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Clear of cancer at last, Brittain now focuses on France
- Updated: May 12, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
After digging deep to rid himself of cancer, rower Lawrence Brittain is back in the fast lane and hoping to book his place on the South African team for World Championships in France later this year – and hopefully on to the Rio Olympics next year.
Brittain, the younger brother of Olympic fours gold medallist Matt, was diagnosed with lymph gland cancer (Hodgkins lymphoma) last October and has been on an intense course of treatment that only came to an end in late February.
This past weekend saw him taking part in a national selection regatta at Roodeplaat Dam in Pretoria, an event where national and Olympic coach Roger Barrow runs a key eye over his charges and decides which combinations will race World Championships.
‘It went pretty well,’ Brittain said on Monday. ‘I rowed with Lawrence Ndlovu. I trained very well last week, found some good speed and improved every day. But then I had something of an average Saturday. ‘Lawrence was a beast in the stroke seat! It got a lot better on Sunday, I definitely had more legs.’
Brittain says he’s noticed a very positive change in his form since SA Championships at the same venue two weeks ago. ‘It’s a huge change, the last two weeks I’ve been finding more and more speed and the racing has meant a big step-up.’
Another thing that went up was his weight as he underwent cancer treatment. ‘I picked up about 15kg all in all. But I’ve already dropped 12kg so I’m now about 92kg as opposed to my previous racing weight of 88kg. But That’s not an issue anymore because in the heavyweight division there are no limits on weight. So now I’m just working on getting a bit leaner with more muscle.’
After getting back into training he was told not to raise his heart-rate much more than 120 beats per minute on the exercise bike. ‘It’s all OK now, we went up to 160 and have just monitored things carefully. After the Lesotho training camp we had more checks but we don’t have to worry now.’
As for the cancer, and Brittain says medical indications are very encouraging. ‘The last sonar test on the heart came back last week and all was good. I’ve been having blood tests regularly and every two weeks something called a PET scan where they give you a sugar and the scan shows where the body is using it more and the cancer areas were highlighted. That was the last PET scan now and I’ll only need another one if the blood tests show any indication of a problem.’
For now though it’s just a question of progression. ‘We’re probably about 6% off where we want to be but we’re getting there and the coaches seem to be happy. I’ve done the first part well now I’m ready to push myself even further.
‘I don’t want to push hugely now and risk injury and if I don’t qualify for world’s its not the end but we do have a huge chance to qualify a pair and there’s also a chance of a spot in the fours as well. The top 11 at World Champs qualify for Rio next year and there’s a late qualification opportunity in June next year but that’s even harder so we really want to get it under the belt this year’
For now it’s one day at a time.
‘My head is feeling so strong at the moment and the progression is really great to see in each session.’