FERMOY’S Gearóid Towey put rowing firmly on the map for many years with some incredible performances.
In many ways, he was ahead of his time, with the sport now well established in Leeside and on the international stage.
Towey once said: “I do not want to walk on water, I just want to be the fastest in it”, and he provided Irish sports fans with a moment to cherish in Irish sporting history.
“I think the thing that stands out most for me was that we were really nervous the day before and that continued to the morning of the race and at the start as all we wanted was to hear the gun and get on with it.
“The worst time is when you are sitting on the bank and waiting to go as your mind is working overtime, it’s out of control, but as soon as you know that you are going back on the water you know that you are back in control of the situation,” recalled Gearóid.
The race itself saw the Dutch pairing take the lead, but displaying true Irish grit, Towey and O’Connor wore down their opponents with 150 metres to go to claim a tremendous win on a memorable day for Irish rowing.
“To be honest, after the race we did not have the feeling we thought we would have after being crowned World Champions, as usually after you win a race like that, the tendency is to go out on the razz, but we didn’t as we just sat there staring at one another.
“In the end, it was a case of, we breathed a collective sigh of relief that the months of hard work and training had been worth it,” added Towey.
Towey tasted the winning feeling before and was also questioned whether it was all worth it?
In 1996 he trained three times a day as he spent an hour-and-a-half on the River Blackwater, covering 20km.
After a short break, he was back doing gym work and after another break, he would either run or go on a machine.
He then went to a training camp in Sweden with the national squad and it’s a memory that sticks with Towey.
“That was hell, and at one stage I thought they wanted to break us, and I went to bed telling myself that this wasn’t for me and the worst part of it was that the selection process had just started.
“Six of us were going for two places on the lightweight sculls team and despite living together we were all competing hard against each other and you couldn’t get emotionally close to anybody.”
For the next five months Towey, Niall O’Toole, and Brendan Dolan rotated as pairs in international competition.
The three remaining athletes would go to the NCTC in Limerick for testing and sharing yet competing with each other for the two spots.
Instead, Towey would row in Amsterdam Regatta and the World U23 Lightweight Sculls where he won both events and set the world’s fastest time for the year in the U23 races.
Gearóid then went to Atlanta as a back-up to Dolan and O’Toole, did some work for RTÉ and trained for the World Senior Championships.
While in the USA, Towey was laid low by a bug that affected his lungs and it meant he had to pull out after one race of the World Senior Championships.
A season later he teamed up with O’Connor and the pair wrote a page of sporting history.
Towey competed at three Olympics — Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008 where he retired from the sport.
Towey, along with Ciaran Lewis, attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 2005 but were rescued in the middle of a force 9 storm at night
Towey was certainly an ambassador for the sport of rowing and while always enjoying his successes he was equally gracious in defeat.
The town of Fermoy produced another glittering star in Gearóid Towey who now resides in Sydney and is a founder of Crossing the Line in Sport, dedicated to athlete mental health and transition out of sport.
Gearóid Towey began his rowing career at Fermoy Rowing club in 1985.
Gearóid made his debut appearance for Ireland in 1994.
Towey was crowned World Champion in the lightweight coxless pairs at Lucerne Switzerland in 2001 when he was partnered by Neptune’s Tony O’Connor.