WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Life as an equities trader had its attractions for New Zealand Olympic rower George Bridgewater.
Financial security for his young family, the ‘excitement’ of trading and living in exotic climes like Hong Kong and Singapore, both far removed from the sleepy town of Cambridge, where New Zealand’s high performance rowing program is based.
Yet a sense of unfinished business impelled him to chuck it all in to return to New Zealand, live “like a Spartan” and get yelled at by coaches all day, every day, as he attempted to make his country’s high-powered rowing team for the Rio Olympics.
“Why would a banker quit to come back to try do something that is completely uncertain?” the 33-year-old laughed during a telephone interview with Reuters.
“I had these questions nagging at me ever since I left. I felt that I hadn’t achieved what I could in rowing and in particular, Olympic rowing.”
Bridgewater had walked away from the sport following a bronze medal-winning row with Nathan Twaddle in the men’s pair at Beijing, having won three world championship medals, including gold in 2005.
He then completed an MBA at Oxford University, where he was part of the 2009 Boat Race-winning crew against Cambridge, before he ended up working for financial services firm Morgan Stanley, initially in Hong Kong then Singapore.
His willingness to move to Asia — one reason being it was “closer to home” — had been a calculated risk, given he graduated during the depth of the global financial crisis and he found the work as a flow trader in equities “fairly exciting”.
“It was not too dissimilar from the highs and lows of sport... (except) you finish every day and the next day is a new day with a clean slate,” he said.
“In sport you kind of build on the previous day.”
The pull of raising his family in New Zealand, recognizing he still had that competitive itch and at 31 had a few good years left in him, was strong enough to make him turn his back on trading in late 2014.
“I enjoyed my time (trading) but I felt that I had some unanswered questions about sport,” he added.
“They say trading is risky, but sports is riskier. You’re putting your life on hold. You don’t have any real income and at any point it could get taken away from you through poor performance or injury. It’s a pretty fragile existence.”
Fragility also surrounds the Olympic experience in Brazil he craves.
Bridgewater has been named in New Zealand’s quadruple sculls crew, who finished ninth at last year’s world championships in France, and were less than a second from earning automatic qualification for Rio.
As such, they still have to qualify for Rio at a ‘last chance’ regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 22-25.
“I’ve never been to a qualification regatta and I never ever wanted to go to one,” he laughed. “From all accounts, its quite a unique regatta. You can get things that are unexpected because it’s their last chance at an Olympics qualification.
“But that’s sport and the beauty of it. There is a cut off. You see success and failure right in front of you but that’s one of the reasons why I came back.
“I just love that beauty and brutality of success or failure in the same breath.”
Editing by John O'Brien