Although Lawrence Brittain can claim to be South Africa’s first ever rowing world champion, this was not his greatest achievement. Being able to beat cancer was more important to him than any gold medal. In October last year Brittain was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, also known as cancer of the lymph node.
But, being a fighter, this was never going to stop him. After months of treatment, his doctor gave him a clean bill of health in February and he was able to resume training again this week. Brittain, who won the men’s pair (with John Smith) at the Under-23 World Champoinships in Brest, Belo-Russia in 2010 says: ‘Obviously I cannot wait to participate in competitive rowing again, but I have to be realistic. I am going to take it one day at a time and will start by focussing mainly on regaining my strength and fitness. Even if it should mean that I will not be able to compete at the World Championships, I’d rather put in six months of quality training. My main goal at the moment is to represent South Africa at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.’
Brittain is the younger brother of Matthew, who was a member of the awesome foursome rowing team that won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Lawrence Brittain is sponsored by the HPC and will join the national rowing squad when they go to the high altitude training camp at the Katse Dam in Lesotho in March. He plans to do some light training in a single boat. Roger Barrow, the national coach based at the HPC, has the highest respect for Brittain’s rowing abilities: ‘At last year’s World Championships in Amsterdam Lawrence, David (Hunt) and Willie Morgan finished fifth in the Coxed Pair final. In hindsight, taking into consideration that Lawrence already suffered from cancer, this was a brilliant performance.’
According to his doctors, he had been living with the condition for two years. Barrow says: ‘To be able to row with cancer and still be competitive at the highest level proved that Lawrence is an amazing athlete. I cannot wait for him to be fit and healthy again because I think he will be unbelievable.’ Before being diagnosed with cancer Brittain could not understand what was going on with him.
He says: ‘Even though I trained harder in an effort to improve, my performance was slowly deteriorating. Tests that were done later showed that my cancer had already reached stage four at the time. Learning that I had cancer was a terrible shock, especially because I felt quite healthy at that stage. I was feeling more tired than usual and my performance was not great but, because it is normal for an athlete to feel somewhat tire, I was not overly worried. Knowing I had cancer changed my whole perspective. For the first time in my life, rowing was not the most important thing for me. Getting better was. I only really started to think about rowing and making a comeback when my body began to react positively to the treatment.’ Brittain’s advice to other cancer patients is: ‘Do not allow the cancer to get to you. This means that you should have a positive attitude and the right mind set to tackle the cancer head on. The support of family and friends is also very important. I cannot thank the people who supported and encouraged me enough. They definitely made the bad days bearable and gave me the courage to keep on fighting. Thank you so much.’
Story courtesy: HPC
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott