I’m used to being alone, but isolation comes in different forms.
I competed in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2001-02 and 2008-09. In this round-the-world sailing race, you’re isolated in a sense that despite being on a boat with crew around you, you can go nearly 40 days in a row sleeping in a small bunk in the middle of the ocean with no option to leave.
For some, it might be a struggle. For me, I feel free sailing on the seas. I love the feeling of being thousands of nautical miles away from land, I love that sensation. I love preparing for it but also the sense that you have no idea what will happen.
In a boat, you don’t know what’s going to happen before it’s all over. Nothing is written in stone. You don’t know the challenges life will bring to you.
You try to prepare, though. So wherever I am, I do a list everyday of what I want to do tomorrow and I never finish that list – instead, it keeps growing more.
But these moments of isolation out on the ocean are also like overcoming a challenge.
When I had my cancer [he had 80% of one lung removed before Rio 2016, where he won gold], I saw it as another challenge. I learn through every challenge I face and realise it’s part of you trying and having to change.
Being isolated is also a chance for total introspection and I honestly enjoy that sense of being totally isolated, totally alone, whether that’s being indoors or on a boat.
And are we ever really alone? There’s always plenty of communication as well. I used Zoom the other day with my brothers to have dinner which was a lot of. And wherever I am I try to speak to my sons every day, some friends too.
But sometimes that communication can become too much and so I’ll shut my phone down entirely to be even more isolated. It gives you a chance to do things you’d never normally do.
One of these things for me is reading books. Right now, I’m reading Sir Alex Ferguson’s book about leadership and that’s allowing me to reflect even more. It’s a lot about football of course but the guy clearly has a big brain and there’s one chapter that’s ‘Hear a lot, read a lot, look a lot’. And that’s not just to look but to really observe. I feel I can use that a lot in my life after this.
With the Olympics now postponed, that period of reflection and isolation is even greater. For now, I just have to be tranquil about it all.
It took me a few days to process the news, but I have nothing to complain about. Something felt strange in my body on the first day so I cycled and rowed for four hours at home that day.
Between now and Tokyo, there will be more time for isolation, be it training on a rowing machine or out riding my bike. It’s very interesting what happens to you when you don’t have a clear objective, like I currently don’t.
And I am Latin, so it can be hard to stay set in my routine! However, it is important to stay in shape and I am currently still doing at least three hours of exercise a day.
I hope to be back out on the water soon. But until then, stay safe!