“In terms of my sexuality, it made me think about it and become aware of it. I don’t know where I would be without rowing.”
Saskia Budgett admits life on the water has had a profound impact. It’s given her a career, a passion…and a girlfriend.
The Londoner’s story begins in 2015 when she was offered a rowing scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles, after flashing plenty of promise as a GB junior.
Budgett had a boyfriend when she left the UK but in LA she fell for Kyra Edwards, a fellow athlete and GB teammate.
Rowing’s power couple, Budgett and Edwards are both bidding for a place at Tokyo 2020. They live together, row together and hope to win Olympic gold together.
But the 24-year-old admits she would probably not have questioned her sexuality had she not met Kyra. Rowing has not only impacted her life. It’s shaped it.
“Rowing has given me a huge amount of confidence and I think it has taught me a lot of life lessons and made me a very resilient person,” she said.
“I don’t know where my life would have gone but I don’t think I would have a girlfriend and, without rowing, I would probably be a very different person. I think it allows me to be my authentic self, be who I am and love who I love.”
Budgett and Edwards joined the British Rowing set up together after graduating from UCLA in 2019 and, rowing being such a small community, their relationship was well-known before they arrived.
The fact they have been together for five years is testament to how respected and accepted they have been made to feel.
“I fell in love with Kyra the person. Sometimes I struggle with identifying as gay or bisexual because, the way I see it, I just fell in love with her,” she said.
“I have been really lucky through our whole relationship that I haven’t had any pressure on me and that has helped so much. The rowing community has come so far in that way.
“Sometimes I just forget I am with a girl and that’s different. That’s definitely not the same for a lot of people, so I feel really privileged in that way.
“Rowing can be seen as a very white and posh sport in general, so may have the stigma of not being very diverse. But I think, in the women’s team, it has been very open.
“We’re not the first gay women rowing for Britain, even though not many before us were public, and I think knowing that gave me a bit of a sense of it being okay for us and it was not something we needed to be scared about.”
Budgett admits she found it hard to come out in the first weeks and months of her relationship but now she wants to help and support others who may be struggling.
“At first, I overthought it massively but now it’s very normal,” she said.
“I feel very comfortable being gay in the team but I do think there is some publicity work to do in terms of acceptance of the LGBT+ community. On the women’s side, there are a few gay people and so that creates its own community.
“If someone is struggling, I hope we can create an atmosphere where they feel they can talk to me or Kyra or someone else. It’s very important to have that support network and I think we have it.”
Budgett also hopes she and Edwards earn a spot at Tokyo 2020, although that also brings its challenges.
They may be a couple but there are only so many seats available next summer, putting all the GB women in competition with each other.
“At UCLA, we were in the same boat but selection has not been decided yet for this year,” she said.
“It would be really cool and exciting if we are in the same one. It does come with its struggles as well. People often question how we do it because we are competing against each other in some ways.
“Everyone is trying to get a seat, so we are all are in competition, and it can be challenging for us but at the same time we try to communicate everything and be open. We just want the best for each other.”
Photo Credit: Nick Middleton
Team GB believes that sport should be open to everyone. That’s why this week, we’ll be showing our support to Stonewall and their Rainbow Laces campaign.
Throughout the week on TeamGB.com, we’ll be telling the stories of members of the LGBT+ community from within the Olympic sporting world, with British Rowing’s Saskia Budgett the latest to feature.