Athlete Meets: Simon McTavish

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It was a formidable 2018 for Simon McTavish on the domestic and international paddling circuit; from securing a podium finish at the U23 World Championships to being named UniSport Australia’s Male Athlete of the Year.

We caught up with the Elite Athlete Program member and Sydney University Project Management student to find out what’s on the cards for 2019, and beyond.

Did you play any other sports growing up and what was it about paddling that sparked your interest?

I have two older brothers and our parents kept the three of us busy in sports every month of the year when we were growing up. I played most sports including Ice Hockey when I lived in Canada. Here in Australia I mostly played Water Polo, Soccer, Basketball as well as competing in Sailing and Cross-Country Running.

I love the water and sailed and surfed most weekends. By circumstance I happened to follow my older brother into Sprint Kayaking and found that it checked a lot of boxes for me. With 370 strokes in a 1000 meter race, Kayaking is a highly technical sport that requires aerobic fitness and strength which are all elements I enjoy training for.

You had an enormous 2018: you were the flag bearer for the Australian Team, won a silver medal in the men’s K1 x 1000m at the 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint U23 World Championships in Bulgaria, won two gold and one bronze medal at the 2018 FISU – International University Sport Canoe Sprint Championships in Hungary and were a part of the Australian Senior Team – you must feel incredibly proud of yourself and that your hard work is paying off?

2018 was a very good year! I’m happy with my national and International podium finishes and the times that I posted this past season. I was especially pleased to finish off the season by trying the shorter 200m distance race and surprising myself with a medal in the K1 x 200m at the International University Championships. It was a respectable time and a huge personal best of 35.256. Having added some international medals to my sporting resume I’m looking forward to making 2019 an even bigger year.

Off the back of this, you were named UniSport Australia’s Male Athlete of the Year representing the University of Sydney – how does it feel to be recognised for your achievements in the University Sport space?

In one word – humbling! I think that Australia produces some of the world’s best athletes with many of them emerging through various university sports programs and development ladders. To be considered amongst these athletes is an honour.

The Olympic sport of Sprint Kayaking is not represented domestically at UniSport Nationals so it was a great honour and experience to still be able to represent the University of Sydney and Australia at the World University Championships.

You’re currently studying a Bachelor of Project Management at the University of Sydney – was going to Uni always on the cards for you?

Yes, I think it is important to develop socially and academically as well as athletically. From a more practical perspective, I have always thought it important to set up a career for when my athletic career comes to an inevitable end.

What do you enjoy about your current degree?

My current degree – a Bachelor of Project Management – is a versatile discipline that has taught me about many different aspects of Built Environments. I enjoy the mix it offers as it has allowed me to experience courses from different faculties within the University including Business, Engineering and Architecture. Interestingly there are many parallels between Project Management and managing sport, university, work and a personal life.

We’ve also heard you may be looking to complete a Bachelor of Architecture after this degree – is that correct? If so, what motivates you to want to pursue further study?

Yes, I’m pleased to say that I’ve recently been accepted into the Bachelor of Design in Architecture! I discovered an interest in the architectural space through my current degree and wish to continue to build my qualifications while I am paddling so that when I finish, I have a career path I am interested in and qualified to pursue. In my view, University is the best place to be whilst pursing a World or Olympic title in sport.

You’ve been a member of the Elite Athlete Program since 2015 – in what ways has it helped you manage your sport and study, especially given a lot of your competitions take place overseas?

The Sydney University Elite Athlete Program (EAP) has been very accommodating to the requirements of being a fulltime athlete and have made part-time study possible while maintaining a rigorous training and traveling schedule. Anika is fantastic and has been my EAP point of contact from the beginning. She has helped to arrange various special considerations enabling me to balance my commitments and continue studying whilst training and competing overseas. Access to the sports centre, scholarships and tutoring have all been valuable and much appreciated

Any tips you’d give to someone juggling sport, study and everything else that comes with being a 22-year-old?

I have found that it is all about a healthy balance and continuing to find time for other things that I enjoy doing. For me, putting too much focus on one area of my life can actually lead to a worse performance in that area. For myself when I am training, I like to focus solely on what I am doing and getting the most out of each session, effort and repetition.

When not at training I turn my attention to my studies and enjoy spending time with family, friends and going out in the surf. Although it sounds cliché, it is important to love what you are doing. If you don’t, you won’t be able to put in the extra hard yards to reach your goals.

Tokyo 2020 is fast approaching – is the Olympics something you have in your sights?