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July 2019,

Life after rowing – finding a new identity

Hon Grant Robertson presents Giacomo Thomas during the Prime Minister's Scholarships Certificate Presentation Evening at Sir Don Rowlands Centre, Lake Karapiro, Cambridge, New Zealand. Thursday 24 May 2018

When Giacomo Thomas retired from rowing earlier this year, he expected the challenge would be figuring out what to do next. He was surprised when it didn’t turn out to be the hardest part.

Soon after receiving the news he hadn’t been reselected for the New Zealand rowing squad, his Athlete Life Advisor Criss Strange reached out to him.

“It came as a shock,” Giacomo says. “Criss made sure I was in a good headspace. He coaxed me into making plans, and helped me map out a clear path forward.”

After narrowing down his options, Giacomo decided to take on an electrical apprenticeship. He is already well on the way to completing two Bachelor’s degrees – in Exercise & Sport, and Computing & Mathematical Sciences – with help from a Prime Minister’s Scholarship awarded through HPSNZ, and will finish them part-time.

Having figured out what to do next – something he credits Criss Strange with making relatively painless – Giacomo found that developing a new identity wasn’t quite so easy.


“I used to scoff when I heard people say that being an athlete is part of your identity,” he says. “Since I’ve left rowing I’ve realised it actually is tied to your self-image.”

Now he’s no longer a rower, Giacomo says that working out who he is, is still a work in progress.

“It takes time to get your head around not being an athlete anymore. I thought what to do next would be the biggest challenge, but I realise the identity part is big as well.”

Giacomo found it helpful to talk to other athletes who had gone through the same thing. “They said commit to something new, and commit to not being that good at something for a while.”

Having won a silver medal at the U23 World Rowing Champs, Giacomo certainly knows how it feels to be good at something. But now he’s looking forward to learning something new.

As he wraps up his high performance sporting life, he popped in to thank Criss Strange for all the years he’d helped him as his Athlete Life Advisor, adding that he’d had a “relatively smooth transition out of sport,” thanks to him. Criss and the team at HPSNZ wished him every success with his new endeavours.