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Five minute race felt like lifetime as Bushmills girl Karla Borland cheered boyfriend Tom Ransley over finish line to rowing Olympic glory

By Leanne Dunlop

Published 16/08/2016

Karla Borland and her boyfriend Tom Ransley
Karla Borland and her boyfriend Tom Ransley
Tom Ransley and his GB Men’s Eight teammates, Scott Durant, Matt Gotrel, Paul Bennett, Matt Langridge, William Satch, cox Phelan Hill, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed with their gold medals
Winner: Tom and Karla with a team trophy

It's not every day your boyfriend wins a gold medal at the Olympics.

For Karla Borland, from Bushmills, however, the dream has now become a reality.

Last Saturday saw 30-year-old Karla's long-term boyfriend of seven years - Great Britain's Tom Ransley - win gold in Rio with the men's eight rowing team.

Veterinary surgeon Karla - now working in Winchester - took time out to travel the trip of a lifetime to Brazil to cheer on her boyfriend, along with the other rowers' families and partners.

Speaking to The Belfast Telegraph, she explained: "Tom is on camp from three to six months of the year.

"He had been away since the end of June until 10 days before the games. He had four days at home and then flew out on July 27. I flew out on the sixth of August. Tom flew direct and I did a trip via Madrid and Sao Paulo to make it as cheap as possible!"

The former Coleraine High School pupil described Saturday's historic victory in Rio as nerve-wracking.

"I believed that on their day they would be the best crew, but they hadn't won at any international regattas throughout the season. They won their heat with style on Monday and from then the anxiety was building.

"There was a huge GB contingent next to the Irish fans in the stands and we all screamed together!

"I was with Tom's family and the other families and partners. I couldn't watch for some of it - the race is just over five minutes long, but it feels like a lifetime."

Together with Scott Durant, Matt Gotrel, Paul Bennett, Matt Langridge, Will Satch, Andrew Triggs Hodge, Pete Reed and cox Phelan Hill, Tom completed the victorious British line-up.

Explaining how they first met, Karla said: "We met at university while Tom was doing the Boat Race in Cambridge in 2008 and 2009 while he was studying history. Since 2009, Tom has rowed for GB full time. He won a bronze medal at London 2012 and has been part of the men's squad every year from 2009 on.

"At university, I captained Caius boat club (my college club) and we needed a women's coach for the summer. Someone suggested Tom, so he came for a trial and got the job! I qualified in 2011 and have been working full-time as a vet since then."

Karla, who now lives in Henley-on-Thames, admits, though, that life as a successful Olympic athlete's girlfriend is far from easy.

"It's really tough. We both have busy lives and Tom's away a lot. Communication can be tough on camp, with limited wi-fi. Not to mention countless missed weddings, birthdays and family events."

The keen amateur runner explained Tom's gruelling training and its effects. "Tom trains 20 out of 21 days, starting at 7.30am and getting back at 4pm. His hands are constantly blistered. He's often tired, hungry and stressed.

"Sometimes he's too tired to walk the dog with me in the evening. The training puts his body under so much strain, but being the best means being on the edge of injury and illness. I'm so proud and so happy for him (winning gold)."

On whether Karla had helped have a winning effect on him, Tom said: "There's a lot of laughter in our house, which makes the time not training enjoyable. And it's good to have someone to moan to when you're exhausted."

Tom explained how Coleraine rowers had helped him along the way: "I've used the rowing machine at Bann Rowing Club while I've visited, but I haven't been out on the water yet. Hopefully that's something I might be able to do in the future."

Karla added: "I rowed at Bann in Coleraine while at school. It's a fantastic and very successful club. I'm still in contact with one of the girls I rowed with. Tom has used their rowing machine at Christmas when we've both been home."

Tom said: "Karla has a great family and friends, so it's always a pleasure to visit Northern Ireland. I love the beaches, rugged coastline and the great food.

Karla believes her family and friends from back home help keep Tom's feet firmly on the ground: "They keep him well grounded! My mum told him he wasn't allowed home at Christmas unless he won gold! They're looking after our dog this week while we're away."

When asked how watching the rowers in the Rio regatta compares to cold, dark mornings training in Coleraine, Karla quipped: "In essence it's the same - it's a tough sport even in the sunshine!"

So what next for Karla and her Olympic boyfriend Tom?

"For me, life goes on as a vet. We might go to the odd sports' awards' dinner but its back to work this week for me!

"For Tom it will mean he's achieved his dream. As for his future as a rower, I think he'll take some time out to decide."

When asked if he ever thinks of bringing the gold medal to Northern Ireland one day, Tom enthused: "Definitely - hopefully when I've recovered we'll be able to visit for the weekend."

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