Rio-bound mother-of-two Sanita Puspure tells me about her journey for qualification, and how her husband Kasper and teammates got her there
SANITA Puspure’s handshake isn’t strong, it’s fierce.
It’s a stark contrast to the delicate tattoo on her defined, upper-right arm, but there’s a softness to the mother-of-two.
The Rio-bound mum’s youngest, Daniela, recently broke the Munster U9 junior javelin record wearing Leevale colours, and already she knows what it takes to be a champion. Mum showed her how.
Puspure’s son Patrick (9) is more like his father, Kasper, who urged his wife to get back into the sport she fell in love with on the River Lielupe in Riga, Latvia.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without him. He has me spoiled and deserves so much credit. It’s not easy as a family, it’s challenging, but we make it work,” Puspure says, revealing it’s been three years since she’s seen her sister given her busy training schedule. Up until last week it was a year-and-a-half since the Queen B Athletics ambassador saw her mother, who’s presently residing in their home in Ballincollig to give Kasper a helping hand while Puspure travels to Banyolas, Spain, for a three-week training camp.
“Kasper was the one pushing me out the door to go back rowing. I took it up at first just for a little bit of peace on the water and to lose weight after having the kids, but soon it became a bit more serious,” says Puspure, who’s lived in Ireland since 2006.
Two months after the birth of Daniela, Puspure completed an impressive ergo test. Six months on she beat her personal best, and four years later she was the only Irish rower to make it to London.
“It was a joke at first between Kasper and myself and I can’t remember the exact point when I said I should try compete in London, but by the end of summer 2008 it was full on,” recounts the Old Collegians Rowing Club member.
“We had a meeting after that summer in the boathouse and the coach asked who wanted to row internationally and my hand went up straight away.
“It took me a few years to get on the team though, but every year the Games got closer, it became more of an aspiration. I had to go.
“Getting there was like a prize for all the hard work. I didn’t do as well as I wanted, but I think qualifying took so much out of me because it was such a big ask. Having food poisoning just before I went over didn’t help too… but we won’t talk about that!” she laughs, with a hint of seriousness.
This time round, the route has been tougher to get to Rio. Having blown her chance at the first qualifying tournament in 2015, Puspure’s confidence was dashed, with just one other shot to qualify – at the Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, this May.
“Last winter I was struggling after the disappointment of not qualifying first time round. I had been in qualification place with 20 strokes to go, but then everyone blew by me. I had blasted out of the blocks too early. It was brave but stupid, and it cost me.”
With the help of her coach Don McLachlan and sports psychologist Dr Paul Gaffney, Puspure began a new chapter in 2016. But, the majority of her progress came down to how her teammates pushed her, and themselves, out on the water at Farran Woods.
“Just looking at how the other girls were training, I knew I had to stay with them if I had any chance.
“When you’re down, their motivation drags you along with them. I would look up to many people, but it’s my teammates more often than not. Without them, I wouldn’t be going to Rio,” says Puspure of Sinead Jennings-Lynch and Claire Lambe, the lightweight double scull duo.
Training takes the form of seven days a week. On the water by 8am, there’s twice-daily sessions with just 90 minutes recovery in between so Puspure can collect her children from Scoil Eoin and Scoil Mhuire in Ballincollig, whom she can’t thank enough for all their support. On average, she covers 200km a week.
“Imagine running 100 metres flat out and how you feel,” explains her New Zealand-born coach Don McLachlan, “Try sustaining that effort over 2,000 metres and you get the idea.”
The sacrifices have been worth it however, winning bronze at the European Championships in Germany, but more importantly coming second in the FISA European and Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switerland, in a time of 7:24.76, last month.
“I was just so relived to qualify. It was tough going because it was really stressful having to wait to get a chance to qualify again. I was up against Emma Twigg, who’s the 2014 World Champion, Ekaterina Karsten from Belarus who’s 44 and competing at her seventh Olympics, and Fie Udby Erichsen of Denmark who won silver in London. But, going into qualification I had set myself the goal of finishing second. My mind knew what it wanted so I was really happy to have reached the goal I’d set myself.”
The goal now is to enjoy Rio and do her very best. Notions of Olympic tattoos are put to one side, and her aim is to simply give it her all. This time round, she’s not as nervous either.
She’ll pack her Sudoku book and adult colouring books to pass the time, while the opening ceremony will be skipped as it was in London given she’s the first out on the water the following day.
As to the Zika virus?
“Well, if you get bit, you get bit…but if you want to go to the Olympics, you’ll do everything to be there!”
That’s Sanita Puspure. Fierce and fearless.
SANITA PUSPURE FACT-FILE
From: Riga, Latvia, but living in Ireland for 10 years.
Living: Ballincollig, Cork
Family: Husband Kasper, son Patrick and daughter Daniela.
Competition: Single sculls
World Cup events:
5th place in the 2x, 2011
5th place in the 1x, 2012
6th place in the 1x, 2012
6th place in the 1x, 2014
7th place in the 1x, 2014
8th place in the 1x, 2015
Bronze medal in the 1x, 2016
3rd place in the 1x, 2014
5th place in the 1x, 2015
Bronze medal in the 1x, 2016
12th place in the 2x, 2011
4th place in the 1x, 2014
11th place in the 1x, 2015
13th place in the 1x, London 2012
Evening Echo (July 13, 2016)