by Laura Storey
Local rower Gregg Stevenson is putting Colne on the map with a series of record-breaking wins.
With its tight-knit community and charming streets, the unassuming town of Colne has quietly given rise to a true sporting marvel whose achievements have sent ripples of awe and admiration worldwide. Meet Gregg Stevenson, a 38-year-old local whose name now reverberates in the international sporting arena.
The Colne local is currently making waves in the rowing world. On the 18th of June, Gregg travelled to Varese, Italy, from his home in Foulridge and secured the gold medal in the World Championships. The former Green Beret Army Commando and his rowing partner Paralympic Gold Medallist Lauren Rowles achieved a remarkable feat by setting a new World Best Time of 8.01.59 for the second consecutive time.
This World Cup gold medal follows their recent triumph at the European Championships in May earlier this year, where they claimed the top spot on the podium and puts them well on the way to competing in the Paralympics next year.
Gregg’s journey took an unexpected turn 14 years ago in 2009 when, at 24 years old, he encountered an IED bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan, resulting in the loss of both his legs and the end of his army career.
After leaving the military following the incident, he battled with his mental health, facing challenges such as fluctuating weight, ill-fitting prosthetics, excessive drinking, and heavy medication. He found himself spiralling downward and becoming increasingly isolated. However, a pivotal ‘eureka moment’ changed his perspective.
“I realised my well-being was directly linked to my fitness level, lack of socialising and the amount of time I was spending indoors,” he explains. “I recommitted to the gym, embraced cross-fit, surrounded myself with positive influences, and abandoned unhealthy habits like drinking.”
When I went out on the water I found it really enjoyable and in a weird way quite spiritual
Getting active greatly boosted his mental health, and in 2014 he tried rowing. “I wasn’t that good!” he laughs. “I never managed to get to the point where I was racing. I had an injury, and I was very new.” After a few years, he decided to give rowing another try, and when GB rower Laurence Whiteley retired in June last year, he seized the opportunity to row with both oars.
in 2014 had indoor rowing as one of the events, so I put my name down – I’ve got long arms, I used to be 6ft 5’, and I was always quite good at running, so I thought it would be my kind of sport and that it would suit me. When I went out on the water, I found it enjoyable and, weirdly, quite spiritual – it’s rhythmic, and you don’t need to overthink.”
Gregg knew Laurence’s previous rowing partner Lauren Rowles from Worcestershire. “I had met her in my stint in 2014, we’d rowed a couple of times together, but of course, I was a complete novice.”
Lauren had already won a host of Paralympic, World and European titles alongside Laurence Whiteley.
“We just clicked,” he smiles. “She knew I had a good training ethic and that I would work hard. She’s the same – and I picked up on that as soon as I met her. She works hard, she’s skilful, and I knew I could learn a lot from her. We enjoy training together. We both have a life outside of rowing, which works really well.”
Despite acknowledging his life outside rowing, his current training regime is intensive. “On a normal week, I train up north with my family on a Monday and Tuesday in Foulridge, and then Tuesday evening, I’ll go down to Reading, where there is a purpose-built rowing lake at Caversham.”
“My military background as a former royal engineer has given me the confidence to back myself. I’ve been through some pretty arduous training and did the commando course, but you need to support yourself because there’s a professional skill level you have to reach. My first experience with rowing was that I was a bit of a brute without the skill! But this time, I was a bit more switched on – I knew you couldn’t just be a brute and hit everything as hard as you want, and I think the military gave me the confidence to back myself in pretty arduous situations. It’s taught me that if I drop my ego and have a good work ethic, I can become more coachable and ultimately be a better athlete.
If I drop my ego and have a good work ethic, I can become more coachable and ultimately be a better athlete.
Rowing 100% helps with my mental health too. The discipline and the physical improvement – my hips and glutes are dead strong, I did a lot of work on my lower back – all helps my daily functions, especially in helping me to walk.”
Gregg looks forward to September when he competes in the World Championships. The first five teams placed then qualify for the Paralympics.
“We’re the current world record holders, so I suppose we’ve got a good chance of doing well,” he beams. “I think our goals have shifted slightly; instead of being modest and aiming to place in the top five, we’re now looking to win and push the world record even further. It’s been a whirlwind!”
As Gregg continues to chase his dreams with unwavering determination, he remains an inspiration to not only the people of Colne but to countless individuals across the globe. From a life-altering incident to the cusp of Paralympic glory, his journey embodies the indomitable human spirit and the power of resilience.
ColneLife Autumn 2023