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The Women's Sports Alliance

PRESENTS...

Charlotte Dixon – riding, rowing, gold, goals and life as a scientist

“It’s been a mad path into the unknown, but that’s the most exciting thing!”


Images from @charlotte_.dixon


Charlotte laughs when asked to explain how it feels to win a world title in a sport – indoor rowing – which she had only taken up ‘for fun’ a couple of years earlier.

“It still feels surreal,” she admits the Women’s Sports Alliance. “Most people are shocked when I tell them I’d never trained or been to a gym until I left university!”

No two athlete journeys are alike, but Charlotte’s story really is something quite unique.

She grew up in Ballymena, in Northern Ireland, and fondly remembers running home from school as fast as possible with her sister so they could gain extra “vital” minutes to ride their ponies before the sun set.

It was an idyllic lifestyle and Charlotte’s passion for equestrian followed her into adulthood where she went on to compete internationally in eventing competitions.

Her idol was multiple Olympic medallist Pippa Funnell, who in 2003 became the first rider in history to complete the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing – by claiming the Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton titles in the same year.

THE INJURY WHICH ‘CHANGED EVERYTHING’



Charlotte aimed to follow her hero and winning her first senior international at the age of 18 suggested she was on the right path, but an injury to her top-level horse, Jeremy, in 2019 changed the direction of her career – and life.

“We do everything we can to prevent these injuries, but unfortunately they happen, like with any athlete,” she reveals.

“At that point I had a couple of nice young horses that I had brought on myself, which I had done all the work with and put so much time and effort into, but I didn't really have any exciting prospects.

“I didn't have any big competitions in mind and I knew was going to be quite a few years before I was at that level (in eventing) again.”

Charlotte had graduated University the previous year and started attending a local gym, for the first time in her life, to improve her strength for riding.

Rowing was part of her new training regime, but it quickly became more than a means to maintain and boost her fitness.

“I’d never even had a gym membership before but indoor rowing felt like a good fit because I loved the competitive atmosphere,” she tells the WSA.

“I loved the fact that with rowing if you wanted to get better, you worked harder.

“With international horse riding, you’re dependent on an animal that you can’t speak or communicate with whereas with rowing it was all down to me and the harder I pushed myself the better I became.”

A LIFE-CHANGING – AND DEFINING – DECISION


Images from @charlotte_.dixon


Charlotte was still passionate about the world of equestrian she had known and loved for as long as she could recall, but this new discovery, presented her with a dilemma.

One she felt there was ultimately only one sensible solution to.

“Some of the best (horse) riders are 50-60 years old, however, if you’re going to be in a combative, physical sport you have to do that whenever you're in your prime and you're young, so that made the decision for me,” she reveals.

“I wanted to get the best out of my physical ability and take up the opportunity whilst it was there.”

Her progress was rapid and after domestic success, in 2021 she would become the U23 World champion, which ultimately saw her recruited to British Rowing’s ‘Start Programme’.

“It’s surreal because essentially if I hadn't joined my local gym and hadn't entered the Irish Indoor Championships for the fun of it, then wouldn't have gone to the British indoors,” she states.

“If I hadn't competed in the British indoors, I wouldn't have qualified for the worlds and if I hadn't won the Worlds, I probably wouldn't have been asked to join the ‘World Class Start’.

“Of course, if that (injury to her horse) hadn’t happened I’d probably still be horse riding!”

A FULL-TIME ATHLETE AND A FULL-TIME SCIENTIST



Charlotte was not solely focused on her athletic career during this time though.

She was also managing a full-time role during the pandemic as a ‘research and diagnostic scientist’ reviewing and analysing tests in Covid-19 labs with the international health and toxicology company Randox.

“I worked the whole way through Covid,” she reveals.

“I worked days and night shifts, 12-hour shifts and I remember people in the labs saying ‘it's not possible to go to the gym and train and when you're working nights.’

“I remember being like ‘no, it is’ and at the time I was still juggling riding horses as well.

“It was very difficult and I probably went into work looking like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, but I was fine with that.

“Working full-time did have an impact on my training though so I now work three and a half days which is a lot more manageable and I’ve become much better at balancing everything.

“I’ve learned it’s not necessarily about doing more training, it’s about making the most of the sessions that you do, but I enjoy it all and if I didn’t I wouldn’t live this hectic lifestyle!”

FUTURE GOALS – A FULL-TIME MOVE TO ROWING ON THE WATER?


Charlotte is coy when asked about her future ambitions and is keen to emphasise her passion for promoting the benefits of indoor rowing for all age-groups.

However, British Rowing’s ‘Start Programme’ – which she is part of – states a clear aim:

‘To identify, recruit and develop individuals with no prior rowing experience to become Olympic rowers.’

World, Olympic and European medallist Helen Glover and Heather Stanning are among those to have graduated from this initiative, making Charlotte’s possible intensions and targets a little clearer.

“I get scared to say with rowing what my dream is,” she reveals.

“I still feel sometimes like such a newbie, almost a little bit of an impostor because I didn't grow up doing this and I’m still learning what some of the terms mean!

“I think I'll always be wanting to enter the world indoors, but there's so many opportunities in terms of rowing on the water and I really think that's where I have more improvements that I need to make.

“I honestly couldn't tell you what I'll be doing this time next year and I think that's really exciting, more so that having a huge goal in my mind

“At the minute if I keep working and can keep this trajectory, then I don't know where I'll end up, but I know it’ll prove to be pretty cool!”

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