It was in 1999 when Australian Chris Lowe won a silver medal at the World Rowing Championships in Canada. But what made his achievement special was that at 23, he was the oldest competitor in the field. He was also at the time a medical student at the University of Western Australia and a volunteer firefighter.

“I was probably a little different, but I was happy to be different,” he says.

Since then, Lowe has graduated and moved back to Perth, where he combines his medical studies with a rowing coaching job at the WA Institute of Sport and being a member of the WA state team.

He was back in the saddle at the WA state championships in Perth last week, where he remarkably topped the field as the WA men’s champion single sculls.

He was also the last Australian to win a world championship race in Perth in 1997, when he was an unknown.

But this time round, he was the favourite. And he admitted to being nervous before the start.

“I am always nervous before a race, but I try and get rid of it as soon as possible,” he says.

But he was fitter than ever. Head rowing coach at the WA Institute of Sport, Peter Condos, said that Lowe was in the best shape of his life.

“For me, Chris is a very dedicated athlete,” he said. “He is always in the gymnasium after training and he is always doing extra training on his own.”

Lowe had a winning time of 6:48.70 as he beat runner-up Simon Gillett (6:51.44) and Michael Gunning (6:56.02) third.

And his age wasn’t the only thing that made him stand out from the crowd.

He is the first top male rower to sport facial hair in more than three decades.

“I am not sure about the facial hair, how it comes out,” he said. “I am not sure how it looks yet, but it will probably take a while to get used to it.”

Condos said that Lowe had sufficient years behind him to be able to cope with the demands of full-time sport and study.

“At 23, it is a young age to be a medical student,” he said.

And Lowe said that he had definitely learnt to deal with the stress of study and sport.

“It is not easy to do both but I have learnt to balance it out and it does work,” he said.

“I am in the best physical condition of my life, although I am not sure about the mental side of things.”

Lowe’s only concern is to continue to balance his sporting and medical studies.

“It is not easy to do both, but I have learnt to balance it out,” he said.

“I am in the best physical condition of my life, although I am not sure about the mental side of things.”

Condos said Lowe’s attention to detail was the key to his success.

“He has a great attitude to his training. He puts a lot of time and effort into it,” he said. “He is very positive and has a very balanced life with medical studies and rowing.

“He has a lot of ability and has had a lot of exposure in the sport. He has a lot of belief in his ability and he also knows what it takes to win.”

Lowe, who will study medicine at the Australian National University next year, said he was on track to win a place in the Australian rowing squad.

“I am shooting for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but there is a lot of competition,” he says.

“I will have to see how everything goes along the way and I will make my decision at the right time.”

Lowe said that the support of his family was essential to his success.

“My parents are both very supportive of my career and they have also given me a lot of experience in sport,” he said.

“They have also put up with a lot, especially when I was in Canada. I appreciated all their support.”

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