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Finding confidence through sports with Toronto-born Gold medalist, Sydney Payne

Sydney Payne received her first gold medal at her first-ever Olympic Games in Tokyo. Throughout her career, Sydney has struggled with adjusting to her height and dealing with injuries, but it all paid off after she was able to stand at the top of the podium with a gold medal around her neck.

For people who don’t know, tell us who you are and what you do?

My name is Sydney Payne, I am a rower from Toronto and I recently just won a gold medal in women’s eight in Tokyo.

What made you want to row and when did you start?

I started rowing between grade 9 and 10 when I was recovering from a knee injury I got while I was ski racing. I needed a low impact, off-season sport and my Mom wanted me to be around other tall women to help improve my confidence. I am about 6’1″ or 6’2″ and all of my friends were quite small so I used to be insecure about my height.

When I tried rowing I ended up being good at it, so I continued in order to see where I could go with it. Between grade 11 and 12 I stopped ski racing to make time for rowing, even though skiing is still my favourite sport. 

Where are you from?

I am originally from Toronto but our training centre is in Victoria, British Columbia so I moved there in grade 12 to row year round since the lake is frozen for half of the year in Ontario.

What advice would you give to someone looking to be an Olympic athlete?

Take every opportunity that you find and run with it! Also, try to find a good coach that will work with you because they will find good ways to progress your rowing. 

What is your mission in your career as an athlete?

To try and find the best version of myself, and see how far I can go and what I can achieve with rowing. I want to repeat my achievements in the next summer Olympics in Paris, 2024.

Do you think your team dynamics played a role in your win?

After qualifying in 2019 we were supposed to have a year before the Olympics but then it got pushed to two years because of the pandemic. So during the bonus year, we decided to re-evaluate our team dynamic and culture. During quarantine, we spent the time getting to know each other away from the boat. As a result, we gained an immense amount of trust and knowledge about each other. This allowed us to recognize our different abilities and to further push and believe in each other.

What would you tell your teenage self, if you were to meet them today?

To believe in myself a little bit more and draw as much confidence in myself in my abilities at the time. To keep giving it my all and find more confidence in my achievements and goals. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

To be process-oriented and not results-driven. This is the most common piece of advice I use on a day to day basis. In other words, it means focusing on what needs to be done to get the result that I want.

What, if any adversities did you have to conquer, and what do you attribute your success to?

When you get to this level of athletics, you are bound to run into one (or many) injuries along the way. For example, I was injured last year and during my recovery, I took a step back and looked at rowing from the outside. I visualized rowing from a coaches perspective and tried to focus on people’s bodies moving together while rowing in order to stay positive about the situation.

Tell us a secret about being an Olympic athlete.

We spend a lot of time sleeping, laying down and watching Netflix! Our lives are two different experiences, one is full of intense training and the other focuses on recovery. 

How can we get connected? Where can we learn more about you / connect with you / your social channels?

You can keep up to date with me and my rowing journey on my personal Instagram account, @sydneyrpayne.

Alyssa Shull