Lessons From An Olympic Gold Medalist- with Grace Prendergast

Greg Wilkes

So we have something slightly different for you today. And I really enjoyed this interview with Grace Prendergast. As we go through this, you’ll see why. Because Grace is an Olympic world champion. She won the gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for rowing. And Grace really is an elite sportswoman.

She’s also won many other gold medals in the world championships too. So… At the top of her game, she was exceptional. Now, what we’re gonna be doing in this interview is analyzing what got her to the top, how she overcome adversity, how she dealt with teammates, how she managed to track all her data and overcome plateaus.

All of these lessons are absolutely crucial for your construction business. So as you’re listening through this, don’t think about it from a sporting background. Think about all the lessons that you’re going to learn to apply in your own construction business with the struggles she faced and how she overcome them.

You’re going to find this fascinating. So really look forward to you diving into this.

Greg Wilkes (00:04):

Okay, grace, awesome to have you on the show. Really appreciate you being here.

Grace Prendergast (00:19):

Thank you.

Greg Wilkes (00:21):

Great to have you on. So Grace, would you like to give us a little introduction on who you are and some of your accomplishments have been?

Grace Prendergast (00:28):

Yes, definitely. So my name is Great Brenda Gas and I’m originally from New Zealand, but currently living in the uk, so very different lifestyle in London. My background is in sports. I was a professional rower for about 12 years, which is always crazy. I think I’m always like, no, I haven’t left school that long ago. And then I’m, oh wow, you have, but no. So background in professional sports rowing. I did two Olympics, so the Rio Olympic Games where we came forth, which is always a hard position to be in. And then most recently the Tokyo Olympic Games where I won a gold medal in the Women’s Pier and a silver in the Women’s Eight. And then following that, came over to the UK and did a year at Cambridge University and rode there and then retired after that. So now adjusting to life on the other side.

Greg Wilkes (01:24):

Fantastic. Yeah. So first of all, congratulations on your Olympic medals. It’s awesome. What an achievement to know that you’re the best in the world at something. So congratulations on that.

Grace Prendergast (01:34):

Thank you.

Greg Wilkes (01:35):

I’m sure that was a lot of training and hard work and dedication into getting that.

Grace Prendergast (01:41):

Yeah, it still feels a bit surreal. I think every time I said I’m like, oh wow, you did do that. But I guess nice surreal, but yeah, it still hasn’t really sunk in even though it’s been a few years.

Greg Wilkes (01:51):

Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. So the reason I wanted to get you on Grace is because it’s fascinating the synergies between sport and business and how the life lessons we learn in sport transfer over to lessons we learn in business today. So for those who are listening, this is something a little bit different, but as we go through this and as Grace is answering some of these questions and her experiences, I want my listeners to just think about how that might be transferable and how they might be able to apply it as they go through their challenges in business. So maybe first of all, grace, we could talk about your routine as a champion because routine is so crucial, isn’t it? So what was your daily routine? Can you walk us through what you used to do when you were building up to a major competition?

Grace Prendergast (02:37):

Yeah, I think routine is super, super important because if you establish a routine when there’s a little bit less pressure and a little bit more time on your hands, it’s really easy to maintain that when it does get to the stressful point. But I guess rowing is a really routine sport. So I’m probably, I love routine as well that we would row essentially twice a day and maybe do a third session in there as well. So it would be up relatively early down on the water for maybe two and a half hours. Come in, have a bit of a break, maybe hop on the rowing machine for another hour or hour and a half, come in and then either go rowing again or maybe a wait session or something like that. And then you can come home and you can switch off and relax the rest of your evening. But obviously that’s the rowing routine. And then I had my own personal routine established around that, which I think is really important as we just touched on, to keep you structured in your day and when things are going well, it’s very easy to get through a day, but when things aren’t going that well, I think it’s really nice to have something to come back to. But it takes a while to figure out how to develop that personal I’d say.

Greg Wilkes (03:56):

I can imagine. And what’s interesting is obviously all the rowers out there, they’ve all potentially got a routine that’s going, but there’s something that differentiates someone who goes and wins a gold medal to someone who doesn’t. So what do you think those non-negotiables, where in your routine that maybe contributed more to your success? Was there things that you did that were different to others or what do you think?

Grace Prendergast (04:17):

Yeah, I’d say I think there were things, and I think these things could be different for everybody, but what I believe I did that made me successful was one of the things where in my routine I definitely worked to have times where I was super switched off. I didn’t sit there and think about rowing all the time or didn’t stew over what happened that morning. There were points in my day where I was like, okay, regardless of how it’s going, now is a time where you can think about anything else you want. And I studied as well. So it might’ve been my study, it might’ve been literally just reading a book or anything. So you’re just not there constantly stewing on what is probably the biggest part of your life, but you do need to switch off as well because I found when there were points in my rowing career when I wasn’t doing that as well, you just feel so drained and obviously all the physical training is really tiring and if you can go home and sort of drain yourself mentally, it’s not a very sustainable way.


You’re going to burn out. Whereas if you have something that you’re like, okay, when I get to this point, I’m going to switch off. And whether that is, for me, it was almost like a point in the road. It was like you do your rowing, you can think about it for a while and you can debrief and then on your way home when you get to this point, that’s when it’s like, okay, that part of my day is done, I’m onto the next thing. And I think that was really important. I would say also consistency is another thing that if you do want to get to the top, it’s probably I would say one of the most important things that you need to find because you think of people that go off and do really good things or something really good once and you’re like, oh, that’s really good, but you have to do it again and again and again is probably what makes successful people successful.


So me that meant that before every session I sort of needed to know what I was going to get out of it. So part of my routine was sitting down and whether this was just by myself or with my crew and being like, okay, what’s our goal for the session? So we’re not just going to go out there and go through the motions. And also it can cause conflict when you don’t know what the purpose of the session is. Maybe I’ve got a purpose in my mind and my teammate has a purpose in their mind, and then when we’re tired and grumpy on the water, we’re going to start fighting each other. Whereas if we’ve sat down and it’s going to be 30 seconds, you’ve talked about your purpose of the session, then you can come back to that. So I would say that’s another big thing in my routine that got me to the success. It wasn’t going through the motions. I knew what you’re going to get out of the session.

Greg Wilkes (07:01):

Yeah, that’s huge. So as you are going through all of this grace, I’m thinking back to how do we now apply this in our businesses and there’s just absolute gold in here. I just want to stop and just recap on some of that because I think I don’t want this to go over people’s heads and they miss the point of it. So one thing you said that was really important is the importance of having a routine to take yourself out of the stresses of what you’re concentrating on. So you need a bit of time for yourself and actually having a routine to switch off. So did you do anything in particular to force yourself to chill out? Were you into meditating or journaling or yoga or was there any habits like that you built into de-stress?

Grace Prendergast (07:44):

Yeah, a bit of all of them actually. Definitely journaling. I think that is a really nice way of being like, oh, I’ve written it down on paper so I’m not just pushing it to the side, I’m not forgetting about anything. I’m going to come back to this because when something’s not going that well, you do need to figure it out, but there’s also a time and a place for it. So I felt like if I wrote it, if I wrote it down, it was like you’re saving it for later. I think that one was also really important because it could show you routines and patterns in your training or your day-to-day life. And sometimes when you’re living and breathing something, it’s really hard to step back and look at it objectively. But if I could look back and think, oh, every time this month when we’re in this, we would do monthly training phases so it would get harder and harder and harder and then back off every time it’s the hard week, I think this is always wrong, this is always wrong, this is always an issue, but it’s actually just a pattern in my training.


And if that’s all written down, you can establish those patterns, if that makes sense. Yeah,

Greg Wilkes (08:56):

And I guess that’s what brings in what you said before about the importance of having the consistency because if you’ve got that consistent routine that’s happening, you are able to draw on those data streams all the way through, aren’t you? And work out, because sometimes we can, I’m thinking now in business, I’m not talking about in road obviously because I’ve got no experience with that, but in business sometimes you look at a data point and you think, oh, that’s gone wrong, but because you haven’t got previous sets of data to actually work out, am I judging this right or is it a one-off occurrence? So I guess your routine was important in giving you that analysis.

Grace Prendergast (09:29):

Yes, definitely. For my peer partner, and I know every year before world champs is a really, really hard training period, which is a really hard thing to get around mentally because you’re sort of getting to the maybe a week and a half before you need to race at world champs and you’re like, I’m exhausted, I’m sore, I’m exhausted. And we would go through this every year being like, we’re going terribly. It feels hard. We don’t feel energetic, lively. And then obviously the physiologists and stuff are so professional, they know that we will bounce up, but it’s getting to that point and then we started to recognize that pattern. So then the following year we’d be like, oh, actually remember you felt like this last year, but you came up and by the time you were at World champs, you were absolutely fine. So it gives you confidence as well.

Greg Wilkes (10:16):

Yeah, so important. Yeah, that’s so key. So that’s really useful and some real value in that there. Thinking about your motivation on how you kept yourself going, obviously this is years of training to get to this point. I mean, how many years were you training before you won the Gold?

Grace Prendergast (10:36):

Well, professionally 11. Yeah. And I would say I had set this goal of winning the women’s boat class at the Olympics probably in about 2014. So I guess that’s seven years specifically to achieve this goal and then years before that.

Greg Wilkes (10:55):

That’s absolutely incredible. So how did you keep your motivation up during all that time to go and achieve it?

Grace Prendergast (11:02):

Yeah, I think this is a really interesting question and I found it more interesting since I’ve retired from rowing because I think I’d get asked that a lot and I would have all these little tricks and things. But I think since stepping away, I have sort of come back to the fact that it was because it was a goal that I cared about so much since stepping away and I potentially haven’t found that new real drive for something I’ll set goals and it’s very easy to come off them and lose motivation. Whereas for that one I was like, I knew I wanted it so much and it wasn’t just because I wanted a gold medal. It was so many things that went into that. It was like, oh, it’s because I’m putting in so much hard work and it’s going to be such a sense of satisfaction and I want it because it means so much to my team and me. There were so many different layers to why I wanted to achieve that goal. And I think that’s the most important thing when you’re trying to maintain your intrinsic motivation is to actually really care about your goal and know why you want to achieve it. And that can be so different for everyone. Why I want to win might be so different than why someone else wants to win, but as long as everyone knows their motivation, I think that’s the real key.

Greg Wilkes (12:21):

And I guess that evolves over time, doesn’t it? Because I imagine when you first started Rowan, you probably didn’t have the goal of being a gold medalist. I mean, when did it start? Did these aspirations of achieving that?

Grace Prendergast (12:33):

Yeah, it definitely does evolve over time. I was never one of those kids that sort of sat in primary school or high school and I was like, oh, I want to go to the Olympics. I think it just seemed like such a far off thing. Whereas I made my first New Zealand team and my last year of school, but that was still very age group that was still so many people will do this and then stop after that. But that kind of gave me the confidence and then eventually a few years later I was like, oh no, I’m in the 20 threes and I’m in the high age groups. And then it just was a natural progression to be like, actually this is now an achievable goal. Still very, very hard. But I was like, I can achieve this. So it definitely did progress over time and for a long time it still felt like you’re a little bit of almost like an imposter to be like, is this your goal? Because this is the people you used to look up to that were trying to do this. And I imagine that’s the same for a lot of people trying to establish a business or try to do anything. It’s quite uncomfortable to feel confident to say, oh, I want to win an Olympic gold medal, or I want to set up my own business because you have to believe that you’re good enough to do it, I suppose.

Greg Wilkes (13:42):

Sure, a hundred percent. And that goal just seems so out there as in to come up with that initially. So I imagine that there were steps along the way or goals that you had to set before you were going to achieve the big one. So how did you break that down?

Grace Prendergast (13:56):

Yeah, definitely. I think this was a really, really important thing that we did as well because first of all, it did seem so outlandish to work towards that, but also it’s so far away. This is the main thing in our four year cycle and we have world champs and things, but that’s all learning for the Olympic games. So you’re trying to work towards something that is four years away and when you’re out there on the water and it’s cold and it’s raining and you’re like, this isn’t for another three years, doesn’t matter if I chill out now or if we actually just decide to stay inside. So having the little steps along the way was really important. And I think also for us, it was really important to work towards them and achieve them so that we could line up in our situation. And Tokyo really confident.


I think part of achieving little goals is not only to keep yourself on track, but also to build your confidence that when you line up you’re like, but I’ve done this and I set this goal and I achieved that, so why can’t I do this today? But yeah, it was all very, very structured. It was like, okay, we had certain markers at certain points that we wanted to achieve. And that became really important when Covid hit because I was like a lot of our other markers got taken away. We couldn’t race anyone internationally, and then we also had a whole nother year to fill in. So having those little personal markers became even more important.

Greg Wilkes (15:26):

Yeah, I can imagine. And this is so exactly the same as business. I mean as we are going through business, we want to set those KPIs. Without KPIs, you’re just floating around and you don’t really know what you’re actually aiming for. So it’s setting those KPIs. But I think it’s great to, and the analogy you’ve made there is if we’re going for a big goal, maybe we want to have a 10 million pound construction business or whatever it is that will be a big property developer, whatever our goal is, we need to realize that that may be a five or 10 year journey. Yours were four year cycles, but there’s plenty of other KPIs that you can set along the way. And what I think you said was important is celebrate those little wins too. We need to as we going.

Grace Prendergast (16:05):

Yeah, I think that’s really, really important. And that was a learning for me definitely along my sporting career because leading into Rio, I think we weren’t as good at celebrating the little wins and we sort of set this main goal of winning a medal at the Rio Olympics and we came away with a fourth. And when we came away at the fourth, I was like, oh, I’m sort of gutted because we did so many amazing things on our way here, but we didn’t celebrate them because we were like, the Olympics is our main goal, don’t get too cocky or anything. But I was like, God, four and any sort of difficult challenge or goal can be, so it can wear you down a lot. So if you don’t celebrate the little things along the way, it can get pretty ruthless.

Greg Wilkes (16:52):

Definitely. Yeah, doubt. Exactly. I completely relate to that. So as part of your role, you were in a team, obviously there’s a team around you that supports you as you are going to the Olympics. How did you find different personalities and trying to manage all of that and how did you get all of you aligned to pull in the same direction? I can imagine that’s a little bit of a challenge with team dynamics sometimes.

Grace Prendergast (17:18):

Yeah, there’s a real challenge I think in both of my boats. So my main boat was just me and one other person, which we had a really interesting dynamic because we’re really, really good friends, but we’re very, very different people. And how we respond to stress is very different. How our strengths were very different. So it caused, I guess not friction, but when you think differently to someone, it can be difficult in times to align on the same page. And we definitely went through a journey with it, but I would almost put this down to why we actually became successful was because we were different. So it took a lot of time and effort to finding a way that it really, really worked for us and it really made it into one of our strengths. But a lot of that we had to sit down and actually learn.


She had to learn why I think a certain way. And I actually also had to learn why I think a certain way as well. And then I had to learn how she thinks and why she thinks like that. Because when the pressure’s on and I’ve decided to actually this is all too much for me, I’m just going to close off and I’m just going to internalize this. And then she’s there being like, no, we need to talk about this. We need to sort it out now. And those differences, it can be really frustrating in the moment. But for us, I think my biggest advice around this topic would be like you actually, it’s really important to sort of do the work outside and understand why people think a certain way and what they need in those times or situations if they want space, if they want to be taught to, because then you know how to cope in those situations.


And I think one of the things that was said to me and I was like, oh, this is really interesting. It’s like, do you think you would be successful if, let’s say an eight for an example, if there were eight races in the boat, do you think you would go and win an Olympic gold medal? And I was like, oh, definitely not because I’m so bad at this. I need someone to fill that gap. And I’m so bad at that I need someone to fill that gap. But I think that’s one of the biggest learnings for me. I was like all those little internal conflicts can be quite beneficial because it makes you question the way you think. It makes you get to the best possible solution, but it takes a lot of time and effort to figure it out.

Greg Wilkes (19:50):

I can imagine. How long were you together as teammates?

Grace Prendergast (19:54):

So we rode together consistently in the pier eight years. So it was a long time I feel like we left and I was like, no one knows me better. No one knows my worst side better.

Greg Wilkes (20:08):

That’s absolutely fascinating. And I think the point you mentioned there about seeing things from other people’s perspectives is so valuable as a life lesson and a business lesson because sometimes we can be quite adamant that it’s got to be done our way and our way is right, but actually just seeing how other people view things and there’s so much value in having a team member that doesn’t think you, so that you can navigate those challenges. So yeah, amazing that you are able to pull in the same direction for so long because there’s a lot of reliance on each other really isn’t there? Because if one of you just decided that this isn’t for me anymore, or you were on really bad form and you had to cope while you were on bad form and the other person, I imagine that’s really challenging.

Grace Prendergast (20:51):

There is a lot of reliance on each other. I think especially in the boat that I rode in because there was only two of us and we had one or each. So there is a boat where there’s two and you have two ORs, so you can get away with doing things a little bit differently, both moving the boat forward. But for us it was like you’re in control of your side. If one person’s doing a terrible job, you’re literally going to go around in circles or go nowhere. But I think that made it even more important for us to figure this out. And we used to have this little gold rock that it was our reminder that it was like we both actually have the exact same goal, so driven towards achieving what we want to achieve. So when we’re having these discussions and I’ve got a different opinion or we want to do things different ways, it was actually quite not easy. It still took a lot of effort, but we were like, okay, we’re both putting these opinions, we’re both so passionate about it because we have this gold nugget that we want to achieve. And that’s the main thing. It’s like the boat is the most important thing and you both want the best out of this. So that really helped us in times when it was a little bit stressful, it was like we’re actually fighting for the same thing and it’s just because we care that these situations arise.

Greg Wilkes (22:08):

So important. Both got to be aligned behind the same goal completely. So one thing that fascinates me is how did you get on with, obviously you want to push your team mates to perform, but there must’ve been times when you are rowing where your teammate or you couldn’t keep up with what the other one was doing if you weren’t quite feeling this. So how did you navigate the difference between pushing them and not breaking them or knowing when to ease up to let them cope and keep up with you?

Grace Prendergast (22:34):

Yeah, this one’s a hard one. I think especially when people have different strengths, some people are going to find doing certain things a little bit easier and that’s going to be really challenging for others. And when you are naturally good at something, it can often be quite difficult to understand that someone else struggles with that. So I think it’s really difficult. I’m trying to think what we would do. I think it’s having a lot of understanding. I think asking a lot from people is fine when you, sometimes in our situation all we had to do was acknowledge this is hard, but it’s actually really important and I appreciate you putting in the effort even if you’re constantly failing or constantly not like you’re tripping up, you’re not doing well, it’s important that we get this right and I respect how much effort is going into it.


And I know for me, when I was really struggling with something and people were asking a lot, as soon as they acknowledged that I was giving it a good go, I sort of got this second wind of energy and I was like, oh, okay, I can keep trying because I am not just sitting here banging my head against a brick wall and no one’s noticing or no one’s appreciating the effort. But it just took, I never wanted people to back the pressure off because I was like, we’re not going to get anywhere if we constantly say, actually no, that’s fine, let’s just take a break or any of that. So I think acknowledging is a really important one. And I think also we touched on actually really learning about what makes people tick and how people are motivated and what their personality cues are to they’re like, oh, maybe they might need something slightly different. It’s like we’re still going to try and do what we’re doing, but do they also need to be surrounded by a team when they’re doing that or do they need a little bit of time to go off and try and do it by themselves? Understanding those little things I think is also really important.

Greg Wilkes (24:32):

Yeah, definitely. For sure. So thinking about the dynamics in the boat, obviously if there’s two of you in the boat and you are both given both got one or each, you’re both doing the same. And in business you have to have leaders for any business to work. So is it the same in a boat? Is there one that takes the lead above the other? How does that dynamic work?

Grace Prendergast (24:55):

I think Rowing’s really interesting in that regard because I would say we do have leaders. I also spent a lot of time in an eight as well, which obviously you’ve got more a bigger range of dynamics than an eight I’d say. We do have leaders, but then it’s a weird sport then you get in the boat and you’re all doing exactly the same thing. And even communication can be somewhat difficult. And obviously if there’s only two of you, it’s slightly easier, but you can only communicate with the people around you. And in rowing, if you just try harder and no one else tries harder at the same time, it’s going to probably slow you down. So it’s a weird sort of dynamic that it’s difficult to be a physical leader, but I guess off the water you can do a lot in the team talks, you can do a lot.


And we probably did have natural leaders or strengths that each woman had that they would play to. But yeah, it’s an interesting thing because I think in my mind a really good leader is almost someone that allows other people to feel like they can be a leader as well. It’s not sitting there being someone that’s going to give instructions, it’s someone that sort of builds everyone up so they feel like they can have an opinion or they can say what they’re thinking or be really confident to be who they are. So yeah, it’s all that sort of different leadership dynamics.

Greg Wilkes (26:23):

Yeah, a hundred percent. So that’s really a sign of a great leader, isn’t it? If you can empower others to be their best too. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Rather than being a dictator. So yeah, certainly similarities there. So thinking about your performance and obviously going over the four year cycles that you were doing, you must have plateaus as you were going through things and think, I can’t break this time at the moment or we’re just not getting anywhere. What did you do when you hit a plateau and how did you navigate that and overcome plateaus you faced in your performance?

Grace Prendergast (26:58):

Yeah, I had plenty of pleasures and it can be quite demoralizing because sometimes you haven’t necessarily changed what you’re doing, it’s just the cycle you’re in. Or for me it was a lot about your physical training, so it’s just your body wanting to just hold there before it started to peak. I would almost potentially also come back to the journaling here to be like, oh, I’ve plateaued before and I didn’t make any improvements for this four month period or six month period or year. But then look at the results I got afterwards. I think that was a really good one for me because enrolling, I guess the biggest thing you can see is when you can see your numbers and really we do a 2K on the rowing machine, which is the worst thing. Just you this number. And I went through a stage for about three years.


I just couldn’t, I got the same score every time and it wasn’t a great score either, so it wasn’t like I was good plateau and I was like, I need to get better. And I remember I had a coach who was really, really good. He was like, everyone plateau. He was like, you cannot keep going that it’s just actually impossible. And I was like, yeah, sure, okay. And then I finally broke it and once I broke it, I was away in a way. But I think it’s having the bigger picture in mind and not getting too caught up in the short term gains. It’s knowing what your end goal is and being like, okay, if I plateau for a year, I’m still, my end goal is five years away and if I keep doing all the day to day the process, if I trust in my process, then my main goal will come. But yeah, I would say that probably my main things is actually recognizing that you’ve got through plateaus before, so coming back to the information and then also being so confident in your process that you’re like, well, what would I change if I wanted to get out of the plateau? Is there anything that I believe I’m doing that’s not right? And if you can think no, then you’ve got to almost trust in that and know that it’ll eventually pay off.

Greg Wilkes (29:09):

So what you’re saying there, so it was just more of the same with the plateau, so you didn’t back off for a while and then go again, or did you change any strategy at all or would you just keep plowing on with the routine you knew it was going to come good?

Grace Prendergast (29:22):

I think it was always a really good time to evaluate what you were doing and whether that meant I did change a few little things. If I realize maybe, oh, you actually are over training, that’s why you’re not doing well. And that’s when you have to draw on your support team as well. You have to go and ask the right questions and talk to the right people and evaluate what’s going on. And sometimes it was like no change, nothing. It’s actually we’re at the moment designed to plateau and you will peak soon. Or sometimes it would be like, oh, actually we aren’t doing this right and we could be doing more here or could be doing less here, but having I guess a plateau as giving you a chance to really evaluate what you’re doing every single day.

Greg Wilkes (30:10):

A hundred percent. Yeah. So we see the same in business all the time. I’ve talk to a lot of business owners where they’ve just hit the same turnover targets every year that they’re coming back and think we’re not growing as a business, we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. We’re spinning the wheels but not really making progress. I think what you said, there’s so true, you need the data, first of all, don’t you? And you need to be able to analyze it and think, can we tweak anything or are we on the right track? And it’s just going to come good eventually. So yeah, some synergies with that. So just coming back to the Olympics, you said the first Olympics was a fourth place, was it? Is that what you said or, yeah, yeah. So that must have, I mean that’s amazing first of all, but obviously not for when you’re going for the gold. So how did you cope with failure and adversity as you were going through your career? I imagine you did a lot of competitions and faced a lot of failure.

Grace Prendergast (31:07):

Yeah, this is obviously something that you have to face I guess, in every walk of life, but a lot in sport, you’re never going to be successful all the time. I think the Rio failure at the time, I definitely thought it was a failure, taught me a lot, but I think a lot of my opinion of whether I failed or succeeded was if I looked back and I was like, could have I done better? And that was Rio for me, I was like, oh, there’s actually so many things in the buildup that I don’t think I did that well. So it was a good learning of how do you evaluate, you look back and make sure that that doesn’t happen again. Whereas if I lined up and I came forth and I was like, I couldn’t have changed anything, then it’s obviously a completely different mindset.


I think dealing with failure, for me a lot came back to the feeling of failure is such a strong one and it’s so easy to remember how you felt and how it made you feel for a long time afterwards. And that’s a huge motivation for me. And anytime I sort of felt that I was so, so good at evaluating what I’d been doing, debriefing with people around me, figuring out what went wrong and that motivation hung around for so long, whereas obviously the feeling of winning and doing well is amazing, but it seems to peter off a lot quicker. So I think that’s sort of what would get me through every unsuccessful moment or every failure is I was like, this is such a good way to learn a lesson. Not a nice way, but it actually forces you into learning it. And if I look back on my career now and I had to say why I was able to win a gold in Tokyo, I would probably say 90% of the key moments for things that went wrong and they taught me enough to make me successful in Tokyo. So it’s having that bigger perspective that it’s like, yeah, this is horrible now it doesn’t feel nice, but actually as long as I learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again, this is going to be really beneficial. The issue of failure is if you just keep letting it happen again and again and again, then it’s not going to be beneficial. It’s going to be pretty tiring and pretty horrible. But if you learn from it, then that is what would get me through all those moments

Greg Wilkes (33:47):

Without a doubt. Then you’re continuing to grow. There’s a little quote interestingly from Tony Robbins, I’m just going to pull it up, we’ll just edit this pause out


Because I use this quote all the time in business so quickly. Lemme just find it. Here we go. Just move that to the right screen. Let’s come back to the podcast. So one thing that was interesting that you said there, grace, was that sometimes that the fear of failure was really painful, but you also had the remembrance of when you win, how good that feels. And it’s interesting to work out the dynamics of what is the motivation? Is it the fear of failure or is it what you could get out of it? And there’s always a quote I use from Tony Robbins where he says, the secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life if you don’t, life controls you. So he’s a big believer in that we can use the forces of pain and pleasure as a massive motivation to control our actions. What did you think it was that motivated you? Was it both pain and pleasure or were you more motivated by the fear of the failure or what you were going to win? Where would you say your motivation come from?

Grace Prendergast (35:08):

Yeah, interesting. I think that’s quite a cool quote. I would say sit on the fence on this one, but I think it kind of has to be a combination for me because I think both things show how much I care about what I’m doing. I was like, I only feel this massive of failure or fear of failure is because I really want to achieve what I want to achieve. And that’s the same, I only feel this real sense of satisfaction and pride and excitement when I do well because I’ve worked so hard towards this. It’s like I’m not going to, if I went out there and if I trained for six months in a sport and then won Olympic gold medal, I’d be like, oh, that was really cool. That was great. But because I had trained for eight years towards this one race, the feeling of winning meant so much more.


So I think it both come back to showing me just how much I care about the journey I’m on. And also that gave me, I guess solace that whether it worked out or whether it didn’t, I was like, this has been a pretty cool journey if I get to the end and if I fail, if I don’t win my Olympic gold medal and I have those extreme emotions, it’s just because I was on this such cool journey. And yeah, I didn’t get what I wanted, but I was, I fortunate enough to be able to chase a goal that was pretty extreme for so long and that gave me a little bit of, I guess a security blanket to be, regardless of what happens, you’re doing the right thing and it’s cool, it’s a cool thing to be able to do, whereas some people have to sit there every day and not get to work towards something that excites them that much. So I think, yeah, definitely the fear of failure and the, I guess hope of winning just told me I was on the right path.

Greg Wilkes (37:03):

Fantastic. Yeah, that makes complete sense. So just want to touch on the role of coaches in your performance and how coaches helped you. Obviously I’m a business coach, so we have a lot of coaches on the podcast as well, giving advice on how people can grow their businesses, but how was coaching absolutely integral to you achieving the gold and how did it help you with your performance?

Grace Prendergast (37:30):

Really important, and I think I had a real range of coaches throughout my career and they all had very different styles. And I think even the ones that maybe I didn’t love as much as the others, you can learn a lot from. So I think that was probably, that’s probably my first point. Even if we have a coach or a boss or something that you’re like, I don’t love you, but what can I take away from you? Because some of my coaches that I were under that I was like, this is a tough environment, it’s not that nice. I now look back on and I was like, but man, I became resilient and I left them being able to cope with anything and this was a great thing that they taught me. So I think first of all, being able to pick up different things from different coaches is really important.


But overall, I think a coach has the power to really have a big influence on your life. And for me, the ones that I found to be great were the ones that I had such trust in that I knew they were never going to go easy on me if they thought I could do it, but I also knew they going to make me do things or put me in situations that they didn’t think I was going to get some benefit out of. So I think building up that trust in my situation, athletes or employees or whatever situation you’re in is really important and figuring out how to do that. And I found I trusted the coaches that turned up every day and I knew they wanted the same goal as me, and I knew they respected me as a person, but they were also consistent. And I know people have good and bad days and that’s fine. Those little fluctuations are fine, but you know what you’re going to get out of them, you know what you’re going to get from ’em, which is really important to me in my journey. But yeah, it’s amazing how a coach can make you feel so motivated to turn up one day and then a bad coach can make you just dread going. So it’s actually quite an art, I think people don’t realize how hard it’s to lead people or coach people.

Greg Wilkes (39:35):

Yeah. Yeah. Amazing. It’s really interesting listening to you Grace, because just in the short time that we’ve had together, you are very analytical and as we’ve gone through this, one of the biggest lessons I’ve seen from this is that every experience you had, whether it is with your teammate, whether it was not winning the gold, whether it was when you won the gold, everything, and even the coaches, it was all a learning experience. Everything was what can I learn from this? How can it make me a better person or how can it make me a better row? All of that. So yeah, quite interesting. And I think if I was looking at what set you above others, maybe that is the point, is it that you are always using it as a learning experience?

Grace Prendergast (40:15):

Yeah, I probably would agree actually. I’ve never really thought about it like that, but even when I was going through the stage of being like, do you want to commit to rowing? And if you’re going to do this, how are you going to get to be the best? I sort of went through, I was like, what are you really good at? What are you not so good at? And a lot of the things I’m not good at, I probably deemed as some of the important things because I’m not overly strong. I was like, I’m not bad technically, but I’m not visually the most standard row. I’ve got a few quirks in my technique and I’m terrible in the gym. I’m not that good on the rowing machine. So I was like, well, how are you going to get good? And for me, I was like, okay, well maybe I can actually learn how everyone else rows and I can be that person that anytime anyone gets in a boat with me, they’re like, oh, I feel so comfortable and the boat feels so nice so I can row so well and I can row so hard and I can go harder.


And then I was like, I could probably get to the stage where if people got on the boat, they’re like, oh, I’m with Grace, I should be good now. And I was like, you’re pretty much doing my job for me. But I think it was, I like I used to have this little book and everyone I would row with, I’d be like, oh, this is how they row. This is what worked well with them. So that next time I could jump in, it would go well. But it’s probably that going through process of identifying what your strengths are that are going to get you to the top, rather than being like, oh, this is everything I’m bad at. I need to work on this all the time. It’s tiring. Only working on your weaknesses. Yeah, that’s fascinating.

Greg Wilkes (41:47):

That self-awareness of being able to do that is absolutely critical. So it’s amazing that you were able to do that throughout. So Grace, obviously you achieved some amazing things, and as you said at the beginning of this podcast, you’ve got to have the motivation now to set new goals and new challenges. So what’s in store for the future for you, grace? What targets are you now setting for yourself?

Grace Prendergast (42:11):

I think since leaving rowing, I’ve really learned what made me love rowing. And part of it was the team dynamic, how to create a team that’s working towards a goal and how you get all those different personalities to function together. And that what I believe made me actually love it. I also loved the training and all that, but since leaving I was like, well, how can I harness those? So currently I’ve been doing a bit of leadership development and going into different businesses and talking about my story and what I believe went well and what didn’t go well, and how I handled that and how I ended up with the success I got. So that’s been a really nice process to go through since leaving, because when you’re living and breathing something, it’s really hard to debrief your career. So it’s also given me the chance to reflect on actually what went into success. So I really enjoy doing that. I think I’m still in the transition phase of deciding what is my next big goal, because even that is, that’s just a area that I’ve been doing some work in and that I was like, how do you turn that into that one clear goal that I had in sport? And I think I’m learning that it’s a little bit harder in the real world to have such clear goals.

Greg Wilkes (43:34):

That’s absolutely fascinating. I’ve got no doubt, grace, that you’re going to be really successful in whatever you turn your hand to because you’ve clearly got that mindset and ability. So really interest in having you on today, grace, and there are a ton of lessons here that we can take away for business. So anyone that’s listened to this, I want you to listen to it again and just as you’re going through it, just think, how do I apply this to my business? You might not be a world-class role like Grace is, but we can still get a ton of value on how we can do it with leadership, with teams, with coaches, with data points, all of that. There was a ton of stuff there. So Grace, thank you so much for your time and I wish you all the best going forward.

Grace Prendergast (44:12):

Thank you so much for having me on.