Bridgitte Hartley on Life Post Retirement

Olympic sprint canoe medalist Bridgitte is looking forward to the next chapter in her life post retirement, as she is now using her experience to groom the next generation. Photo: Supplied

Olympic sprint canoe medalist Bridgitte Hartley is looking forward to the next chapter in her life post retirement, as she is now using her experience to groom the next generation.

Earlier in March, Hartley officially called time on her illustrious canoeing career, after over 18 years of competing.

Now, the 39-year-old is giving back to the sport as she has taken up a coaching role at Maritzburg College, as well as being Chair of the International Canoe Federation’s Athlete Committee.

Although Hartley has ended her career, she admits she still wants to compete in marathons and cycling competitions.

Speaking with Oarabile Diphoko, Hartley tells us more about her future goals and shares advice to young women who want to break into the canoe space.

 

Bridgitte, thank you so much for taking time out to chat and feature in our Freedom Week edition of the gsport Newsletter! In March this year you called time on your illustrious career. Why the decision to retire?

It’s been a decision which has been on my mind for a few months, and it’s been an emotional decision.  I am getting older, and I have sacrificed a lot to represent South Africa for so many years.  I have never worked enough to make money so now I have a lovely job, coaching high school boys at Maritzburg College in Pietermaritzburg. I have an Airbnb in Hilton and I import paddles from Europe, so I want to channel my energy to make money now. Paddling at that level is just a hobby and it’s even harder than when I was competing from a financial perspective.  So, I didn’t want to keep chasing a hobby with more challenges that before when I would be competing against athletes who have a coach next to them, a squad and funding for travel and training camps and competitions.

Please tell us more about your coaching position at Maritzburg College and how that came about?

I resigned from an online job before the Tokyo Olympics as I went to the games to campaign to get onto the IOC athletes commissions.  That was not a success for me as I was not in the top 4 votes but ended about 12th overall.  So, towards the end of the year, I was jobless and then this post came about, so a friend sent it to me and suggested that I apply.

In addition to this, you were elected as Chair of the International Canoe Federation’s Athlete Committee. What does this position entail?

I have attended some ICF meetings and congresses to hopefully create awareness, that the athletes’ commissions have a voice.  I feel it’s a learning process and not a fixed job but I have a few projects which I am working on at the moment and trying to create more.

When you reflect on your 18-year career, what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome?

There are many; from trying to make the South African team, to funding oneself to compete and then when I got results, it was good to get funding. However, when my coach left SA, I followed him to Hungary and Austria, so it was many months on training camp away from home and friends and family, so weekends were lonely for me.

With 2023 being The Year of Women’s Sport, what are you looking forward to the most and how does this help women’s sport in the country?

I have been enjoying seeing how many female swimmers are achieving some top results, as well as other sporting codes like gymnastics and judo.  I know a lot of our women athletes, so hopefully a greater awareness will be created to support these women, as it’s hard to get sponsors for smaller sporting codes and even harder for females.

What more can we look forward to from Bridgitte Hartley?

I have loads of goals ahead as I will struggle to live without any goals.  I still want to do so much. Run a Comrades Marathon, but first have to run a full marathon as I have only done a half.  Then maybe enter a big marathon in a big city in the world.  I want to enter a few big stage cycle races too as I have been enjoying cycling.  And then still a few local paddling races too and possibly still Marathon Champs as I still paddle every afternoon coaching the boys so they keep me fit.

What is your greatest career highlight?

Winning the Olympic bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012.

Lastly, what advice can you give young women who are looking to break into the sprint canoeing career?

They should not give up, it’s not easy but a few years of focus and getting exposed to the international world of training and racing will allow a break through hopefully.

 

 

Photo 1 Caption: Olympic sprint canoe medalist Bridgitte Hartley is looking forward to the next chapter in her life post retirement, as she is now using her experience to groom the next generation. Photo: Supplied

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