This summer the eyes of the world watched in wonder at the athletes competing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games this summer. One of these Olympians was rower and alumna, Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne (English 2019). We caught up with her about her first Olympics and her time at Royal Holloway.
Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne in the green Olympic ring
Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne only took up rowing about 10 years ago. In her words, she ‘started messing around in boats aged 14, but started training with a bit more intent in 2013 when I joined Hartpury College’. This dedication clearly worked in her favour, as this year she competed in the Women's Quadruple Sculls at the Tokyo Olympics.
Competing in her first Olympics, in an extraordinary year, has been an experience that Charlotte is still trying to process. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure how to sum it up or easily explain it, I’m still trying to figure it out! As a first Games it was a pretty intense one and it absolutely flew by. I’d trained so often with the Olympics as a motivator and actually being at the event made me feel incredibly privileged and so grateful to everyone that had helped me get there. It was such an amazing experience to be part of, especially after the delay and everything that’s happened over the past couple of years. Not having family and friends there was a bit of a shame - but obviously that had to happen in order for the Games to go ahead safely.’
When it came to choosing universities and degree programmes, Charlotte chose English because she had always loved reading and studied English at GCSE and A Level. She says ‘I was keen to expand my knowledge further. I also wasn’t entirely sure what career I wanted to go into, so saw this as a great degree that wouldn’t narrow my career options much. I was really drawn to the course content at Royal Holloway and after going to an open day and meeting some of the academics I knew I’d have a great time. The campus was also a big draw, it’s so beautiful!’
Understandably, Charlotte spent much of her free time at university training, but enjoyed spending time with her friends to unwind and get a break from the rigours of the training schedule ‘One of my favourite memories was spending a day exploring the campus and Founders with a close friend. Being so immersed in the history of Royal Holloway was an amazing experience. I have so many great memories of spending time with friends at Royal Holloway.
Whilst many people might find the strenuous timetable of training and studying a daunting prospect, Charlotte credits her sixth form experience in helping her to prioritise and organise herself well. ‘However, there were a couple of occasions where I didn’t get the balance right and that’s when I really valued the support of my professors. They were always so understanding and helpful! Ultimately as training and university commitments increased, I made a decision to just put studying and training ahead of the social or more ‘fun’ elements of university life - a small temporary sacrifice that luckily paid off!’
When asked to share some advice for anyone thinking about combining training with a degree Charlotte shared these words of encouragement ‘Go for it! There’s no reason (in my mind) not to. The academics at Royal Holloway are incredibly supportive and help as much as possible, and as long as you’re driven and keen you’ll be fine! Make sure you’ve got a good timetable for each week and really plan ahead. Knowing in advance about important dates was so important for me, so I could avoid any clashes or unnecessary stress. Finally, a big one is clear communication with both your coaches and academics so no one gets confused and nothing is missed.’
Charlotte is keen to impress that the support she received from Royal Holloway is vital for anyone balancing a sporting career alongside their degree, ‘Sport opens up so many opportunities for young people and is an incredible experience to be part of. I also think supporting young athletes alleviates a large amount of pressure and stress, allowing them to just focus on performing.’ Her ambitions to succeed in both sporting and academic worlds was nurtured during her time at university, ’being driven (if sometimes a little unrealistically so) has meant I’m always pushing to achieve my goals. A large part of choosing Royal Holloway was based on my assumptions that I would be able to achieve both my academic and sporting goals throughout my time there. Thankfully my assumptions were correct! I think Royal Holloway helped me achieve highly through supporting both my academic and sporting goals. I never felt made to choose between sport or studying and I felt my academics genuinely wanted me to succeed in both areas. I also felt I could go to my academics and discuss any clashes or concerns, which made it really easy for me to flag any potential issues and I was never afraid to ask for help.’
After such a busy year, Charlotte is taking stock of her considerable achievements and her professional and rowing future. ‘Being selected for the Games is probably my greatest achievement, although I’ve been very lucky to have raced in many great races that have meant so much to me. I’m currently trying to decide if I want to go for Paris 2024, but that’s quite possibly on the cards. Aside from that I’m planning on converting to law, which I’m very excited about!’