A HEREFORDSHIRE rower is heading to the Olympic Games after qualifying in the last chance.

St Weonards rower Mathilda Hodgkins Byrne believes her surge from motherhood to the Olympics shows that the sport is changing.

The Tokyo Olympian trained throughout pregnancy, doing an hour of low-level cardio every day - even when heavily overdue at 40 weeks and six days - giving birth to son Freddie in 2022.

Hodgkins-Byrne fought her way back onto the British Rowing Team and then into a boat, the women’s double alongside Rebecca Wilde.

With Freddie watching on from the bank in Lucerne, Switzerland, the British double finished second at the last chance ‘Regatta of Death’ to claim the 13th and final place at Paris 2024.

“When I became pregnant, it changed my outlook on things,” said Hodgkins-Byrne. “For me, I don't think having a baby should be the end of your career.

“My identity is obviously being a mum, but it’s also an athlete. I’m definitely a better mum for rowing and I'm a much better athlete because of Freddie.

Hodgkins-Byrne made her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 in 2021, competing in the quad alongside youngster sister Charlotte.

She now stands proudly alongside mum-of-three Helen Glover as the first British rowers to successfully return to Olympic level after giving birth.

The Last Chance Regatta is staged on the Rotsee in Lucerne, known as the ‘lake of the gods.’ It is a unique pressure-cooker event where rowers must finish in the top two in their boat class to make the Games.

“It’s a really weird regatta,” said Hodgkins-Byrne. “This is your last chance, there’s no other option. You know everything’s on the line but you don’t want to put everything on the line because that won’t bring out your best performance.

“My only thought was, ‘don’t mess this up!’”

Hodgkins-Byrne paid tribute to rowing partner Wilde’s ability and flexibility after navigating her own journey from fighting to keep her funding to the pinnacle of the sport.

“We went into a double and it clicked,” said Hodgkins-Byrne. “She’s less experienced than me but she’s far stronger than me. It’s great and I really enjoy being part of this boat.

“Had we not qualified, I’d have been gutted about the Games but I’d have been more sad not to have been back in this boat because I do really enjoy going out in it on a daily basis.”

British Rowing is the governing body for the sport and is responsible for the development of rowing in England and the training and selection of rowers to represent Great Britain. The GB Rowing Team is supported by the National Lottery Sports Fund. To find out more, and to follow the team, head to https://britishrowing.org/