Through The Lens: The Athlete

Leeds Medic Sets Eyes On The Prize

Matt Brigham tells Leeds Sport about life as a scholar athlete and how he balances a medical degree alongside a vigorous training programme.

“It was pretty surreal.” Matt Brigham, 23, tells me as he relays the euphoric moment he beat two-time Olympic champion, Maye Drysdale at the Henley Royal Regatta this last summer.

From only joining the University of Leeds Boat Club in 2015 and having never rowed prior, Brigham is considered to be one of Leeds top athletes and aims to secure a place in the next Olympics. Leeds Sport interviewed Brigham on everything from his medical degree to landing a place on the GB Start scheme.

1. When did you first decide to start rowing?

“Not until I came to university, so it was four years ago when I started. I’d never done it before at all, I used to swim before that but always wanted to try rowing at university. The university rowing team taught me everything. I started with sweeping in the larger boats and now I’m doing sculling in smaller boats.”

Brigham then told me about his daily routine. As a fourth-year medic, he balances a five-day week on placement (either in hospitals or medical practices) and manages to squeeze in a vigorous training program of twelve-sessions per week.

His day usually lasts from eight in the morning until five in the evening, so he fits his rowing schedule around that. The three types of training sessions he swears by include: a rowing machine, rowing on water or a gym session.

“I usually manage to get a session in quite early beforehand and then as soon as I return home from placement, I do a second session.”

2. Are you part of a team and what occurs in a rowing race?

“So, I’m part of The University of Leeds Boat Club i.e. The Rowing Club and I always race for them and have done so from the start. I’m also on a talent program called GB Start, where I’m trained by a professional rowing coach.”

“In rowing, the smallest boat is the single and if we stick to sculling there’s a double and a quad. In general the bigger the boat, the faster it goes.”

“During the summer the standard race distance tends to be around two kilometres. In the winter months, we complete longer races on rivers which are entirely focused on time trials as opposed to side by side racing.”Matt Brigham Rowing at Henley

3. How did you first get onto a sports scholarship programme with the university?

“The first two years I was just with the university rowing team, I wasn’t a scholar then, I was just getting into it. And then I applied to the GB Start talent pathway and managed to get onto that. As soon as I was in that, I was able to qualify as a sports scholar here. I’ve been a scholar for the past two years now and a TASS supported athlete.”

Brigham explained that there were “tonnes of benefits” to a Leeds Sport scholarship such as funding, new equipment and even “nice kit”. However, he emphasised that the support side was most beneficial. In particular, he credited his strength and conditioning coach, Ben Warman who regularly trains Brigham at the gym.

“I’ve had Ben Warman as the S&C coach for the past couple of years, he’s been really great giving us individualised and tailored programs to really develop the strength side of it.”

In addition, he praised access to the sports physiotherapy, psychology and nutrition departments for being there whenever he needed them – all of which are available to him through the sports scholar program.

4. You recently raced in the Diamond league sculls event at Henley, how did it feel to be part of such a prestigious event?

“To race in the summer was quite special, it’s hard to explain but it’s quite unlike any other rowing event. I’d been the year before to watch and tried to qualify an eight with the university but unfortunately just missed out. We stayed and watched, and it was a fantastic social event. It was fun just to sit and watch all the races with the many Olympians and international crews.”

5. How did it feel to beat New Zealand’s course record holder and two-time Olympic champion, Maye Drysdale in the first round? One commentator described it as “the shock of the decade”. 

“Yeah that was an incredible experience, quite unexpected to be honest. We found out the draw the day before that I’d be against him – wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not!”

“We thought at least we’d get to race the Olympic champion – certainly a great experience.”

“My coach and I devised a race plan to do my own thing and attack it quite early and just really go for it. And then on the day, I had a good start where I was level with him, I put a little burst in where we’d planned to and managed to get ahead which was quite unbelievable. ”

“Drysdale is known for having a strong backend of the race, so I was waiting for him to come back on me and just charge through as he’d done many times before. Amazingly, I managed to hold on and he couldn’t come through at the end.”

“Yeah, it was pretty surreal.”

Matt Brigham at Henley

6. What’s on the horizon in terms of events? Is there an upcoming regatta that you are training for?

“Recently, we’ve just been to the first stage of the GB trials which is effectively the process of how you get yourself into the Olympic team. It’s going to be quite hard to get into the team this time round because its Olympic year but we’re just going through the process anyway to get experience.”

“That was in Boston in early November and it went really well to the extent where I’ve been invited onto the next stage in December – the GB development coaches are getting a bit more interested in me which is nice. I’ve also been invited to a training camp after that down at Reading which is where the GB rowing team are based.”

7. Do you hope to carry on rowing at such a high level alongside your medical career?

“So, both rowing and medicine are quite busy I must admit. But at present, rowing is going so well that I’m pushing to try and get onto the Olympic team. If that were to happen (which hopefully it will) I will have to weigh things up with medicine.”

“I’m not entirely sure what that would look like, maybe taking a bit of a break or doing part time training. But for now, I’m sticking to fourth year and rowing training. I’ll see what happens but I don’t want to miss an opportunity to get into the Olympics. ”

8. Lastly, do you have any advice for our students looking to secure a scholarship programme or get involved in rowing professionally?

 “I’d definitely recommend applying for the scholarship programme, there’s tonnes of benefits that you get from it and it will really support you as a student athlete. Even if you don’t get on it, there’s no reason why you can’t apply next year.”

Brigham is looking to target the Henley Royal Regatta, BUCS Regatta and FISU’s World University championships in 2020.

Good Luck Matt from everyone here at Leeds!