When we were told there was an opportunity for The Glenturret to sponsor multi-medal winning Canoe Slalom athlete, Fiona Pennie, we jumped at it! Fiona is local to Crieff. She grew up in Crieff, went to school in Crieff, and has a real soft spot for the area. On top of that, she was already a Glenturret fan when we met her, managing to fit in a dram or two in between her hectic training schedules!
Fiona is a Great British Canoe Slalom Athlete and has competed in two Olympic Games, European Championships and World Championships, just earlier this year winning a Team Gold at the ICF World Championships!
The more we got talking to Fiona, the more we realised the similarities between the craftmanship that is involved in making our Glenturret single malt, and the craftmanship that is involved in looking after and maintaining her canoe. The care, passion, and respect that go into both processes are unparalleled. That was that, we knew it was a perfect fit and we’re delighted to be sponsoring Fiona!
We decided to quiz her a little more on her sporting career, her childhood in Crieff, and her love of whisky! Enjoy!
Q: Can you tell us about your love for sport and what got you into canoeing?
Sport was engrained from day 1. My Dad was a speedy sprinter, played hockey and a P.E. teacher so there was no avoiding it! I grew up watching all sorts of sport; both live and on the TV and was inspired by many historic moments. My Mum was a Flatwater Canoe Sprint paddler winning many a Scottish Championship and more. She had me in her boat at a few months old and taught me to paddle my own boat around the age of 5. I was hooked from then on and joined Perth Canoe Club who predominantly did Canoe Slalom at the time. There was no going back after that!
Q: Where do you currently train?
I have lived and trained at the Lee Valley Whitewater Centre in Waltham Abbey, Hertfordshire since 2011 when the venue opened in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics. The course is a hot favourite amongst the world’s elite and I’m privileged I can perfect my skills on such a challenging course everyday.
Q: How much time do you dedicate to your sport?
I’m a full time athlete so I train 6 days a week depending on the time of year and whether it’s a race week. Training involves a range of sessions in the gym, on the flatwater and on the whitewater. Again depending on the time of year, this can range from 8 - 12 sessions per week with each session lasting around an hour of actual water time. Obviously there’s the preparation time before a session and the debrief and review of a session afterwards, not to mention the half hour required in the hot shower after the cold whitewater sessions during the winter! Aside from this we have planning meetings, physio, psychology and, for me, I spend a lot of time on my boats so I’m always busy!
Q: What has been your greatest sporting achievement so far in your career?
It’s hard to decide which has been the greatest; a silver medal at the 2006 World Championships when I was just 23 years old was a huge result for me at the time and not so common an achievement for a young person back then. Winning World Championship silver again in 2014 and then a 6th place at the Rio 2016 Olympics are also highlights, but the one that stands out the most is when I became European Champion in 2013.
Q: What would you hope to achieve in the future?
Firstly, I want to keep enjoying my sport, and with that do my best to fulfil my potential. If I can do that, then I can’t ask for anything more. I’ve been around the sport for quite a while now and hope that I can inspire the younger generation to keep pushing through all the setbacks that do come in our sport to ultimately achieve their goals.
Q: What’s the best thing about canoeing?
Canoeing is a sport which is accessible to so many and there are so many different disciplines that cater for all, no matter what adrenaline level you are after! Specifically, Canoe Slalom is a test of so many elements that make up an athlete. You have to be mentally, physically and technically strong. When all these parts come together, it can feel effortless to move the boat, almost like the boat is dancing on the water which is a such a good feeling to have. Everyday is different with training and races on different whitewater courses and different gate combinations being set. After 27 years in the sport, I can honestly say that it never becomes dull!
Q: What’s the most challenging thing about canoeing?
As Canoe Slalom requires so many elements (mental, physical and technical) to come together all at once for a good run, it doesn’t always happen. A slight wrong angle on your boat or a few centimetres the wrong way and your race can be over, not to mention the added challenge of getting a bad surge of water. So the flip side of our sport is that you can’t possibly always win and there’s highly likely to be more bad times than there are good times, but it does make the good times even more special when they happen.
Q: Do you have any other sports or hobbies that you like to do in your spare time?
I used to play a lot of hockey when I was at school, but didn’t play for 12 years after leaving. When I moved to London, I decided to pick up a stick again to make some friends out with of canoeing. It’s been a great escape when I’m able to play in between my canoeing commitments. Aside from that, I like to jump on my bike occasionally but really I lack the time for the many other sports I would love to be doing - they’ll have to wait for retirement! Away from sport, I’m keen on doing as many DIY jobs all at once! There’s so many half finished projects around my house - can anyone invent more time?? I spend a lot of time repairing boats too, both my own and those of other people. I seem to have developed a knack for it, which, added to my perfectionism and attention to detail has meant I’m becoming more famous for my boat repairs!
Q: How does it feel to represent GB at an Olympics?
It’s a huge honour to represent your country at the Olympics. It’s what you dream to do and everything you work towards is about that so to actually have the chance to be there is something very special. Obviously, you try to keep everything as normal as possible; it’s just another Canoe Slalom race! However, it’s not always that easy when you find yourself eating your dinner within metres of Novak Djokovic or end up in the tiny lift of the GB block with any one of the big names. It really is the greatest show on Earth and to be part of a bigger multi-sport GB team working together towards medals is something quite unique.
Q: How many competitions have you now competed in?
This is the hardest question of the lot! If I take a rough average over the 27 years I’ve been racing, it must be somewhere close to 500 races!
Q: Have you had the opportunity to meet other fellow athletes that inspire you?
Indeed I have, many! In the lead up to Beijing 2008, I was lucky enough to be on Team Visa and be mentored by Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sir Steven Redgrave. I had a signed post of Steve on my wall when I was growing up so to actually have advice from him was huge! Whilst in Beijing, we stayed in a satellite village with the rowers, so I came to eat most of my meals with them. This meant being entertained by the humour of Katherine Grainger on many an evening. She’s definitely an inspiration to have gone through so many setbacks to finally come back to win the Olympic gold she was after.
Q: What was it like growing up in Crieff, do you have any memories of Glenturret and Loch Turret etc.?
I took a Crieff childhood for granted and only now realise how lucky I was to have so many opportunities in the outdoors on my doorstep. I was always in the woods above the River Turret behind our back garden adventuring and riding my bike everywhere around. Loch Turret has always been a favourite place of mine. My Dad used to take me for bike rides to the bottom of the road up to the dam. Passing the Distillery was the worst part - "yuck the smell!”. I do recall going around the Distillery when I was quite young; I’m pretty sure my fingers held my nose shut the entire time! Little did I realise I would grow to like it the smell and taste one day! When I was a little older I finally accomplished the entire bike ride up to Loch Turret on my own. It would take a while for my fingers to defrost after that downhill on a winter’s day!
Q: How do you fit in enjoying a dram around your busy training schedule?
“My training is quite intensive and I’m always busy around training. You won’t be finding a dram in my hand whilst I’m doing video review straight after a session that’s for sure; maybe not quite the best preparation for the next session that day! If I’m in an important phase of racing in the summer then I don't, in fact, have any alcohol at all. However, it makes it all the more enjoyable when I return home to be able to enjoy some of the home spirit. In the winter, a week of training is quite tiring. So a wee Glenturret is always a nice reward on a Saturday night."
Q: What’s your favourite Glenturret whisky?
Of the 4 bottles of Glenturret I have in my cabinet at home, the Peated Edition is definitely the one that is picked out most often. It has such a strong aroma and taste, I just love it!
Q: Are any of your family whisky drinkers?
My Grandfather does enjoy whisky, even now as he approaches 100 years old! The love of it skipped a generation with my Dad though who never liked it! My Mum has her Friday night whisky, except she mixes it with lemonade!
Q: Are there any other facts or stories you’d like to share with us?
When I was much younger, I used to take my boat down to the River Turret below the house to hone my slalom skills around a pole that my Dad and I hung from a tree. So I really have grown up with the Turret in so many ways.
We hope you've enjoyed finding out a little bit more about Fiona, and keep your eyes peeled for plenty of updates in the future! #BackedByGlenturret