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Anne Hailes: Eat, sleep, row - repeat

Adam Heayberd Southgate, pictured left, on location with director of photography Craig Murdoch

LIKE many young men, Adam Heayberd didn't rate school - it didn't offer much excitement, his heart lay in sport and he was good at it.

Something of a water baby, he was devoted to skimming the Lagan in a lightweight boat, rowing for his school and later for Ireland.

But his lack of involvement in class was noticed, and at 14 years of age he faced having to leave Methodist College in Belfast to finish his education elsewhere.

"Then the rowing coach sat me down on the steps at the boathouse and said, 'I need you, get back to your classroom and pull your finger out'," recalls Adam.

Mr Thompson's words hit home; "I went back to school and got my exams all because of my love of rowing," adds Adam.

And he proved he had what it takes to succeed - stamina, reliability, enthusiasm. For instance, 10 years ago he was one of six who broke the world record for swimming the entire length of Upper and Lower Lough Erne - 48 miles in 19 hours and six minutes, breaking the existing record by over three hours.

Time To Move On

It's not surprising that Adam ended up working in television. He was always in and around theatres and studios as his late mother Maureen Thornton was an actress and his dad Roy Heayberd a theatre and a television director. But the stage wasn't of interest to their son - it was the workings that went on behind the scenes.

Having learned his craft as a TV cameraman with various production companies, he developed his editing skills and has worked his way up to his current position as a freelance in great demand.

He edited the recent BBC programme The Mother of All Comebacks featuring rower Helen Glover's challenges as she determined to come out of retirement, organise three small children and compete at Tokyo.

Adam's pictures gave an insight into the stresses she went through to achieve her goal.

Although he has travelled the world filming and editing for news programmes, sport has always been his preference and his intention was to chart the progress of the GB Rowing team as they prepared for the Olympics.

The Dream Came True

Over the last couple of years he nurtured his unique project, writing, filming, editing and sourcing the finance. Meticulous planning got underway, crews in place and the rowing fraternity excited and willing to get going.

Then, tragedy struck - Covid-19.

Everything went on hold, except Adam's cameras as he reflected heartbreaking challenges of those times, the personalities going through those dark days - Helen Glover; the flag bearer Mohamed Sbihi; a young women studying for a medical degree who gave up rowing to nurse in Covid wards; and two girls from Northern Ireland.

Rebecca Shorten from Belfast struggled to keep her seat on the team but, like so many others, the 27-year-old built a makeshift gym in the kitchen to continue training, to keep her muscle strength - and it worked; months later we see her cry in her car when she answered her mobile to hear she was on her way to Tokyo.

Rebecca Edwards, also 27, went home to the family farm in Co Armagh upset that she had failed in her initial bid to be on the GB team.

However, with a year's postponement she was able to work hard in her home gym and eventually was chosen to join the squad.

Team GB rowers Helen Glover, pictured left, and Polly Swann in action during the first day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan last week. Glover featured in the inspiring documentary The Mother of All Comebacks, edited by Belfast man Adam Heayberd Southgate. Picture by Mike Egerton/PA Wire

The three-part documentary leaves you in no doubt that being an elite athlete is a huge task, both physically and mentally.

The programmes are emotional too - the sheer determination and guts required by the men and women and the mixed team of the paralympians.

Adam has caught every aspect of the training, the interaction between coaches, the cox, the rowers, often collapsing with sheer exhaustion.

The upbeat music that introduces the programmes draws you into 23 months of preparation: "Another day, another mile..."

It's obvious that these programmes have been made by someone who cares, has the experience, has the trust of the squad and shares their ethos of eat, sleep, row - repeat.

Despite the outcome, Adam wanted to make a documentary that rowers, both club and elite, would feel represented their sport.

"I'm delighted the squad watched it in Tokyo and loved it. Also I wanted non-rowers, especially young people, to watch and get what the sport is about, looking past the stereotypes and realising exactly what rowers go through in order to succeed and to finally understand why such sacrifices are made," he says.

Right now Adam is editing pictures from Tokyo for BBC and we can enjoy the ultimate in viewing excitement every day thanks to this young man from Strangford. Mr Thompson would be proud.

britishrowing.org/the-road-to-tokyo

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