R U OK? Day - Finding the right balance with Jude Schirmer

South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) rowing athlete Jude Schirmer has had quite the unconventional rise to becoming an elite rower within his age group, beginning the sport just three years ago after being identified through SASI Talent Search.

Jude Schirmer rowing

With this rise, Jude’s training schedule, on top of many other life commitments, filled up very quickly — which he wasn’t mentally prepared for.

This packed schedule required the need to dedicate and maintain good mental health and a training-life balance plan.

Jude didn’t realise this until a Saturday night spent in Adelaide with friends — something most associate with relaxation and fun — had him feeling worried and distressed.

“We were in the city until midnight, and all I was thinking was, ‘I need to get home as soon as possible because I don’t want to wake up at 12pm on a Sunday morning, and then spend four hours doing the chores I haven’t been able to do over the week, eat, and then I’m back into the cycle of the training week.’,” Schirmer said.

With a hectic schedule that includes paid work, university study, rowing coaching at Scotch College and SASI training, Jude found his mental wellbeing was suffering.

“I was rowing in the morning and then heading straight off to work, and immediately I was going from working towards the coach’s expectations to working to my boss’ expectations, and then Scotch had their own expectations.

“After a while, it felt like I was getting pulled in so many different directions, and that could be incredibly mentally straining for me… and when you combine that with the physical strain, it became overwhelming, to say the least.”

Jude, who aspires to represent Australia in the short-term future, utilised the services of Athlete Careers and Transition Lead Jenny Borlase to improve his training-life balance.

Jenny’s role includes building relationships with SASI athletes, allowing them to feel comfortable in sharing their concerns and work towards solutions.

“Recently, I’ve had a number of athletes express the complexities of trying to manage their life away from their sporting commitments… recognising that while their sporting commitments are their highest priority, it’s also crucial that they have a balance in their life,” Borlase said.

“Some ways to do that are to make sure they have time for their study, part time work, and spending time with friends and family.

“I think those parts of a young person’s life are just as important as their sporting commitment.

“In fact, it has shown that if the athletes have those things in balance, their sporting commitments are probably going to prosper, and they are going to excel.

“It’s great that the athletes are becoming more aware of the importance of having that balance, and I’m really happy to be in a position to facilitate and support those conversations.”

For Jude, finding more of a balance has been “crucial” and he now takes every second Friday off to do nothing, which been a huge mental release.

Some other basic wellbeing strategies Jude has implemented into his weekly routine include getting into a healthy sleeping pattern, along with preparing his meals in advance for the week ahead.

“I’ve started learning how to cook quick, nutritional, and cost-effective meals that can last me the entire week,” Schirmer said.

“I can take them to rowing, and it just means that I’m fuelling myself correctly, which makes me feel much better.”

With today being R U OK? Day, Jude stressed the importance of checking in on friends and family but having those conversations in a respectful and non-invasive way.

“I think it is remarkably important to be able to check up on people, especially close friends… but I do appreciate from personal experience that the process of having a conversation with somebody about how they’re going is difficult because it opens them up to a certain level of vulnerability,” Schirmer said.

“I stress being able to bring up those conversations in the most subtle way possible… you can still be eye-to-eye with the person you’re talking to and provide them with a supportive place to chat… but if you ask them too abruptly, you’re not going to get a lot out of them.

“So, it’s crucial to ask people if they’re ok, but you must do it in the correct fashion, and people will respond however they want… and that is unique to each person.”

For more information about R U OK? Day, visit www.ruok.org.au