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Engineering Success | Pathways with Matt Gotrel

10 SEPTEMBER 2021News
Tags:
  • Great Britain

After writing previously for SailGP.com on sustainable fuelling, I thought I would take this opportunity in my second blog to reflect on my career to date, and how I got to where I am today.

Firstly, I would say none of this was planned. That’s important I think, as I will come on to. It began when I was a kid when at the age of 8 I first got into sailing, along with many other sports including football, tennis, cricket and swimming. My parents ran their own jewellery business and were very busy, so I would cycle to as many different sports as I could.

As I got into my teenage years, I started taking sailing more seriously. I loved it. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to join the British Sailing Team full time and spent several years training in the 49er class with many of the guys who are here with me now in SailGP.

After I finished school, however, I had a decision to make. I was at a point where I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and there weren’t really as many options in professional sailing around then. So, I decided to put my A-Levels in Maths and Physics to use and went to Loughborough University to study a Systems Engineering degree. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was an amazing experience.

It was at Loughborough where I started rowing to keep fit, and quickly fell under the wing of some great coaches. I loved working hard and training hard, whilst juggling that with my lectures. Then when I finished University and got my degree, I was given the option to join the British Rowing Team full-time.

Once I was in that environment, I got sucked in, training three times a day for four years. I was fortunate again to be in some good boats and win some medals at World Championships which then culminated in us winning the Olympic gold medal in Rio in 2016. I didn’t find rowing until I was 21 and then six years later I had a gold medal! It was pretty mad.

After that cycle I was at another crossroads, again not knowing what to do. Thankfully this time I had my engineering degree to fall back on, and I began working for Rolls-Royce as an engineer. It was during this period that I got a call from some of the old sailing guys getting involved in SailGP and asked if I wanted to give it a shot.

It all went full circle, and I ended back on a sailing boat again. This time round, however, things had changed a bit from my old 49er days. I was now sailing backwards, foiling, at 100KM/H!

Nowadays these boats are so technical that it’s really useful to have an engineering background. There’s so much going on, from the hydraulics to the electronics, to the software to the hardware, that it is good to have an understanding of how it all works, especially when you are out on the water and there’s only five of you on the boat. It’s a great platform to have, and even more so in the world of the America’s Cup.

Through SailGP I met a few of the team from the America’s Cup world who saw I was training hard, working hard, and could be an asset. Having an engineering degree on your CV is always going to help in that world where the boats are constantly evolving and developing and it’s as much a design race as a sailing race. I'm always keen to do more on the engineering side but I'm very clear that my role at the moment is to be as fit as possible so that takes over most of my time.

It’s hugely important to have these other strings attached to what you are doing, especially in sport because you can’t be an athlete forever. It’s important to look at other areas, whether that’s engineering, sports science, data analysis, marketing, media, finance, there’s so many areas involved in our sport.

Reflecting on my career to date like this, I think the one thing it shows is that you can’t plan too far ahead, your ‘Plan A’ is never going to happen in life, especially in sport. What’s important is to take on each challenge as it comes with a smile and crack on. Even if you’re doing a job that you don’t particularly enjoy, if you do it well then you never know what’s going to happen around the corner. Doors will always open when you least expect them. If you have a little bit of self-belief in yourself you will be surprised where you can go and what you can do. I’ve never said ‘no’ to anything yet and it’s worked out well so far!

Until next time.

Matt

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