SHE has beaten glandular fever since London 2012, and now Jess Eddie is ready to tackle the best rowing crews in the world as she targets an Olympic medal at Rio 2016.
The Durham oarswoman was part of the women’s eight that competed in the Olympic final two summers ago, but this winter’s training programme was ruined when she was struck down with glandular fever in September.
She was barely allowed out of her bed for two months, and was unable to return to a full training programme for more than four, but having attended a spring training camp in Portugal, lined up in a pair at this month’s British trials.
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Rowing with world champion Polly Swann, she finished second behind Olympic champions Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, a superb result that proved there were no lingering effects from her illness.
“It’s the most frustrating time I’ve had as an athlete,” said Eddie, who remains a member of Durham Rowing Club. “I felt okay in myself, but my body was really weak and the doctors wouldn’t allow me to do anything for what felt like ages.
“I always pride myself on training to my absolute maximum, so every day I was sat at home, it felt like I was getting further and further behind.
“It was a relief to finally be given the all clear, and luckily I’ve got ten years of experience to fall back on so I was able to get up to speed fairly quickly.
“Three weeks before the trials, I did a big test on the rowing machine and just missed my lifetime best time. That proved I was back, and it carried right through to the trials.”
With Stanning having missed a year of competition after resuming her Army career in the wake of the Olympics, there had been a great deal of uncertainty over the make up of the pair, which is generally regarded as the flagship boat of the women’s team.
Eddie went in to the trials with an outside chance of nudging one of Stanning or Glover out of the pair, so while others have applauded her for finishing second with Swann, the 29-year-old admits to having mixed feelings.
“It’s great to have finished within a second of the Olympic champions, but then we wouldn’t have been competing in the race in the first place if we didn’t think we could win it,” she said. “Others might have been surprised by how close we pushed them, but it wasn’t a shock to us.”
Nevertheless, with Stanning and Glover now all-but-certain to be selected in the pair for the European and World Championships, Eddie is likely to be one of the key performers in the eight for the third Olympic cycle in a row.
“We’ll have to see what the selectors do, but it looks as though we’ll have a pretty strong eight this season,” she said. “From a personal point of view, I feel as though I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, so that’s driving me on.
“I’ve been in and around the squad for a decade now, but I’m still enjoying it as much as ever. I love going into training every day, and when I was ill with the glandular fever, I was pestering the doctors every day to let me go back.
“The Europeans are at the end of May, and it’s not often we compete in them because we’re often elsewhere when they’re on. This year, we missed the opening World Cup in Australia to enable us to compete in the Europeans, and I think we’re all pretty excited about what we could achieve there.”