SANITA Puspure has already made the journey from Latvia to Cork. Now she’s hoping that a forthcoming trip to France can book her a ticket to next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, near Lyon, between August 30 and September 6 offer her first shot at 2016 Olympic qualification and it’s one that she intends to grasp. A top nine finish would be good enough.
In 2012 she left it late to sneak into the London Games and she has no intention of doing the same this time around.
The 33-year-old was born in the small Baltic state of Latvia, but has been living in Ireland for nearly ten years and is looking forward to representing the country at a second Olympics in little over 12 months time.
According to Don McLachlan, Irish Rowing’s Lead Coach, Puspure is one of the strongest female rowers currently competing anywhere in the world.
And his is why she is ideally equipped to mix it with the very best in one of the Olympics’ toughest and most technical sports.
“Imagine running 100 metres flat out and how you feel,” said New Zealander McLachlan. “Try doing that, sustaining that effort, over 2,000 metres and you’ll have an idea.”
Puspure competes in the single scull, meaning she is the only one in the boat, has an oar in each hand and goes flat out for 2km. On the day we met, she was rowing with training partner Denise Welsh in a double scull.
As well as requiring massive strength and aerobic fitness, rowing is hugely technical.
“You put a lot of hours in in the gym and on the water because you have to be strong, powerful,” explained the mother of two.
“You have to have good feel for the water as well. It requires a lot of hours of repetitive training to succeed.
“It’s very technical as well. I can put the blade in the water good, or better than good. If I do it better than good, I can gain maybe a few seconds over 2km.
“If I go to race 2km and I just focus on trying to win, that’s not good enough. I still need to focus on how I put the blade in the water, how I push my legs, how I take the blade out of the water. That’s what makes the boat go faster.
“I train mostly two times-a-day, sometimes three, six days-a-week and once on Sunday, which is almost like a day off!” she laughed.
“We do get the occasional day off, but we don’t know when they are coming.
“Sometimes you can’t be fired up all the time. Some times you come in bouncing around and ready to go and sometimes it’s more a question of ‘it has to be done’. You always have to be here on form and do whatever it takes to make those little gains.”
Puspure rowed in her native Latvia, winning gold at the World University Games in 2004 as part of a double sculls team, but gave it up the year she got married to her husband Kaspar and shortly afterwards moved to Ireland in search of new experiences.
She had a job in a shop and one day along with Kaspar and her son Patrick (8), she was pregnant with daughter Daniela (7) at the time, a trip to Dublin Zoo in the Phoenix Park led her back to the water.
The family got lost and ended up in nearby Islandbridge, home to several rowing clubs along the River Liffey, and she realised it’s what she wanted to do. It didn’t take her long to catch the notice of Rowing Ireland’s elite programme and three years ago the family made the move to Cork, home of the National Rowing Centre in Farran Wood, not far from the city.
“They say after having kids that women do become stronger so maybe that’s what it is,” said Puspure, who finished fourth in last year’s World Championships.
“Just being more mature, understanding more what it takes to become an Olympian, being committed enough. It was probably the right time for me when I was a bit older. And the support I get from the country too is massive.
“I’m still proud of being from Latvia. Rowing in Latvia thought me how to work hard and all the rest you need. I never really had any doubts in my mind that I’ve picked the wrong country. I know that if I went to represent my native country it would be way more difficult. We live here. I’ve no regrets.”
Being an elite sportswoman is tough enough on its own, but Puspure also has to juggle a busy home life with two active children and she is thankful for the support of Kaspar.
And like any athlete, she has bad days. She finds now that she can put those behind her as soon as she walks in the door of her home, where she’s greeted by Kaspar, Patrick and Daniela.
“That’s what happens to me. My husband is the one who reacts worse when something bad happens,” she noted.
“He takes it in and athletes are amazing because they can find the silver lining in anything — they’ll always find a way to keep going. For him it’s harder, but when I go home I say to myself ‘I have two wonderful kids and a lovely husband’. What’s to complain about?”
All photos and video shot on iPhone 5/6+