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Double Olympic champion James Cracknell became the oldest winner of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race held in April 2019. Most students are in their early 20’s but James Cracknell was part of the 2019 winning team at the grand old age of 46.
The James Cracknell story is a truly remarkable one with lots of twists and turns along the way. He won his first Olympic gold medal in 2000 as part of the coxless fours with Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent and Tim Foster. He repeated the feat in 2004 again with Redgrave, Pinsent but this time, Ed Coode. The amount of time athletes need to train at the top level is phenomenal and once someone stops training for their event it must be very hard to just stop, so Cracknell turned his hand to ultra endurance events. He took part in an Atlantic rowing race, several marathons and a canoe marathon. He attempted and failed to beat the mixed tandem Land’s End to John O’Groats record to name but a few.
In 2010 whilst attempting to run, cycle and row across the US in 18 days he was knocked off his bike by a truck and suffered severe head injuries. At the time it was said that he was lucky to be alive and if it wasn’t for his crash helmet he may not have lived to tell the tale. He suffered some brain damage and felt his personality had changed.
It has been a long and arduous recovery but he still has completed further marathons and endurance races. In 2018 he signed up at Peterhouse at Cambridge University to do a MPhil degree in Human Evolution meaning that he was eligible to compete in the historic Boat Race. At 46 he became the oldest competitor to be part of the winning team and for that he will go down in the record books.
There was some cynicism about his degree and how he had got a place at Cambridge. Surely people should be looking at what he has achieved both in the rowing, endurance world and after such a serious head injury studying. His dedication and commitment must go a long way to prove to people that you can come back after a serious injury and surely his story is one to inspire others.
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