Tackling a different challenge: Ollie Phillips takes on new Clipper Race role

07 November 2014

Ollie Phillips, the 2009 IRB Player of the Year, and former England 7’s Captain, was a crew member and watch leader who took part on the GREAT Britain team during the 2013-14 race whilst taking an injury break from professional rugby.

Following the race, Ollie officially joined the Clipper Race team as a partnerships and development ambassador, aiming to help develop new international business and social opportunities for the race.

Here he talks us through the challenges and personal highlights of his Clipper Race experience, which transformed him from a non-sailor to a seasoned seaman.

Q. Now you have had a chance to reflect, what personal lessons did you take from your Clipper Race experience?
I wasn't one of those people that came to the Clipper Race in search of answers or looking to find themselves. My reason for being there was that I wanted to continue to be a part of an environment that was familiar to me and akin to that of the past twelve years that I had spent in professional sport. I loved the challenge that the race posed and I relished the opportunity to take it on with a fresh group of people that I knew very little about.

Life is about variety to me and it was refreshing to meet so many different people, with a multitude of stories to tell. The environment tested me. It posed questions about me, my personality and it allowed me to explore how I reacted and responded to pressure in an environment that was more challenging than anything I had faced before.

The result was me becoming a better person overall. I became more aware of myself, the impact that my actions have on those around me and the necessity to remain positive, upbeat and focused, no matter what I was faced with. I grew up on the race and I love the new found perspective that I now have on life.

Q. Did anything about your rugby experiences help prepare you for the Clipper Race?
I think that having been involved in a team environment in professional sport helped me considerably, both in the initial instance when trying to integrate myself in to a new group, and then helping to motive and rally the group when the chips were down or when we had a goal to achieve, which was usually winning a race.

The challenge was to keep myself and the rest of the crew motivated over a long, sustained period of time, something that was foreign to me as any previous experiences had involved a maximum of 80 minutes. 31 days is a totally different kettle of fish! My rugby helped me though, because in times of stress or pressure, I felt that I could adapt, remain calm and rise to whatever challenge we were facing.

I was incredibly fortunate that I had such a fantastic and highly motivated team around me that meant that whatever we were trying to achieve, there was always the backing of 20 other people to support it.

Q. As a professional rugby player you've faced a range of physical and mental challenges, what did you find most challenging about the Clipper Race?
The people for certain. The challenge of learning how to sail and understanding the dynamics of running a boat were tough initially, but once I had grasped the basics and developed my knowledge over time, that challenge reduced.

The people, however, and their varying moods, personalities, likes, dislikes, ambitions, motivations and backgrounds, undoubtedly posed the biggest challenge. You had to adapt your personality and way of doing things to all of those around you in order to ensure that you could engage with them and get the best out of them, in order to ensure that the overall team objectives were being worked towards and achieved.

Q. What were the stand-out highlights of your experience?
On the boat, my highlight had to be either winning the Southern or Pacific Ocean crossings, in Leg 3 and Leg 6. Two of the biggest and baddest Oceans out there and both certainly lived up to their reputations. Both pushed me emotionally and physically to my maximum. I was totally shot after both, but winning them and crossing that finish line in first place was such an incredible feeling. The raw emotion of knowing what we had just overcome, what we had just achieved and at the same time, managing to perform at a level that saw us outperform all those around us, was an incredible rewarding experience.

Away from the boat, my highlight had to be the people that I met and the things that I did in port. The world is an incredible place, varied and vibrant in a way that I never could have imagined. The race afforded me the opportunity to get a glimpse of that colour and energy. Every port was different and each one provided me with a different insight in to the world, the people that live within it and the cultures that exist. I loved it from start to finish and it has made me hungry to discover more.

Q. GREAT Britain was a very competitive team. How did you help keep motivation levels up on board?

We were a fantastic group. Everyone got on and we relished the opportunity to sail our boat and to sail it fast. The group worked incredibly well together as a team and no matter who came or went, we always had one goal and that was to win. We wanted to enjoy our sailing and to remain safe, but we loved that feeling of sailing our boat fast and pushing ourselves and the boat to the maximum. My role within that was just to remain positive, keep my watch motivated and make sure that the skipper’s wishes were carried out. Energy was all I needed to be honest with you. My watch and the rest of the crew were fantastic from start to finish and so leading and managing them was a real joy for me.

Q. How does finishing on the podium overall in the Clipper Race compare in your list of sporting achievements?
It is right up there. The achievement of sailing around the world is a huge accolade and is something that I am immensely proud of, but to have done it and finish up second overall ranks as a huge personal highlight. I am a competitive animal and I participate in sports because I want to win and I want to push myself and my team around me to deliver the very best each time. Finishing second, despite some of the setbacks that we had on the race is a massive achievement and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it.

Q. Now that you have returned from the race, what is next for you?
Who knows? I am relaxed about what life brings me, but I am driven to be successful and the race has inspired me to realise that anything is achievable, if you just put your mind to it. With that in mind, my primary focus is to try and return to rugby and resume my place within the England 7’s squad. I left them because of an injury and there is no guarantee that it has fully recovered, however I shall be doing everything within my power to ensure that no stone is left unturned in my pursuit of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016.

I have also continued to build on my passion for the Clipper Race by becoming an ambassador for Clipper Ventures, and the race itself. The Clipper Race team believes that my background within professional sport and my time on board GREAT Britain offers many learning and professional opportunities.

Q. Why are you so passionate about becoming an ambassador for the Clipper Race?
The Clipper Race has played a huge part in my life and has provided me with my greatest life experience to date. I believe in the message that the company and the race promotes. It is an incredible company and I don’t believe that enough people and companies know and understand what sort of an opportunity the race provides.

I want to help them discover this and in turn help the Clipper Race to grow. It merits being recognised as one of the hardest and most gruelling challenges in the world. It offers exposure on a global scale and engages with such a wide variety of audiences that I believe puts it up there amongst the greatest sporting events on the market. I want to help and make sure that happens and hopefully my drive and passion can complement the fabulous team that already make great things happen behind the scenes.

Q. Do you plan to keep sailing?
Definitely. I have already met up with a few of the old Clipper Race crew and am currently in the process of completing my yacht master training. Sailing is now part of me and my makeup. I have certainly got the bug and I am so excited about discovering what other opportunities lie out there for me within the sailing world.

Q. Do you have any tips or advice for future race crew?
Relish and enjoy every moment of it. For a year you experience something that you will never get to do again, see things that you never thought you would ever see and live a life that you never knew existed, let alone thought was possible. The race is adventure personified and when it is all over, you miss it more than you ever thought you would do at the start. Sir Robin doesn’t lie when he says that the race will be your ‘greatest experience in life….so far’. Please don’t waste it.

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