Ellen Buttrick |

‘Being at the Europeans gave me confidence that the training I have done for the past year has paid off’

Racing in the PR3 mixed coxed four, GB Para rower Ellen Buttrick and crew brought back a glorious gold from the European Rowing Championships. Ellen shares her thoughts on what it was like to compete for the first time in 20 months

I have just returned from the 2021 European Championships in Varese, Italy where the Great Britain Rowing Team topped the medal table with a haul of five golds, four silvers and three bronzes.

Being back in a racing environment was a shock to the system after 20 months of just training and COVID-19 procedures made it a different experience to what I am used to. The main differences being a lot more paperwork to travel, wearing masks at all time – apart from in the boat – hand sanitiser everywhere and social distancing, including on the pontoon and podium, where each crew also collected their own medals. Whilst the event was being held, Italy was under a strict lockdown so when we weren’t racing or training, we were sitting in the hotel. To be fair, this is what a regatta representing GB usually looks like, as we want maximum recovery in between races.

Uncertainty around whether we would be attending the race was difficult especially as we were entering our final preparations. I found the best way to cope was to focus my attention on the things that I could control (my rowing) and trust in the fact that both the UK and Italian government, World Rowing (the event organisers), the GB Rowing Team (my team) and my coaches had everything else under control.

“Competing at the Europeans was a landmark event for myself and the rest of the GB Para squad, on top of it being the first race back”

A year in a pandemic has allowed me to develop my resilience to change, something that I would not have managed a year ago.

It’s in my nature to be very structured and I enjoy executing a plan and completing a to-do list. This is one of the personality traits that can make me a good athlete as I am able to follow a training programme, diligently, and respond quickly to coaching.

Alternatively, it has meant that I have struggled in the past when things didn’t go to plan or I was not in charge of a situation. The frequency of COVID-19 testing leading up to, and throughout, the regatta definitely put my mind at ease. As uncomfortable as the test can be, it’s nice to know that everybody around you has had to test negative in order to enter the event even with all of the safety precautions in place.


Competing at the Europeans was a landmark event for myself and the rest of the GB Para squad on top of it being the first race back. Last year was the first time the European Rowing Championships included Para rowing events, but owing to COVID-19 restrictions the GB team did not attend.

Para rowing has only been included in the Paralympics since 2008 and the first Para rowing World Rowing event was in 2002. All of these races were 1,000m in length, but in 2017 they became equal to Olympic races at 2,000m. Similarly, the first World Rowing women’s competition, held in 1974, started at 1,000m too.

At present, due to accessibility of rowing venues, Para rowing is not always offered at an event which means that in some years we race in only one competition. Being given this chance of another race and the opportunity to become European champions was a really important step for the GB Para squad. Every one of the 10 athletes selected for the Europeans team returned home with a medal including a gold for my crew and a gold for the PR2 mixed double sculls.

As a team we were very privileged to be able to compete again thanks to the UK government’s guidelines around elite sport and, hopefully, if the roadmap goes to plan, club rowers will be enjoying some racing soon too. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.

Being out at the Europeans reminded me of what I’m training for, but also gave me confidence that the training I have been doing for the past year has paid off.

Our next race will be Tokyo so we’re now back to the grind, once we’ve completed multiple COVID-19 tests of course!

Photos: Getty Images