Sonia Waddell

Sonia’s bio


I didn’t start rowing till I was almost 21 and I feel like one of the most privileged rowers in the world for my first coach to have been Harry Mahon, to learn that skill from a man like him first off.

I don’t know any differently, and I’m incredibly lucky that I don’t—that was my bar right from the word go. A very special man.



How I Met

I first met Harry at the end of ’94, which is when my rowing career started. And Harry is the only reason I’m rowing.

I was a 400-metre hurdler, with some bad injuries.

I was asked to fill in for a crew at Cambridge Rowing Club, which I’m obviously still rowing for now, and we won the intermediate eight at [New Zealand] Nationals.

Harry subsequently chose me as a triallist for the under-23 team, much to the, I guess, shock of everyone in the rowing fraternity as I’d only been rowing for 3 weeks.

Harry named me in a double scull that year. My trial was to row to the other side of the lake and back, and he said, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ And I said, I loved it. And he said, ‘Great, you’re in the double’.

I said, ‘Harry, I can’t, I can’t row. I’m really embarrassed about this that I’ve been put into the team’.

He said, ‘You’re an athlete, you have succeeded in another sport… You will be a very good rower. All we need to do is teach you the technique – you’ve got everything else.’

And he said, ‘If you stick with this, I’ll have you at the Olympics in ‘96’… so, a year and a bit later.

So I changed sports and never looked back.

The following year I was at the World Championships in a quad in Finland, and then non-travelling reserve for the women’s double in Atlanta [1996 Olympics].

And then in the single in Sydney [2000 Olympics] and Athens [2004 Olympics].

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