There can be few Olympians with more reason to be frustrated with the postponement of Tokyo 2020 than Stewart Innes - and even fewer with his sheer resilience, writes Tom Harle.
The Rio rower dragged himself through years of rehab hell on a chronic hamstring injury and finally got fit and firing, only for the Games to be postponed due to COVID-19.
Innes then chose to retire, walking away from a sport he had committed body and soul to for a decade, shorn of the chance to improve on his fourth-placed finish in the pair back in 2016.
The 29-year-old is now resolved to take time by the forlock - he’s starting his own speaking business and selling his house near British Rowing’s base - showing remarkable strength of character.
“It started out as a niggle and within a year, no-one knew how to fix me and I was struggling to walk,” said Innes, who competed alongside Alan Sinclair at the Games.
“It was a monumental journey and I’d pushed myself right to the limit to get on the brink of selection for Tokyo. I had to function at 150% of what I was capable of to just get there.
“How it panned out left me with these incredibly overwhelming emotions that were hard to deal with and the whole summer was me coming to terms with that.
“A massive part of me wanted to carry on to Tokyo - just one more year - and that decision has been a huge burden. Ultimately, I was told I’d have long-term problems if I did.
“I needed to think about my ability to walk, my ability to function day-by-day without pain, to play football with my kids one day.
“Coming back from this injury has been the defining moment of my career and these are memories I can take forward. I don’t have the cherry on the top, but it was an incredible journey.”
Innes got his big break in 2015 with a place in the eight for the 2015 European Championships and by the end of the season he’d banked world and continental medals.
He and Sinclair won a fierce selection fight to form the pair boat for Rio, finishing fourth in a field featuring Kiwis Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, one of the best crews of all time.
After injury set in, Innes spent months working on rehab at Bisham Abbey alongside fellow Olympian Victoria Williamson, building back from her traumatic bike crash in 2016, both spurred on by the prospect of representing Team GB.
“The feeling of being a part of Team GB is something you never forget - I worked all my life towards that goal, and to be there seems unreal,” said Innes.
“We stayed in Rio after our competition and we were supporting the other teams. All of the British athletes who had finished competing were there at the hockey final and that was really phenomenal. It's what Team GB do so well.
“The whole journey and being part of that team was very special.”
Innes has sold his house - metres from his former training base at Caversham - through Purplebricks as a physical commitment to a new reality after elite sport.
He wants to run the Great Wall of China Marathon one day and has already started a speaking business alongside coxswain Henry Fieldman and ex-Harlequins rugby star Tom Williams.
“That house represents my career in sport for the last ten years and moving away from the area is a big step towards finding new challenges,” he said.
“Rowing has been my purpose since school and it’s now no longer there. What I’ve done more than anything in my sporting career is solve problems - and I actually really enjoy it.
“I’m trying to find something that will drive me five or ten years down the line - and I’ve got the chance to figure that out now.”
Purplebricks is the UK’s leading estate agent and is open for business for in-home or virtual appointments. As the Official Estate Agent of Team GB, they are encouraging the nation to get behind the national squad and show the value of home support in the build-up to Tokyo. For more information visit www.purplebricks.co.uk