The world is his oarster

April 10, 2018

Michael McNamara with his German Shepherd, Beth, on the morning he left for an eight week training camp in Canberra.

For the first time since 1964, Nagambie Rowing Club has produced an Australian representative.

Nagambie export Michael McNamara will row for his country as part of the lightweight men’s quadruple scull squad at the World Rowing Championships in September.

The higher honours for McNamara, 26, come after a number of years of targeted training following an extended break from the sport after he finished high school.

‘‘The last two or three years I’ve trained with the goal to make the Australian team, so it’s pretty good,’’ McNamara said.

‘‘I’ve been rowing since I was 10 or 11, but I took a bit of a break once I finished school.

‘‘I came back into it when I was around 24 years old, a bit overweight, and with the thought of doing it as a hobby, but the competitive side of it won me over.’’

Inclusion in the Australian squad will have McNamara travel the world this year in the lead-up to the championships, with two World Cup events serving as perfect preparation.

‘‘At the moment I’ll be spending the next eight weeks training in Canberra,’’ he said.

‘‘The system they have set up now is pretty new . . . and it centralises all the athletes. They have a coach there (Ian Wright) who’s recognised as one of the best in the world — he coached a Swiss four that won gold at the Rio Olympics. He’s known for demanding a big volume of training, but he gets results.

‘‘Then we’ll head across to the Australian training centre in Italy and the World Cup II (Austria) and III (Switzerland) events before flying back to Australia and training in Rockhampton.

‘‘After that we’re off to the championships in Bulgaria.’’

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for McNamara — he made it to trials this time last year but was knocked back on the third day.

But the sting of failure, he said, pushed him to greater heights.

‘‘Getting sent back was a speed bump, but it gave me a good opportunity to know where I went slow and what I was doing wrong,’’ he said.

‘‘Last year I didn’t have the aerobic capacity to keep up . . . I was probably anaerobically strong enough, but towards the end of each piece I was fading a bit.

‘‘In hindsight it gave me 12 months to really work on where my weaknesses were, and really set up a good lead in to this season. So it’s been good for me personally to have a knockback and realise where I stand.’’

The last Nagambie rowers to represent Australia were Neil Lodding, Bruce Richardson and Wayne Gannon (cox) in the men’s coxed pair at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and McNamara’s connection to the past is a strong one.

‘‘Neil (who still coaches at Nagambie) has been a big driver in getting me back into rowing,’’ McNamara said.

‘‘I’m pretty lucky that someone like Neil and my dad (Patrick) taught me how to row.’’

McNamara’s father has been heavily involved in the sport at the national level — he was president of Rowing Australia for almost nine years while Michael was growing up. And McNamara remembers his father nudging him towards rowing from an early age.

‘‘He sat me in a boat when I was about five years old,’’ he said.

‘‘His passion definitely outshone mine at that point in time. I think mum puts it best by saying I was ‘held captive’ for a few years.’’

But McNamara’s own passion for the sport soon took off after he moved in to boarding school at Xavier College in Melbourne at the age of 16 and began rowing in crews.

‘‘We had crew boats there and as soon as I sat in them and had other people to row with, I thought it was a lot more enjoyable than bashing up and down the course by myself,’’ he said.

‘‘So that’s where it really started to feel good.

‘‘It’s a lot of work and it’s not a sport you go into for financial benefit, it’s very much a passion sport. There’s no money in the sport, but you definitely get out what you put in. There’s nothing better than getting in crew boats and going quick.’’

With his family still based at Nagambie, McNamara — who now rows for Melbourne-based club Mercantile — enjoys guiding the junior Nagambie rowers when he is in town.

But he knows first-hand the hard work which will be required of them if they too are to compete for their country.

‘‘It’s a good community up there, everyone is really supportive,’’ McNamara said.

‘‘It’s a real grassroots club, and I’ve enjoyed doing a bit of coaching — it’s good to get back.

‘‘You don’t generally get the opportunity to row with other people in country towns, so when you get a good crew together you have to make the most of it.’’

And although the looming return of Olympic action to Tokyo in 2020 would provide a neat bit of symmetry for a Nagambie rower to return to that level, McNamara is simply focused on what he can see directly in front of him.

‘‘It has always been a goal to just make the Australian squad, and it would be awesome to still be there in 2020, but at the moment I’m just knuckling down and focusing and trying to keep my goals close,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s going to be a massive change going to Canberra, packing up my stuff and having to settle somewhere else for the next six months and doing all the travel in between.

‘‘But it’s really good getting a lot of opportunities — just travel-wise I’ve never been to Europe or that part of the world. It also puts a bit more pressure on . . . knowing you’re going to be up against the best in the world, that’s a good thing to take on and I’m looking forward to it.’’

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