The John Hall Rowing Scholarship, valued at $10,000 annually, has been awarded for a second time to Bachelor of Biomedicine student and Melbourne University Boat Club (MUBC) member Eliza Gaffney.
Richard Hall created the scholarship in memory of his father John, to support talented rowers to continue competitively rowing with MUBC whilst studying at the University of Melbourne.
As the scholarship's inaugural recipient last year, we caught up with Gaffney to talk about her study and training during the COVID disruptions of 2020–21 and what opportunities the scholarship would bring this year.
A keen student majoring in physiology, Gaffney highlighted how the scholarship has allowed her to pursue excellence in her study and rowing while doing both on a full-time basis. In fact, the combination of biomedicine and rowing has been essential for her.
"Cardiology, in particular, is fascinating to me. Heart and lung function is a huge determinant of success in my sport, so I'm a huge nerd for any information I can find. I'm not quite sure what I want to study after this, but clinical research or intellectual property law are two options I am currently exploring. "
As COVID-19 hit Australia last year, many athletes had to overhaul their training programs completely, but Gaffney emphasised the opportunities for growth that she found when adapting her training approach to a lockdown environment.
"My training during the lockdown in 2020 was mostly on the rowing machine and the bike and revolved around clocking up hours of steady training minutes, so my body was as aerobically fit as possible. I also had access to weights during this time and was able to get far stronger than I was before COVID."
As for the switch to studying from home? Well, there were some silver linings in online learning as a student-athlete.
"Switching to the online format has had its challenges, but in some respects, it has been a blessing, in terms of reducing commuting time and allowing more flexibility. As an athlete, we are always searching for more time in the day, but it has become easier for me to fit my study in around each session of the day."
"The EAP has continued to provide study support and flexibility for me in terms of assessments and exams. There are ongoing zoom meetings that allow athletes to catch up and chat once a week, which I think is wonderful, but I am often training at that time and unable to attend."
As Victoria emerged from its lengthy lockdown in 2020, rowing training and competition resumed at a break-neck pace across Australia, finally allowing Gaffney to put her quarantine training efforts to use on the water.
"The 2020/21 season was very intense and stressful, but the months encapsulating Nationals and the following U23 campaign were incredibly rewarding, in terms of my personal development and the friendships made along the way. After not being able to train on the water for most of 2020, it was very special to be part of the U23 Eight and train a very fast (and very fun) boat for the weeks that we were together."
With the 20/21 season complete, we asked Gaffney about her goals and outlook for the next twelve months after securing the financial support of the John Hall Rowing Scholarship.
"I would love to get to the stage where I am of senior-level standard and be able to train at the Women's National Training Centre in Penrith. However, I am still young and have another year of U23 eligibility – and if I make the U23 team next season, I would be able to go to Italy in July next year for the Championships. In terms of study, I should finish up my biomedicine degree this year, and I will take some time to decide what post-graduate study I will pursue."
And of course, after the success of Australian athletes at the Olympics, we asked Gaffney about her favourite events at the Tokyo Games this year – naturally, rowing was a highlight.
"While I love watching the swimming at every Olympics, rowing was the most important event for me this year -- I was glued to the TV. That day where four of our crews medalled within ninety minutes of each other was just incredible. This year, we raced side-by-side with these crews as part of the U23 campaign, so I was well aware of how fast they would be. Watching the women's four win gold was my favourite though. I had the opportunity to race with three of the four women in the Victorian Interstate Eight at Nationals -- they are incredibly kind, humble and hard-working -- and are the most thoroughly deserving Olympic champions."
Applications are now open for the 2022 John Hall Rowing Scholarship. To read more about the John Hall Rowing Scholarship and its history, click here