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Real Life

George Bridgewater's going for gold

George Bridgewater's family is pulling together to get the rowing star to the Rio games.

By Laura Weaser
With two children under three, a new business to run and an Olympic campaign to manage, rower George Bridgewater sounds surprisingly relaxed when the Weekly chats to him at his Cambridge home. A typical week for the Olympic rower involves 30 hours of training, twice a day for six days, as he prepares for a three-month stint overseas. He’s also working part-time on his new “soft” food business, The Pure Food Co, which he recently launched with his brother Sam and their friend Maia Royal. Every other spare minute, George spends with wife Rachel and their two children, Hugo (3) and 16-month-old Isabel.
While life may be hectic, George’s voice is calm and it sounds like he has everything under control.
“Yeah, it sounds like it!” Rachel emphasises with a laugh, to which her husband replies, “It doesn’t feel like it, I agree, but that’s why we have to be really strict about time for family.”
The decision to return to competition isn’t one George has taken lightly, particularly now that he has a family. The 32-year-old had left rowing at an international level in 2008, after taking home bronze in the coxless pairs with Nathan Twaddle, at the Beijing Olympics.
Celebrating with fellow Olympic medal winners in Beijing in 2008 (from left): Hayden Roulston, Mahe Drysdale, Georgina Evers-Swindell, Valerie Adams, Nathan Twaddle and Caroline Evers-Swindell.
After studying for an MBA at the University of Oxford, where he rowed for the college team, George went on to work as an investment banker. Then he and Rachel spent five years working in Hong Kong and Singapore.
But the call of home was too great and, itching to finish what he started with rowing, as well as give Isabel and Hugo a better quality of life, the Bridgewaters returned home in June 2014. “Living overseas was good while it lasted, but it wasn’t us,” tells George. “We love the New Zealand lifestyle and being able to give the kids space to play.”
Plotting his comeback, with an eye on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, George jumped back into competition mode. And while he was in Europe for a month at the Henley Royal Regatta, Rachel moved their household from Asia to their new home in the Waikato.
“It was quite a traumatic experience for Rachel, I think...” starts George.
“It was hard,” admits Rachel. “Isabel was four months and Hugo had just turned two, so I had to do an all-nighter. But it also makes you feel like you can do anything.”
It’s no surprise that as George chases his Olympic dream, Rachel (33) is doing all she can to turn it into a reality. A former coxswain, the pair first met in 2003 at the Great Gallagher Race on the Waikato River, where she was asked to cox the men’s team, which included George. While she didn’t notice him at first, they later bonded over a shared love of sport at the event after-party.
“I didn’t really interpret the signals during the day very well because Rachel kept asking me for more effort during the race,” George recalls. “I thought she saw me as a bit of a softy.”
The champion rower has had to balance his commitment to his sport with family demands and being director of a start-up company.
After previously launching a comeback of her own – Rachel was asked to be the coxswain for the women’s eight at the Olympic Qualification Regatta for Beijing in 2008 – she is now happy to stay home. It’s particularly important having someone 100% invested in the children, she says, while George tours and puts any spare time into their food business, which creates balanced meals for those requiring a modified diet – for instance, after surgery.
Of course, she doesn’t have a chance to miss the water sport too much because every other day is spent watching George compete. But he will certainly be missed from next week when he joins the New Zealand rowing team as they compete at the World Cups in Italy and Switzerland, then the World Rowing Championships in Lake Aiguebelette, France.
“When George was away last time, Hugo took a liking to any male who would come to the door, especially [George’s] brother Sam. You could tell he missed his dad.”
Adds George, “I used to get really excited about going away and while there’s definitely still that excitement, I’m at the point where a shorter tour would be nice. It’s mixed emotions.”

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