E55 - Anastasia Chitty, the Team GB rower
E55 - Anastasia Chitty, the Team GB rower

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Anastasia Posner (Née Chitty) represented Oxford University in five Boat Race crews as well as representing Great Britain at World Cups, World Championships and the World University Games. In 2020 Anastasia retired from rowing to complete her medical studies, giving up her opportunity to compete for a spot in the British Olympic team for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Danno caught up with Anastasia at her rowing club in Oxford to talk about her journey to faith and what it looked like to live as a Christian at the top-level of rowing.

0:00 How do your sport and faith connect?
0:51 How did you come to faith?
1:50 Coming to Oxford and growing in faith
3:45 The Boat Race
5:52 Rowing in the first televised Women's Boat Race
8:12 The transition from student-athlete to potential Olympian
12:45 The pressure of competition to go to the Olympics
14:16 Can you ever escape the pressure to perform?
15:46 How did your faith develop during this period as a full-time athlete?
19:30 What would have been different if you weren't a Christian?
22:16 Four things in play for elite Christian athletes
23:45 What did witness look like as a professional athlete?
26:10 How hard was it to decide not to continue to Tokyo 2020?
31:17 The role of Church for elite athletes
34:16 Where did Christians in Sport fit in?
36:32 Continuing rowing after stepping back


Graham Daniels

Anastasia, Welcome to the Christians in Sport podcast.

Anastasia Chitty

Thank you.

Graham Daniels

You know, the first question is rehearsed, obviously with us, But you know what it is.
Begin by telling us what does it mean for you to have your sport and your faith connected. To play connected?

Anastasia Chitty

Yes. I was thinking about this and that they’re so connected is hard to talk about it. So I guess I kind of became a Christian in my late teens and early twenties, and that was the time my rowing was taking off and I guess rowing and my faith are the context that I've lived my life for the last sort of ten, 11 years and it's quite hard to imagine any aspect of my life without rowing or without my faith.

And so it’s, they’re just there. And that's how I that's how I've been doing life.

Graham Daniels

Well, that is frankly, that's pretty healthy. I can't but then say tell us then then about your journey to faith. Let's do that immediately. Because if they're so inextricably linked, tell us, if you don't mind, how that happened.

Anastasia Chitty

Yes, I kind of grew up in a kind of nominally Christian home if that makes sense. So we go to church occasionally. And my granny was, you know, is a strong Christian, and I had her Christian relatives. And I never rejected to the idea that there was a God. I always thought I was a Christian. And then when I was getting confirmed as a teenager, because it was kind of what you do, I realized there was a lot more to it and I wanted to know more about Jesus. I wanted to follow Jesus. And I guess that was happening around the age of 15, 16, and then going off to university, joining a church. Then I started to learn more about
and look at what it actually meant.

Graham Daniels

So you were here at Oxford, which is where we're recording. You went straight to church. Would you say, what's the process there? Would you say, I think I probably had become a Christian when I arrived or was it sometime later? How did it actually land?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, I would say I was a Christian because I wanted to follow Jesus and I loved him, but I knew absolutely nothing about it. I distinctly remember being in a CU meeting and it occurred to me that people actually believed the Bible is true. So I had a long way to go. And I didn't understand the Gospel and I didn't understand the cross for quite a few years. But, you know, the first Sunday in Oxford, I went along to church. I was excited. That was one of the things I was looking forward to about starting university was was joining a church and learning more about what it meant to be a Christian.

Graham Daniels

So that first year as a fresher here was pivotal in getting a few of the building blocks in place.

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, I'd definitely say so. Like just learning what it meant to be a Christian. I didn't tell anyone that I didn't actually know anything. If anyone else is in my position, maybe that would be a word of advice, because I think everyone just assumes a fresher turning up on the first Sunday has got all the answers.

But I certainly didn't. So it was a period of discovering things and I think it was more in my third year like, more involved in the rowing that I really understood what it meant to to be a Christian and why the cross was necessary. I think I've been fortunate to, I guess, have a lot of success in life and sport and academics, and I basically thought I was quite great and it like took me to be finding things harder to to see that I wasn't great, I was a sinner and that I needed Jesus.

So when I got that, like in my heart, rather just knowing I needed forgiveness, but like believing I needed it. And that was pretty pivotal.

Graham Daniels

When you came up to Oxford, you were in the crew for the boat race as a fresher. Indeed, for the first of four years. Four years, you did four years and you won them all! You won every boat race. And when I arrived today, I was thinking, wow, that's that's some start four-nil, only to discover that you did row last year in 2022, so it's now four- one lets put it like that.

Give us a feel - this is recorded because of the boat race this month. Give us a feel of being in the boat race.

Anastasia Chitty

Yes it's incredible. And its right up there with my kind of best, best rowing memories. Like it's important to remind people that when I came in 2013, the women didn't do the boat race in London. It wasn't on the television. We were the very first year to have any funding available. Before I arrived it was funded by the athletes, so I came at an exciting time. So I remember there was a newspaper article just after I'd accepted my offer to Oxford, literally the next day, and I wasn't really sure what I’d done, because it wasn't the strongest program and they announced that the women would be doing the boat race in 2015 with the men and that they would be properly funded as the men. And that was before I arrived. So I arrived at a like an awesome time and that was from 2013 to 2015, a kind of three year build up to this this moment that was significant in the world of British sport. The boat race is iconic. I often say to people it's an opportunity you don’t deserve but you get to enjoy, you know - you’re university athletes competing in front of millions of people. It's mad, but it's important that there are women doing that and they're visible and we got to be the first women to do that.

And the first where we went to win.

Graham Daniels

I was rather hoping to ask you about it because having done it, having been in it twice. Yeah. And then to be right at the heart of it, describe the differences then. You're now in the you're in the public arena big time on the television. Was it massively different from the first two?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, like completely different. Elements was similar. So we had the same coach and she was really passionate about women's sport and she'd really driven into us the significance of what we were doing from the first day in September 2012. And so that culture of the team realizing that we were building towards this massive moment for women's sport, that been there for three years, but to actually be there in London on the television, it was mad. I was was the president that year. So I had a lot of media. We had some ridiculous events like we got invited like Women of Sports Personality of the Year and Times - I don’t know. We were off to these awards ceremonies and I think of all that was fun. But, you know, on the day, it's it's an experience that other rowers will never have, not even at the elite level of walking out.

And there are about 300,000 people on the banks and about 5 to 7 million people watching live on television. And it's just, it's surreal and it's exciting. And there's this moment that I think is quite special when you walk up from the boat house and they’re counting you down five, four, three, you know, for the telly. And you walk out and it's mad and you're so focused and there's there's chaos everywhere.

And then you push out onto the river - its a big river - and you’re out in the middle and suddenly it's just you and your crew, ready to do what you know you can do. And I like that contrast, I always thought was pretty cool, of enjoying that, like the excitement on the bank and then just being your unit ready to race.

Graham Daniels

Must be amazing to be. You will always have been the president of the boat club and that first ever race of that magnitude. I mean, that's in the record books isn't that class!

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, it was. I'm just so grateful. The timing you know, was nothing of my own doing. And I feel, God’s been kind - it was an amazing experience. And I came along at such an exciting time for for women's rowing. I was also the first schoolgirl to race at Henley, in 2012. All of these milestones just fell at the perfect time for me and I'm really grateful for that.

Graham Daniel

Well, onto another milestone, which must have been an incredibly hard decision in September 2016, you joined the GB squad, so that means leaving university four years in to your medical training with a view to getting ready for Tokyo 2020. That's a shift. I mean, that is a huge life decision. Would you mind talking us through a bit about that decision a little bit?

And then, um, what was the significant change from being an undergraduate rower here to being in the GB squad?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, I'll say I'm not a big dreamer, so I didn't necessarily see the change coming kind of. In most things I’m quite a one day at a time kind of person. So I was doing my best and opportunities opened up and in the February of 2016 there was a trial for people not going to the Rio Olympics, and I think I won that by 10 seconds, maybe a bit more.

And I do remember not thinking much of it, rather than just being satisfied and then crashing back home with medical school and the boat race. But in the summer, towards the end of my fourth year of med school, I was really struggling with the the recovery side. So just, you know, getting out, training before, then cycling up the hill to Headington - it’s not an insignificant cycle. Then being on my feet all day, following the consultant around the hospital, then kind of skiving off at lunchtime hoping no-one would notice, cycle back to training. And I wasn't recovering so I was passing out quite a lot, as I was exhausted. And it was only then that it occurred to me that that just rowing would be a solution.

And I only had a couple of weeks really to sort it out before the fifth year started, but the med school were super supportive. They said, ‘You can have a year and if it looks like you’re good at the end of the year, then you can have more years.’ And so that was our agreement. And then my parents are quite laid back.

But my dad did say to me, ‘Oh, I never thought you done any money anyway’, But he loves that. He loves it. But they would, I just announced to them that that was my plan and they were like, okay, so everyone was supportive and laid back and maybe saw it coming before I did. I don’t know.

Graham Daniels

Well, they obviously did. If you smashed it by 10 seconds in February. What was that, how big a change was it? So, I mean, you're fainting because you're trying to do everything. What were the what the physical demands, were they harder?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, in one sense, harder, like huge volumes of training. And I was probably the only one who hadn't been rowing at a high level before. So lots of people were joining the senior team for the first time, but they maybe had a year between university and and that rowing at the top level. So I went from training ten times a week for the Boat Race to training three times a day.

And even the training I was doing, the sessions were longer. A lot of the stuff in the gym and I'm very small for a for an open weight rower and I remember the weights coach just watching me try to squat, just sort of horrified how someone got themselves onto the team about being able to squat. And I was terrified - with just the bar basically, learning how to squat for the first time.

So it was it was a huge step up in terms of training and, you know, I think I'd probably been the least professional for the start of that season, but also because I had come from quite a low training base, relatively, I made really quick progress and it was an exciting time. You know, I went from being the kind of lanky one probably to have the last invitation on the team to, you know, finishing at the top of the trials system.

So, not first, but, you know, high up, and, and the coach, I mean, he said to me like I wasn't sure about you, I didn't know if you'd be any good, but yeah this has gone well so that first year was exciting, just because I could focus on my rowing, I was doing a lot more. I was getting better fast.

I was traveling the world, racing at World Cups, and it was really exciting.

Graham Daniels

Psychologically it is an entirely different aspect again, isn't it, when when you're competing full time and indeed in your sport, you're training every day with a very people who are competing against each other for a seat in the boat. How different, good or bad, was that in relation to being an amateur, really?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, like completely different. And I think the first year, the excitement and the novelty for everyone, like a lot of us were new after the Rio Olympics, pretty much everyone retired. We had a few returners, so we were all new. We were all going on training camp for the first time and going to World Cups for the first time and and that somewhat settled the competitiveness, and we were all just pleased to be there.

But over the next few years it's intense and just constantly being compared because it's not even like you have a trial every month or whatever, they were recording, Like everything. You know, every, every piece you did on the rowing machine, every piece you did on the water, every training session, what you're doing in the gym, what you weighed, you know, it was all being monitored.

And that kind of relentlessness of knowing that, like, oh no, today that person beat me, but usually I beat them or, you know, I finished in this position of my pair, but I want to be here even in training sessions. It was there just all the time. And it's it's tiring, really, really tiring.

Graham Daniel

Can you escape that stress? Because for those who are in elite sport, who are listening to us, pretty much all elite sport now is 24 seven monitored, physically for certain. How do you, can you escape the stress? What mechanisms? I know it's a private question, so I don't need to know private answers. But what mechanisms does a person deploy to find some equilibrium here?

Anastasia Chitty

So I think it's hard to escape, of course, because when you're not at training, you're at home and you're recovering and you're avoiding people who are ill or you're getting ill or you're thinking about what you eat or you're not going to a wedding when everyone else is. And I think it is hard to escape because if it's not the pressure to perform that you have at training, then its the pressure to be ready to perform, or to recover.

So I think it's hard to escape. Honestly. There are times in the season when it's easier to escape, like, you know, after selection has been finished. You know, you're going into summer, you're going into the racing season, you have the pressure to perform in the race and you want to crew to be as good as possible, but you haven't got that individual pressure, and I think it's more of a shared burden. I did a lot of my racing than eight. And sure, that's a slightly different pressure, a pressure to perform together rather than a pressure individually to perform against someone else.

Graham Daniels

Yes. Let's go back to your faith in sport, the integration of them. Perhaps you can unpack how your faith was developing in this period and what were the strengths of faith and indeed, what were the challenges of faith in Christ in this period in particular, second year, maybe, second to third year at GB rowing?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, it was it was important. And I guess it's like what you're preaching to yourself and what you're holding on in your heart, and they’re not aways the same all day, but you can keep preaching truth and the gospel and the, you know, your identity is secure in Christ and that whatever happens, you are the same today, same tomorrow and you won't be loved any less if you're injured or if you don't perform or if you get dropped or if you win.

You're the same. And it's hard to always hold onto that. And I think in the pressure in the moment and in the culture you're in, when few other people are holding onto that. It can be tough. I was fortunate. God was kind and giving me Becky. So she was another Christian on the team. We actually rode the pair together, and had a lot of success and that was if I could, you know, choose who you row the pair with. That was an incredibly special time and we could, especially when we were racing internationally in the pair together you know, being able to pray before going out, getting on the water, before going to race the World Cup or whatever it was, or the world champs in the 8 together. It was a real privilege and we were able to keep pointing each other to Jesus at different points in our Christian journey, but keep pointing each other back to it, reminding each other of what's true.

So it was, it was a huge help. But I think also times I thought it kind of made it challenging because I, I knew my identity wasn’t in rowing. And sometimes if you're pursuing being the best in the world and you're trying to get to the Olympics, you almost have to tell yourself it's everything, because it demands so much of you and you have to make so many sacrifices and you have to be so selfish. It's hard to justify if it doesn't actually matter in the grand scheme of things. And I found a bit of a tension there, I know the Christians In Sport motto is Romans 12 - we're using our bodies for the glory of God. But sometimes I find it hard to be like, Well, God cares and He loves me and He wants to see me use my body to use the gifts that he's given me. But when it was tough and becoming all consuming I was like, well my identity is secure, so do I need to do this? So I think it made it harder for me to be single minded because as Christians were not called to be selfishly single minded. And I think maybe if I'd been an elite athlete for longer, that's something I would have matured into and really understanding how to be the very best athlete for the glory of God.

But yeah, that was good.

Graham Daniels

Sorry I jumped in on you then, but I could see you're pausing a bit. But this is such a fresh conversation we're having. And I would say any young person who's in a significant elite pathway who has a faith and indeed any senior professional who would have had longer than you at the sharp edge of being a pro, they'd all get what you've just said.

I think I want to turn it a bit, though, and try different optics on it. Try looking at yourself. If you hadn't been a Christian in this period. And you could have pushed everything out of the way to do it, what would that have looked like?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, I think it would have been rough, but I think sometimes people look back on their early careers with kind of rose tinted spectacles. But I look back, and the longer I’m away for, the harder I realize it was it was hard and it was intense. And you're physically exhausted and so you're emotionally exhausted. And without having my faith, I don’t know where I would have got hope. But I don’t know I would have got security and peace when things were going wrong. And I was quite prone to getting injured. I'm kind of you know, I was a small rower, and I think the first of people to get injured. And, you know, in those times of injury, just drawing on my faith and knowing that God is in control.

And that's not a kind of flippant cliche. He is in control and He's let this happen. And for whatever reason that’s for, I’m where he wants me to be. So I think certainly in the hard times it was so important. And I think also in the pressure, in the times of pressure, Becky and I, we used to just say, you know, God’s given us everything, given us everything we need to fulfil his Word today.

And so that that doesn't take away any of the competitive nature. We need to squeeze every bit of talent out of us that he's given us. But we don't need more than he's given us. And I think that gave us real freedom to compete. And, you know, we stepped up every time we raced. I kind of had a reputation for doing better maybe than people had thought.

And I think that was from that knowledge that we had everything we needed to to do His will. We needed to use it all, but we didn't need anything more. So I think that helped me manage the burden of racing. And without the rowing, I think my faith would look different because it was, you know, I was in the furnace.

It was, it was tough. It really was. And seeing how the Lord showed me my brokenness at times, but also helped me learn to depend on him and to learn His truths and shair my faith. It's hard to imagine that He would have been able to grow my faaith so much in a different context without that intensity. And that's a double edged sword now that I'm not in that intensity.

But yeah.

Graham Daniels

Yeah. And of course you'll find a way to mature your faith in your current life circumstances. You articulate really clearly four things, and I'm interested to see what you make of this sort of research, research that we've done into the experience of Christian elite athletes. The data, the data from that research shows us there's probably four things in play.

Two are internal or personal. You're expected if you play at the elite level, compete at the elite level to get your fulfillment from the game, as it were, and you're expected to get your security from fitting in with a coach and your peers. Conversion to Christ tends to show that there's a willingness to take both of those on without losing your edge, your fulfilment is first in him and you security is in him.

But the result of that often is a third thing, which is if you're authentic in that it leads to conflict and it can lead to conflict, at elite sport level in all sports. But having come through conflict, which is invariable, that authenticity does lead to a witness where people will see that you can compete to the utmost, hold your nerve on what's right and wrong, and will quietly come to you and say, Could I talk to you about something personal?

And it's about faith to do with life and circumstances and so on. Did you find, it's a four year window, isn't it? Did you find that your authenticity did draw? You're a humble person. You're not going to just tell me Yes. Your authenticity drew conversation in that context?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, it is such a hard environment. And I think the tiredness, coming away from it, I realized, is pretty central to why it was so hard. And i was so aware of my sin. And I just wasn’t, I think what I was aware of from that time was that I could say the wrong thing and I could be nasty and I could upset people.

And that was all from that, like burning intensity and yet the Lord still used that. And I wasn’t witnessing because people saw something of Christ in me, sadly. I was more witnessing when I could share that Christ was the answer to my brokenness. And that was, that could be really painful at times that I had thought I was just so aware of messing up, or saying something unkind, because it's such an intense environment, living and training with the people you're competing against. But it did give me opportunities to say why. As a Christian, I could acknowledge my sin and my brokenness and the hurt that it could cause at times. And yet I have forgiveness and so can others. And that is a hard way to share your faith.

But I think it was often probably some of the way that I did, and I guess I was had other opportunities throughout my rowing career where God brough people into my lives who were raised Christian. But maybe actually kind of not going to church, let their faith fall away, and there was this mutual encouragement where I was excited be a new Christian and they had all of the teaching and the knowledge of what it looked like to be a Christian.

And at each stage of my own career, I can think of someone who the Lord used to teach me so much, but also He used me to get them back into church and get them on fire again for their faith and didn't necessarily see anyone come to faith, but to a number of people like that was like a real privilege and so special.

Graham Daniels

How tough then was the decision when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed during COVID to step out, because by this point you would have had to go five years out of medical school and you made the decision that you really couldn't do that and you're going back to back to training. Tough?

Anastasia Chitty

The decision wasn't tough, but I guess the fallout of the decision took some time. So I think I'm not a big thinker. So I just looked to that and I was like, you know what? The med school won't be back. There's another year and we don't know what's going to happen. And honestly, as I was, I was burnt out and I wasn't the only one to step away from the team at that time. A number of women did and it just wasn't worth it for me. I just wasn't worth it. I actually love rowing. I have no regrets, but I didn't have another year of that intensity and that lifestyle in me, just to go to the Olympics. And that sounds like a strange thing to say, but I had, I was really satisfied with how I'd competed.

The very last thing I did was the Olympic Trials in 2020, I came third with a broken foot with Becky, the Christian. And I was sort of happy on a kind of physical level that actually, sure, if I carried on, I’d get better. I was only, I think 26, maybe 28… I don’t know… I was 26. I sure I would have many more years of improving, but I was happy with the level I'd got to and the performance I put down at that final test.

And and I'd had amazing experiences, like those four years had been tough, but I had traveled the world. I competed at World Championships and European championships. I'd done the sport I love all day, every day. And I met great friends and had people invest me, Ii don’t think theres any other place in the world where like so much money and time is being spent on making you as good as you can be at something.

And I felt like I’d experienced all of that, and the only thing I hadn't done was the actual Olympics. But I didn't think that they were worth it for me in that moment when I, I had a few more months left in me, not 15 more months left in me. So weighing that up, and the fact that the med school were not excited by me having a fifth year out, it was quite a straightforward decision actually not to carry on, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a grief letting go of that goal I’d had. I had a sense that I had failed, that you spent four years training to go to the Olympics. That's what it's about. Let's be honest, there are other races along the way. But I'm not an Olympian and that question comes up all the time.

Now it's you know, I don't know, I'm 29. I'm a bit older to be a first year doctor. What what were you doing? Did you do another degree? No, I didn't do another degree. I rowed. Oh right. Did you do it professionally, and you get the: Did you go to the Olympics? No. No, I didn't go to the Olympics.

And that's that's that's hard. Like, I would prefer to say. Yes. Yes, I did, I finished with this medal, but that's not the reality. And so there was a time of processing that and moving on. But I think honestly, my faith has allowed me to do that probably easier than a lot of my peers because my identity is secure and the Lord is sovereign and this is His will for my life.

And I had everything I need in him. I didn't need the Olympics to make me complete. And so it was kind of okay. That doesn't mean that I tuned in to watch the Olympics in 2021. I didn’t, that we were Summer without phone signal, camping, and that was the best way to deal with it. But I don't have any regrets about making the decision.

And I'm content with with how things left.

Graham Daniels

This is a class interview. I’m telling you now, it's a class interview. Because there's at least two levels of which this is absolutely top drawer. Tor those very few people in our world who get to be pro athletes, everyone's got a version of this story because, of course, you know what happens. People then say, did you go to the Olympics?

How did you do? And then if it's not what you wanted, it's not good enough. And there's always the next thing. And so actually what really matters is faithfulness to your vocation at any time and contentment and contentment that you know that you're more than it, more than a rower. So this will be very inspirational to so many people on different levels.

How did, how did church, going to church play any part in those four intensive years for you?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, it has to be like it has to be flexible, like an in the British team we were away 100 days a year, so that's a lot of Sundays. But it was a commitment and actually way back from when I became a Christian or started coming to church at the beginning of university, the Bible study was just a a non-negotiable.

I was there and no matter how busy I was, it was just it was a commitment I had each week and I would be there. And that was great. And church itself. On a Sunday we had evening services where I go to church and so I'd go to the evening service because I'd be training during the day when I was at university, and that looked a bit different.

The other students went to a service earlier in the day and so I had a slightly different community, but that was that was when I could go. So I guess it was making a commitment and just sticking to that commitment. And I'm not a super black and white person, but that that was quite black and white. It's like: you go. And then, yeah, when I joined the National team full time, I actually had a few more Sundays. We still trained some Sundays, but usually would be back. It was just one session. So if I was in the UK, I had Sundays off, which was nice and that was my first time having Sundays off so I enjoyed that. And then when we were overseas it was just trying to make time to, to, to look at the Bible, to listen to a talk, maybe listen to some Christian music.

If I was with other Christians, there was another Christian on the team, we might look at the Bible together and just try and have church, just the two of us meeting together. Church is where Christians meet together. And that's not a substitute for actually going to church and hearing the teaching and being part of a big church family. But but when you're away, it is sort of church and so we used to train on training camps two full days, one half day on repeat for two weeks or two and a half weeks.

And so those half-days were just my time to check in and look at the Bible with someone else. And listen to some Christian music. Training camps are tough, you’re room sharing, you haven’t really got your own space inside, I’d often go for walks and just listen to Christian music, and I was able to keep serving. I think every year, I was able to work with the students and then we did English language ministry and that takes some flexibility from the church as well. And I was supported by them. You know, I couldn't be there every week at the student Bible study because I wasn't in the country, but just allowing me to still serve and grow through that service despite the fact that I couldn't make a commitment and I was going to be on and off.

And my church family understanding that was was really helpful, too.

Graham Daniels

And Debbie Flood and you are old friends, I dare say now. What was the relationship with Christians in Sport in this whole period?

Anastasia Chitty

Yes, I think it was like some some in Boat Race season when I was just worn down, turned up at church crying, that the student worker Sharon was like this girl needs Christians in Sport. So that's when she put me in touch with Debbie. So I started meeting with Debbie when I was still a student, so i was doing age group study, under 23 stuff for Gb, and boat races, so we stated meeting together and tie as just helpful having someone who gets it, because actually the intensity of the world of elite sport, especially dare I say rowing, like the amount of training we do. It's it's absolutely relentless. And people frankly, just don't get it in the church. They would love to, but they don't. And having someone who did get it and would get it when I was struggling, and knew exactly what the trials were i was going through and could in that, still point me back to Jesus and not belittle it, be like yeah, this is this is tough. Like this injury is really tough, or this selection period you're going through, It is really hard. But then pray about it and point me to Jesus which was really helpful and it was also, I think one of the things I struggled with at church was that I was the rower.

And yet as a Christian, I was being told that my identity wasn't in rowing. But at church, everyone just knew me about rowing, and they'd always ask me about rowing. And I was like, How can you help me here? Like, I'm trying to have my identity in Christ, not in rowing. And that's something I really struggled with, or just how frustrating, to be honest.

And it's also just your life isn’t it, so its not very exciting for me that I'm good at rowing, even if it's exciting for other people. So, but Debbie is better is rowing, and is a Christian, and just being able to have a completely, for her to be completely unimpressed and just talk about life as a Christian was was really helpful to.

Graham Daniels

Meanwhile, here we are at the Falcon Boat Club, brand new, looking out on the river behind us. It's not even finished and you've got us in here for the interview. What are you doing here?

Anastasia Chitty

Yeah, I'm somewhat unusual. I think, I just, I do love rowing. If it were just rowing, I would have carried on for ever. But there's careers and families and, all sorts of other things. And so, yeah, the first thing I did as, well, I returned to Oxford to finish my medical degree and I took a year out of rowing.

I still rowed. I'd go down to my club Leander and just sub in on a Saturday, and that was good fun. But I didn't do too much rowing. I thought I should probably focus on trying to remember all of the Medicine that I'd obviously forgotten from the previous four years, so I took a year out for then and yeah, wouldn’t stay away for long.

So I thought, well, final year of school, why not. One more Boat Race and coming at it from a completely different angle, because I, um, I guess I'd come in as a fresher. I was 18 when I first joined the Boat Race team, and though I was 28, married, having had a career as kind of an elite athlete, very much the kind of mum on the team and it was a special experience I remember for a few reasons. Oxford had lost for a long time and in my pride of thought, well, maybe I can get them back onto a winning streak, which I didn't. But it was because I wanted to finish my rowing. And I think that was one of the hard things about COVID was that I left the boathouse on that day of Olympic trials.

Over the moon, I’d come third. And that was it. I never I never went back, other than to get my stuff like three months later. And so that sense that I never finished that, that I just I never knew if I'd done my last test on the road machine. I hadn't known if I’ve done my last serious race. I felt like I wanted to finish.

And know I was finishing. And the final thing was I wanted to I just want to give back. I had learned a lot and really, really benefited from older athletes on the team when I was a Boat Race rower, a younger one. And so I just thought, well, maybe I can share some wisdom, some experience. And I love rowing. So that was quite fun.

I really enjoyed going Back. It was nice. I really didn’t feel like I was under any pressure so it's just back to looking forward to finishing my day in the hospital or while not finishing it, skiving
off at lunchtime, to, to go rowing was was good fun. And then, then I went away after the boat race. I finished my exams already and my husband and I went to Kenya on a mission trip, so I worked in a hospital. But the first day we got back from there, I was down at Falcon, joining up. Actually, in fact, I think I sent an email I whilst I was still there, because yeah, rowing is always going to be part of my life and it's been great. I joined, I thought I was going to just use it to keep my boat.

Do some single sculling. I won't be rowing with people at Falcon because I’m arrogant, but after about three weeks, some some older ladies, they've got a masters boat going and they invited me to join. And so we, we, we train and we race in the 40 to 45 year olds category. That's our average age.

Graham Daniels

You’re in with the 40-somethings!

Anastasia Chitty

And it's great fun. It's great. But so, yeah, I'm back. This is still my my happy place. Like, there's nothing more special to me than being on the water, actually. We were doing a Bible study on Micah last week, and there's that scene, that the scene of that of sitting under the fig tree and that that vision of paradise.

And I was encouraging people to think about what does that look like for you? And the closest thing we have on earth for me is being out on the river with the sun out. So yeah. So we should. You'll never drag me off the river.

Graham Daniels

That is a great place to finish our interview, isn't it? Anastasia, thanks very much. Brilliant. Thank you very much.

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