Rio Olympics 2016

Who cares if Lawrence Brittain won a silver… he’s already won our hearts!


Cancer survivor Lawrence Brittain has just bagged a silver medal with his partner Shaun Keeling, and defied all odds with an incredible comeback.

Brittain had been partners with Shaun Keeling before in the men’s heavyweight coxless pair, but was dropped ahead of the 2013 world championships after his performance started tailing off.

But his performance was not what he thought it was.

The incredible athlete was tragically diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of lymph-node cancer, in October 2014, after Brittain had felt fatigued and under the weather for months. It actually turned out he had already been living with the condition for two years but it had gone unnoticed.

“The normal symptoms — you’re normally tired, but as an athlete you’re always tired,” Brittain, a explained.

The first person to consider the possibility that Brittain had cancer was his mother, Danielle, a former palliative care specialist who is also the rowing team doctor.

“She wasn’t happy with my bloods,” recalled Brittain.

“I was at the Boat Race in Port Alfred and two weeks later I was having chemo.

“Finding out [I had cancer] was probably the hardest part. It was such a shock. As an athlete you often have setbacks — injury or falling ill — but this was normal to the extreme.”

He underwent six three-week cycles of chemotherapy.

“It was much worse than I thought it would be. There’s medication to counter the nausea, but the first two weeks after every three-week cycle you’re whacked.

“It’s like having a massive hangover,” he said, explaining he also suffered from pain in the bones at one stage that prevented him from sleeping.

It set him back very badly.

The former world under-23 rowing champion missed out on a possible medal at the 2014 World Championships and it was touch and go whether his career would resume.

But resume it did.

From a gentle start, when he was told not to push his heart rate above 120 as he exercised gingerly on the training bike, so the workload increased and the challenges mounted. Even the hair grew back, with photos coming back from training camp showing Brittain in hirsute splendour, all mad curls and big ’burns.

While training for the Olympics, he was asked how he was feeling after the cancer:

“I am feeling amazing at the moment. I only started my return to rowing a year ago on last year’s March camp, so I have come a long way.”

“I am stronger than I have ever been, pulling personal bests in all the training and trials, and I keep getting faster without the cancer keeping me back.”

Now he believes the sky’s the limit.

“When you realise you’ve been training so hard so long with this cancer — it makes my mind stronger.”

“Maybe there’s no limit to what I might achieve.”

Thank you for showing the world that there is no limit… that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to & that we could be fighting cancer one day and winning an olympic medal on another.

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.


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