After training for four years for the biggest event of your life – what do you do next?
Don’t panic. Even Olympic athletes feel that way sometimes. Zac Purchase, a triple world champion and a two times Olympic medal winner, has just come away from the London Olympics with the same worries about his future that many graduates face after university ends: What’s next?
Zac’s competitive rowing career started at school, where he discovered a talent for rowing and starting competing at regular domestic events such as the National Schools and National Championship regattas. He also racked up an impressive number of medals at international regattas as a junior member of British Rowing.
Like most young people, Zac was encouraged to take the next step in his education and move through college and to university. He applied to read Architecture and was accepted to Kingston and Oxford universities, but decided on taking a gap year first.
During that year, Zac proceeded to win the Under 23 World Championships in Amsterdam, and a silver medal in Senior World Championships in Gifu, Japan. The thrill of winning meant that Zac took another gap year, which came with more success, as he joined British Rowing’s Senior Squad and won the World Championships in front of a home crowd at Eton in spectacular style, setting a new World Record and asserting himself as a truly outstanding young athlete.
Finally, Zac decided that it wasn’t the right time in his life to go to university and shelved the plans to concentrate on his rowing career. It wasn’t long until he won each of the three World Cup regattas. Zac and his rowing partner Mark Hunter were seeded first for racing at the Beijing Olympics. Refusing to disappoint, they gained the coveted Olympic title in what is generally regarded as the Blue Riband event for Lightweight sculling and set a new Olympic record in the process.
Since then he has gone on to secure World Cup victories and another coveted World Championship gold medal in New Zealand. This year saw Zac and Mark win an impressive silver in the Olympics.
Zac said: “If I had gone down the route my teachers told me to, I would only be finishing my degree now. It’s scary to think. I do wonder what success I would have had.”
“I am glad I started rowing, because I enjoy it and I believe that I have got to where I am because I love it.” Zac thinks that everyone should keep searching for their true calling by trying out different sports, careers, passions until you gather enough information to decide what you want to do.
“If something isn’t working out, don’t bash your head against the wall – move away and come back later. You have your whole life ahead.
“My decisions come on thinking things through – to make a rash decision is to give in to your emotions and is not necessarily the right path. Let the process come to a natural conclusion – otherwise you might be thinking ‘what if’ at the end.”
Zac’s legacy as a champion will stand him in good stead for the future, and he hopes that this will encourage employers to consider him.
“I don’t want to get caught in the job black hole. I have spent eight years of my life rowing a boat, and it’s only natural to worry about finding a job in the future. I realise that when I start looking for a job, I will be up against people with years of experience and qualifications, but I have to use what I have learnt in the sport and put it into practice in the office.
The issue of being pitted against competitors who may have more experience is one that many graduates are familiar with. Like Zac, graduates can demonstrate their worth by looking at other aspects of their life and showing what they can offer a future employer. Zac has recently taken time out to become a motivational speaker, visiting schools to tell them Olympic stories as well as give them hope that with time and commitment they will find their own path to happiness and success.
Zac is currently considering going back to university to study for an economics degree. “I want to expand and challenge my mind, my body needs a break!”
But whatever he decides to do, it will be after a long rest!