It’s almost two years since I successfully applied to UK Sport’s Sporting Giants programme. The scheme was looking for tall sporting amateurs with potential to challenge for major competitions in a selection of sports. I was given one of 20 places in the rowing category and, within a whirlwind three weeks, I had relocated to the South East from Leeds and suddenly found myself focusing ahead to London 2012! 

At that point, the Olympic Park was just rubble – it’s amazing how much has happened since. I’d not long left a university when I found myself waking up at dawn, undertaking two training sessions before lunch and then working the rest of the day in my flexi-time job with BT, before collapsing in bed at 8pm. I had only recently started with BT but luckily they were able to accommodate me and my relocation. 

There have been so many new things to consider, like eating the right amounts and making sure I allow my body to recover from training.  I find myself always thinking about rowing – even sat in the car or at my desk I’ll be making sure my posture is good. 

It can be mentally tough and I have to be very disciplined about my social life.  There’s always the occasional day where I’d just like to hide under the covers rather than get up at 6am but I know if I reach a major competition it will all seem like a small sacrifice.

Competing at the Games in 2012 is a dream that I look towards, but I try to treat it more as a hope and aspiration and certainly not as a definite. I know that, at 24 years old, I’m still young enough to potentially compete for another Olympics in 2016 so I’m careful not to burden myself with too much pressure. 

There’s so much more hard work to come if I’m going to be in with a shout of competing in 2012, but I’ve been pleased with my progress. Making the qualifying time for the National Trials last year was a fantastic achievement as it made me realise that I’d made real strides after only a year of full-time training. I was in the boat, including Olympians Debbie Flood and Louisa Reeve, that finished second overall at the eight’s Head of the River this year. Debbie and I also rowed to gold in a double at the 2009 National Championships in Nottingham.

My next goals are to perform well in the National Trials, running from October to April, in order to get my ranking inside the top 20. I’ll be pushing to compete at the European Championships in 2010 and, in an ideal world, I’d progress to the World Championships in 2011 and then the Olympics in 2012, but who knows? From December, an extra training session will be added to four of our weekdays so that presents a new challenge in itself, although it’s surprising how quickly you can adapt to these changes.

All the girls that I train with have rowed for GB at some level and talking to them really brought home the importance of the Olympics being on home turf in 2012 - those girls that have competed abroad say they’re always really jealous of the support from the home crowd as it can really help push a team to the finishing line.

One of the great benefits of the position I’m in is that, even though I’m fairly new to my sport, initially being brought into GB Rowing’s World Class Start Programme and now rowing for Leander has meant that I’ve been surrounded by top rowers. Rowing with Debbie Flood, who achieved silver medals in Beijing and Athens, and drawing from her experience is a money-can’t-buy opportunity.

It’s not just through GB Rowing that I’ve been lucky enough to learn from elite athletes. I was honoured to be asked by BT to become one of its Ambassadors for London 2012 and only recently I met with a fellow Ambassador, Dame Kelly Holmes. I was able to quiz her on all aspects of her life and it really helped me gain an insight into what it takes to become a top competitor and how to look after yourself in the process. 
It’s invaluable to meet with people who have been through all the highs and lows and who can not only impart advice but also validate some of what I’ve already been doing.

For everyone working towards the Games, be it workers, athletes or volunteers, it’s clear that there are a lot more challenges ahead. With the passion that this country seems to have for the event, you can’t stop yourself getting excited at the potential for success and global recognition for London in 2012. There’s still so much for so many people to achieve before we get there, but I know I’ll certainly keep giving it my all...

Fran Nicholls is a BT employee and a member of its Ambassador programme. BT has arranged flexible working for Fran so she can train for London 2012 and be the best that she can be. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.