We spoke to Olympic rowing silver medalist and Brookes graduate Zoe De Toledo

She won silver at Rio so she must be doing something right.


You might be thinking of getting in shape and rowing is something that’s caught your fancy. Maybe you’re already into it, and want to progress to the next level. So what better person to learn from than Zoe De Toledo, Brookes Graduate, and above all, Olympic Rowing Captain for Team GB. Everybody has to start somewhere, and Zoe was no different…

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Hey Zoe, how did you get into rowing? Did you ever think you’d take it to such a high level when you started?

I started at school in 2002, had a friend a couple years older than me who was a rower and she encouraged me down to try coxing. It wasn’t until I started trialling for the GB Junior team in 2004/2005 that I realised it may have the potential to go a lot further!

What was your training like leading up to the Olympics? 

I spent lots of time away on training camps. Usually two or three sessions a day, usually 7 days a week by the summer, mostly in the boat but occasionally supervising and helping with ergo and weights sessions.

Is there any particular kind of music you listen to that helps motivate you?

My music tastes are pretty eclectic, from country to heavy metal, but when I’m at an event or exercising outside I prefer not to listen to music, but rather to be present in the moment and take in the atmosphere and energy of the event.

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So, tell us what your first thoughts were when you arrived in Rio?

I loved Rio from the start, really enjoyed the atmosphere, the scenery, the food. I was excited to get racing and found it hard to pass the time waiting for the regatta to begin.

Given all the controversy surrounding this year’s games, how would you describe the conditions you competed in, and the state of the Olympic village? Did any of this matter to you?

The media loves to scaremonger in the lead up to every games. Before London it was that the transport problems were going to break the city, in Beijing the smog, in Athens that nothing would be ready. Personally I got bitten by mosquitos a lot less than in your average British summer, and in terms of security if you were sensible and took normal precautions there really weren’t any problems. The village was a little bare, but there wasn’t a single issue that I thought would impact on our sporting performance.

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How did you feel before the race? How do you motivate your team?

I felt pretty relaxed beforehand, because I knew exactly how my crew would race, I believed in them and I knew that they would trust me. I wasn’t worried about being last at halfway because I could feel how strong our rhythm was, and I could see that some of the crews around us weren’t going to be able to maintain the pace they had set early on.  We nearly got caught out by the Romanians though, they had a really ballsy and impressive last 500m!

How did it feel crossing the finish line knowing you’d lead your team to a historic second place finish with a silver medal?

At first a bit deflated and disappointed, we really wanted to win that race. At the end of the day you can’t shoot for a minor medal or you end up missing out, and we did believe that we were capable of winning gold. I was pretty sure we had got the silver, but wasn’t confident confirming it to the crew until I had seen the result come up on the big screen by the grandstand. It wasn’t long until it sunk in what we had achieved, and then I felt a huge sense of relief that we had achieved what we had.

Once you were able to relax after the race, how did you all celebrate?

Lots of laughs, a few drinks, and the chance to see friends. We went to British house as a group that night which was lovely.

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Describe your relationship with the rest of the team, what are the group dynamics like?

They’re one of the best groups I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. You don’t need to get on with all your crew mates to make a fast boat, but it makes it an awful lot more fun if you do, and we certainly did! It was a great mix of people, and there was always a feeling that we supported each other, challenged each other, and really knew how to get the best out of each individual.

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You had a knockback with the university boat race in 2012, can you tell us a bit about that?

I wrote a post on my blog about this in the immediate aftermath. It was a really difficult thing to get up and move on from, but it has without a doubt made me a stronger, more resilient person, and a better cox.

What advice do you have for Olympic rowers in the making who face setbacks that knock their confidence while training or competing?

Decide if the sacrifices you are making are worthwhile, and if you think they are then just keep persevering!

Who and/or what has been/is your biggest inspiration?

Acer Nethercott was a massive inspiration for me around the time of my Boat Race, he has suffered has own set backs in coxing and went on to win an Olympic silver medal.

What’s next for you post-Olympics?

I’m starting medical school in three weeks!

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Do you have any advice Brookes students who might be feeling a little de-motivated/like they won’t get where they want to go? Do you ever experience moments of self-doubt, and if so, what helps you get back on track?

Self-doubt is totally normal, and I find faking confidence does actually end up giving me confidence. Make sure you are in the best place for your training to get the most out of yourself, and that the people around you support you and your goals.