A dragon boat enthusiast has taken her quest for sport as therapy to a whole new level – with a complete Olympic challenge.
Freya Rodgers is a member of Wave Walkers , a team comprising cancer survivors based at Docklands Sailing & Watersports Centre on the Isle of Dogs. They use the camaraderie and challenge of paddling a dragon boat to help them rebuild confidence and fitness.
Freya was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 – the year Wave Walkers began – and is in remission after chemotherapy. Now she’s taking on every sport open to women in the Olympic Games.
That is 41 of 42 different disciplines – Greco-Roman wrestling remains exclusively for men – and more than 100 events, ranging from freestyle wrestling to marathon swimming.
Freya, from Lewisham, aims to have finished the Freyathlon before the Olympic closing ceremony in Rio in August.
• Tell us how the Freyathlon came about.
I was listening to Radio 4 and there was a segment on women’s participation in sport and some of the barriers they face getting involved. I thought about my own experiences – I played sport at school, didn’t really enjoy it, and stopped doing it.
I thought about when I was diagnosed with cancer and how it felt not being able to be active. Everyone was talking about the Olympics, and thought, wouldn’t it be great to have a go at all the Olympic sports. OK, I’ll do that. Then I discovered how many sports there actually were!
• How have friends, family, and the wider world responded to it?
It’s been mixed. Friends and family said, ‘of course, you would come up with an idea like that’. Sports that are tricky to get into, I would call the venue and say ‘can you help me?’ For archery, when I rang the Crystal Palace Bowmen, they said ‘you are absolutely mad – you’ll fit right in with us’. I’m asking people to give me a crash course in how to do these things, and they been very generous with their time and very supportive.
• Of the sports you have tried so far, which have you enjoyed the most?
It is really difficult to answer. I loved archery, I loved BMX cycling. I’d like to go back for more of some. I’m finding that there are some sports I’m suited to do.
• And which have you found the most demanding?
I wish I had discovered rugby when I was 20 or 30 years younger. After the first rugby training session, (at Blackheath Women’s Rugby Club) I thought ‘wow – that was fierce’.
• Tell us a bit more about the Wave Walkers.
I was sent information through MacMillan Cancer Support . The Wave Walkers were holding an open day, and I thought, how difficult can it be? It’s a terrific feeling to be working with a team of people, moving through the water. We train twice a month at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre, or on the Thames.
• Of the remaining sports on the list, are there any you’re feeling apprehensive about?
Oh yes! Diving, I don’t mind the heights, but that will be interesting. Gymnastics and horse-riding. In every other sport, it is just me, but this involves another animal.
• Since recovering from cancer, you’ve taken part in the Royal Parks Half Marathon, the 52 mile Bikeathon, and now the Freyathlon. What has been your proudest moment?
It’s probably doing two half-marathons in seven days. I did the Royal Parks Half-Marathon 2015 and then the following Sunday I did the River Thames Half Marathon. At the beginning of the year, the most I had run was 5k.