Debbie Flood - going for Gold and God - March 2011

Watch this space. You may be hearing a lot more about silver medallist Debbie Flood over the next year or so, says PAUL HOBSON

Already with two Olympic silver medals to her name, the British Baptist rower has genuine designs on a gold upgrade in 2012.

Debbie Flood, alongside teammates Frances Houghton, Annabel Vernon and Beth Rodford, took first place in the women’s quadruple scull race in the rowing World Championships, in New Zealand last November.

This was essentially a stepping stone to London, says Flood, who at age 30 has amassed three World Championship golds.

“We do have the World Championships every two years, but we’d give up all those for the Olympics, and 2012 is the big one.”

Flood has contrasting Olympic experiences, despite the same result at each. Her first games in Athens in 2004 ended with a surprising silver.

At the Beijing games four years later the aim was to go one better. Her quad had been world champions three years running.

“There was a lot of expectation and pressure, and we wanted and believed we could get that gold medal too,” she says.

The team led for six minutes of the six-and-a-half-minute race, before being edged out by China at the finish.

“We were gutted to the core,” says Flood. “Absolutely devastated.”

After Beijing, she took a break from the sport to work with troubled youngsters.

“I guess I really felt God putting on my heart to work with kids. I began to think that was maybe the way forward after my career.”

To find out whether she could work with such disruptive and challenging children, she opted to put herself in “the most extreme position” – by volunteering in a juvenile prison.

“I know I really want to work with disruptive youngsters in some way …  That’s the area God has been calling me to.”

Debbie Flood grew up in a Christian family. She committed herself to Christ when she was 15.

Flood didn’t set out to become a rower. Her first athletic success came in martial arts and track and field. She also used to run with her father, and only discovered the rowing machine when he was directed to it after a knee injury.

She enjoyed it and went on a summer rowing course.  She came to the attention of Mark Banks, then British Rowing's chief coach for juniors. He not only spotted her latent athletic ability, but a desire for success.

Banks took Flood on, which required that she move to Reading. Under Banks’ supervision Flood improved markedly, so much so that she stood a chance of making the team for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Ultimately she wasn’t selected, and it seemed like a hammer blow. “I was devastated. I thought, ‘God, why have you put me here? I’ve just wasted two years for nothing.’”

But her Sydney non-selection enabled her to compete in both the Under-23 Championships and the Henley Royal Regatta. She became the first British woman to win both events in a single rowing shell – and began to take stock of what had happened.

“At that point in my life I looked back at the random events and thought, ‘Wow, I’m in the right place.’ If I could choose to go to the Olympics instead of what I’ve done, I wouldn’t.

“It made me think that God’s totally got my life in his hands.”

Her rowing career is more strenuous than ever. Training takes place three times a day, with just three weeks off a year. Everything is aimed at improving performances.

“...[I]t can get very intense,” Flood says. “But for me, as a Christian, I’m able to look at the bigger picture … I keep coming back to that: my life is in God’s hands.

“God has given me this ability to row, and I’m in the rowing world as an ambassador and as a witness for Christ.

“If things aren’t going the way I want them to go, yes, I might be moody. But at the end of the day I’ve got to trust that God’s got me where he wants me to be.”

And that, come London 2012, might just include another medal-award podium.

Adapted from an article that first appeared in The Baptist Times and used with permission

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