime in the future.
“We really want more – if we didn’t have the Olympics to worry about, we’d probably be having one now!” Mahé admits with a smile.
“Initially, we thought we’d have another one before Rio, but then we had Brontë and we were like, ‘Woah, this is quite full-on!’ “We can’t wait for when we do, though. It’s an incredibly exciting time for us.”