Rebecca Charlton |

‘This will be the real test as to how we can all cope and how communities pull together’

Over the next few days, we are featuring key workers from the rowing community to find out about their roles and how rowing has supported them during this time. Gig rower Rob Pring shares his experiences with Rebecca Charlton

Throughout 2020 the global pandemic has cast a shadow over all of us and our doctors and nurses have deservedly become the shining stars in the battle against Covid-19. Continuing our key worker series, Rebecca Charlton chats to Cornwall-based cardiac physiologist Rob Pring and discovers how rowing has played a significant role in his ability to remain positive and continue his vital work this year.


Rebecca: Can you tell us about your role?

Rob: I’m a cardiac physiologist based at the Royal Cornwall Hospital. When people come in having had chest pain or heart attacks, we can assess the state of their coronary arteries and, if needs be, then we can help to pop in little stents or tiny little balloons and return the blood flow back to the heart. We also do a lot of pacemakers in Cornwall and diagnostic work. 

Rebecca: Have a lot of people have had to adapt their roles to help in the Covid crisis?

Rob: Yes. Within our physiology we’re pretty specialised, so, unfortunately, we’ve been a bit non-transferrable – we haven’t been able to help out other departments as much as some others. Our skills are very honed into the tasks that we do within cardiology. We’ve seen our colleagues chipping in left, right and centre while we’ve carried on ploughing our field as it were. 


Rebecca: When did you realise we had something pretty significant coming our way?

Arguably January, February time there was more talk about Covid-19. It became real when we were having weekly and, then daily, Covid meetings – a mass team brief before the day kicked off at work – and then we went into lockdown.

A couple of colleagues had been away in February and then were signed off having tested positive for Covid. It suddenly went from being something on the other side of the world to something on our doorstep. Often in Cornwall we’re quite remote down here, so to have it affecting colleagues made it very real, pretty quickly. 

Rebecca: How much did it affect you personally? 

Rob: I think we’ve all had anxieties over the facts and figures particularly. We were using a model based on what we saw in Italy. Mass shutdowns, military policing the lockdown, and, also, the numbers of deaths that they we were having – what they were predicting was quite horrific. 

“You did feel like an astronaut strolling through the corridors with all the kit on”

Rebecca: What was the working environment like?

Rob: There were concerns that PPE wasn’t fitting, that there wasn’t enough stock. Every hospital went from having no Covid PPE to everyone having enough, and more.

Our parents, our families, our friends – are they going to be safe to leave the house? Can they stand within 2, 3, 5 metres of you? And how long was it going to last? Were people going to die of something else in their own homes?

The first couple of weeks was the test and, once we realised that things weren’t quite as catastrophic, it certainly helped us say ‘right, this is our playing field, this is what we have to do’ and we dealt with stuff as it came in. Any death is awful, any bereavement for any family is terrible, but to be so far off the mark from what they’d predicted is a big comfort to us. It would have been easy to have been swamped.

Rebecca: How quickly did you adapt to wearing PPE?

Rob: Pretty rapidly! It felt awkward and clunky and a bit embarrassing to stomp through the hospital when you’d ordinarily be just wearing scrubs and your name badge to suddenly having to prepare yourself for five or ten minutes – you did feel like an astronaut strolling through the corridors with all the kit on, but it quickly became the norm.

Rebecca: What can we learn from 2020?

Rob: I think this will be the biggest team-building exercise we’ll ever go through. Better than any corporate event or making a raft out of twigs; this will be the real test as to how we can all cope and how communities pull together. At work we’ve all had our wobble, our little peaks and troughs and I think it’s been really nice how we’ve all looked after each other. Through adversity you find your strengths.   

Rebecca: Tell us about your role in the world of rowing

Rob: I’m a gig rower, so I’m not a slidey seater! I don’t wear singlets, it’s all very much flip-flops and T-shirts; there’s a lot of sand, a lot of sea salt and a lot of fun!


I’ve been gig rowing since I was a junior and I’ve been very sporty and active all my life. I’ve done rugby, rowing, cricket and athletics. Latterly, I’ve been rowing for Falmouth and I love it! I’m in the vets category now, but rowing doesn’t drop off – you gain composure and your skills are always being honed through age, so you’re not necessarily as fit as you were when you were 20, but some of the vets crews are equal, if not better, than a lot of the younger crews.

Rebecca: Have you been able to continue gig rowing at all throughout the pandemic?

Rob: Short answer, no. Hopefully with the vaccine being rolled out, instead of having social distance restrictions, we can start to move towards a more positive lifestyle. That’s what I asked Santa for! 

“They said you’re either going to be a chunk, a hunk, or a drunk after Covid”

Rebecca: Have you been doing a lot on the indoor rowing machine?

Rob: Yes! On Sunday I did a marathon, just for fun! Three hours and six minutes of my life I’ll never get back and I’ve still got some pretty sore spots on my hands, but I’ve done it! I’ve ticked that box and never again – one ergo for sale, free to collectors.

Rebecca: How important has sport and exercise been to cope with the stress?

Rob: They said you’re either going to be a chunk, a hunk, or a drunk after Covid and I was adamant I wasn’t going to be a chunk! I do like my gin, but it’s been really nice having goals.

It’s cathartic – you get home, from a bit of a gnarly day at work and you can put your PE kit on, hop on the ergo and it’s long forgotten. So, I’m so grateful to have it.

In the summer, to put my erg out in the garden and sit out with the birds and the bees rowing away… it was almost nice.  

We’ll be showcasing more experiences of key workers in the rowing community on British Rowing Plus over the next few days