IMOGEN Walsh laughs when she explains how she likes to take her time before making decisions.
“My boyfriend gets frustrated with me sometimes; even if it’s something as simple as what to have for dinner, I need to assess all the options.”
Compared to making a final culinary choice, Walsh has a lot more on her plate now.
She returned from the Maldives in April, where she had spent seven months developing the country’s rowing programme and coaching its performance squad. Her international ambitions as a Great Britain regular were put on the back burner, in favour of expanding her own horizons.
Thousands of miles from home, in the tropical isolation of the Indian Ocean, Walsh was charged with bringing her experience and discipline, harnessed over six years with the GB Rowing squad, to this new, challenging role.
Now back in Henley, Walsh, a life member of Inverness Rowing Club, is carefully plotting her next move.
“You’re only able to make a proper decision when you assess all the options,” she said. “I’m training as I love exercising, so that will carry on regardless. I’m working as a coach and doing some job shadowing, looking at how sport can help disadvantaged children.
“There’s days where I feel very positive that I’ve got options but there are some days that can feel a bit paralysing. But life is what you make of it and if you create avenues, opportunities will present themselves.”
For someone used to the intense grid of high-performance training, a career relocation to the Maldives was a huge shock to the system.
After a testing couple of years, from overtraining and missing a large part of the 2014-15 season, to losing her place in the lightweight double boat and with it, a shot at the Rio Olympics, a change of scenery was required.
Imogen Walsh (second left) took World Championship gold last year. Picture: Peter Spurrier.
What opened up to her was an opportunity through the world rowing federation (FISA) to develop the Maldives’ rowing programme. Increasing participation was part one of the project but the other was to hone the nation, made up of 26 island atolls, into a greater rowing force.
As was to be expected, the adventure was fraught with challenges. The sport suffered from the stereotype of anything to do with water being for the working-class; fishing is a huge part of the Maldivian economy.
“They’re not a very sporty community. I would go running very morning or walk places and I was seen as the crazy white girl! The attitude to sport is difficult to overcome,” said Walsh, who grew up in Culloden Moor. “Part of the project was to get more girls involved and we certainly did that. But it was hard to persuade them to get hot and sweaty for sport.
“I’m still in contact with people out there and I desperately want them to succeed. The potential is there but the attitude to training is not what I think it has to be to make an international team.
“It has to be taken in the context of where I was at that stage of my career. I used to try get out of training all the time, so I was probably the same as them. My job was to give them the tools and it’s now up to them to take it where they want.”
There are few regrets about leaving her life in the United Kingdom though. Yes she missed friends and family and the inevitable home cooking, but she threw herself into the way of life out there, engaging with locals and embracing their culture.
Walsh was based more than 5000 miles from home in the Maldives.
She gets almost wistful when asked for her abiding memories, pointing to days spent cooking with her friend Fatima, to the final round of testing she did with the performance squad where she felt “we had actually achieved something”.
“Fundamentally I was there on my own and dealing with issues as they came up,” said Walsh. “It was completely different and you create a life there and find friends.”
The inevitable question comes of ‘what is next?’. Well, there is no rush. The next GB squad trials are not until October, when she can decide if she wants to get back into the life of an international athlete. She is a two-time world champion, most recently last year, so she would not be returning without a pedigree.
“I love training but I have to be realistic that at some point, I won’t be able to train at the level I have done before,” she said. “I’ve got some time to try out other sports and see what I enjoy.”
For now, there is time for her to catch up on life here. She is taking the time to see friends she missed while on her rowing-sabbatical, exploring potential career options and visiting her old haunts.
Day-trippin’ Maldives style: boat trip to local island, bit o sightseeing, fresh watermelon, bit o snorkelling pic.twitter.com/MNTfpCxbtH
— Imogen Walsh (@imogenwalsh) March 20, 2017
Following her arrival back home in April, Walsh made a flying visit to Inverness, catching up with old friends at the city’s rowing club, some who have watched her progress since she started coxing as a 10-year-old.
Full details are available from the link below:
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