WeTalk with Sofia Meakin: Rising Star of the Swiss Rowing Scene

WeTalk. Pop Culture. Swiss-Made is a social media campaign of the Embassy of Switzerland in the United States. WeTalk promotes the diversity of Swiss culture and innovation by featuring prominent Swiss stakeholders from these fields. Sharing perspectives from artists, athletes and entrepreneurs, WeTalk provides its audience with fascinating insights into the diversity of contemporary Swiss culture. Watch Sofia’s 1-min WeTalk interview here!

Sofia Meakin is on a roll. Following her first World Rowing Cup victory in Zagreb, Croatia, in May 2021, the rising star of the Swiss rowing team won a bronze medal at the World Rowing Cup in Sabaudia, Italy, just a couple of weeks before speaking with us. Who is she? First things first: Sofia was born in 1998 in Geneva, Switzerland. She started rowing at age 14: living close to Lake Geneva, rowing was a natural sport to pick up. Sofia now lives between Geneva and Lucerne, in central Switzerland, where she trains at the Swiss National Rowing Center. In parallel to her sporting career, Sofia is a student at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). The disruptions to training and competition caused by Covid-19 did not prevent the young athlete from breaking no fewer than eight world records on her rowing machine at home during Switzerland’s lockdown, one of which raised money for Swiss Solidarity, a Swiss charity that supports 24 Swiss NGOs in providing humanitarian aid. When she’s not out on the lake training, Sofia enjoys spending time with her friends and family or listening to music, which is a crucial part of her mental preparation before important competitions and brings back good memories of rowing with her teammates. Her all-time favorite song? Paolo Nutini’s “Candy.”

To get to know Sofia a bit better, the Embassy recently sat down with the Swiss rower over video chat to talk about what attracted her to rowing, the preparation required to compete in the rowing lightweight category, and her personal goals.

Swiss Embassy: How have you maintained your motivation throughout the pandemic, given that it led to so many uncertainties about training and competitions?
Sofia Meakin: The lockdown started in Switzerland just a few days after my trials for the Swiss Olympic Team. During those tests I performed well, including setting a new Swiss lightweight record, but I also had one bad race that cost me my Olympic participation. I was disappointed. A few days later, I realized that the lockdown would last for some time, so I decided to take this opportunity to come back stronger. Like a lot of people, I needed goals to stay focused and train properly. That’s when the world records on the rowing machine came along: it was a good way to train, and it helped me to have specific goals. I rediscovered my love for sports during that period and was more motivated than ever when the time came to go back to train with the Swiss national team. It paid off in terms of results, too: I won silver at the European championships in Poznan, Poland, a few months later.

Swiss Embassy: What attracted you to rowing?
Sofia Meakin: Rowing is both beautiful and unique. It’s all about finding the perfect stroke by seeking precision and it takes hard work to get to the top, whether individually or collectively. Rowers need to combine their power with finesse and delicacy, which adds complexity to the sport. I also love the fact that it’s a hard sport, but seems so elegant when you watch it.

Swiss Embassy: Tell us about what it takes to train as a professional rower.
Sofia Meakin: My training certainly isn’t easy. I’m 1m82 (5’9”) which makes me the tallest female in the lightweight category in the world. My preparation needs to be precise, and I have to get every single detail right to meet the requirements to compete in the lightweight category and perform my best. While I’m preparing for a competition, I need to adapt my training sessions because my body takes more time to recover.

Swiss Embassy: How do you come back stronger after losing a race?
Sofia Meakin: I’m quite good at getting back on my feet after a bad race. I like to use what I’ve learned to come back stronger the next time and I usually want to prove to myself and others that I’m worth more than my bad result. When I perform well, I like to enjoy it because I’ve usually worked very hard to get there. Once the dust has settled after a race, I usually take some time to analyze the good and the bad aspects of my performance: any given competition can include many different factors, such as nutrition, warm-up, cool-down, the race plan, the training plan, or recovery.

Swiss Embassy: You decided to take a break from school two years after starting to focus on your sporting career. How did you arrive at that decision?
Sofia Meakin: I started at EHL in 2018 because I suffered a back injury, which is quite common amongst rowers, and couldn’t row at all. I enjoyed my studies, but I very much missed rowing in my life. Once I recovered, I started training more and managed to get back on the Swiss national team while continuing to study full-time. I quickly understood that, if I wanted to succeed at an elite level, I’d have to spend more time with the Swiss team in Lucerne. At the time, there were no programs for athletes at the EHL…so I decided to build one since I knew I wasn’t going to be the only one at the school who could benefit from an athletic program. My university was receptive, although it took a while to put this new structure in place. Once it existed, I managed to split my third semester between school in Lausanne and practice in Lucerne, which helped me train for my World Championship title in 2019. After that, I was invited to the Olympic project and decided to take a break from my studies as doing things halfway is not really part of my DNA.

Swiss Embassy: What’s your biggest sporting objective for the coming months?
Sofia Meakin: I just came back from a World Rowing Cup with a bronze medal. I’m absolutely thrilled, but I have a couple of goals for the coming months. First, I want to stay fit through the Tokyo Olympics, as I am the alternate for the lightweight boat. I also want to have a go at a world record on the rowing machine on the 2,000m distance (6,561 ft), which is the international racing distance and the one that everyone wants to beat: it would be one of my greatest achievements. Finally, I might have the opportunity to go to the World Championship in Shanghai, China, in October, but that will depend on the internship I choose for my hospitality studies at the EHL. I want to finish my studies, and a post-Olympic year is always the best moment to do that!

Swiss Embassy: If not as a professional rower, where do you see yourself in a couple of years?
Sofia Meakin: I love sports but I’m also very passionate about my studies. I would really enjoy working on marketing and events for a brand I like. I guess I will continue to be a rower for as long as I stay motivated, but I know that when I decide to take another path, I will give it 100%. That’s the way I am — I like going “all-in.”

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