The Plymouth-born Olympic bronze medallist contracted Covid-19 in April 2022 and one night, sitting at the desk in his room doing life admin, felt some discomfort in his rib.
“It felt quite strange but I thought I’d take some paracetamol and try to sleep it off,” he said.
“Five minutes later I was lying on the floor, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak.”
The 29-year-old puts his body through hell on a daily basis in one of the most gruelling sports around but he’s unequivocal: “it’s the worst pain I’ve felt in my life.”
His girlfriend drove him to A&E where he was misdiagnosed with stressed ribs and sent home.
A week later, when Dawson had tested negative for Covid and returned to his training base at Caversham, British Rowing physio Steve Leonard found that his condition had deteriorated.
“Steve kept telling me to breathe and I was like, ‘I’m breathing as much as I can, I don’t know what to tell you.'
“It turns out the bottom part of my lung had collapsed.”
Congratulations to our #GBRowingTeam juniors for a great weekend of racing at the European U19 Championships! ????????
— British Rowing (@BritishRowing) May 22, 2023
Dawson was rushed to a private clinic in London and there it was confirmed that he had suffered a pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening blood clot.
“In moments, everything was shattered, but my mind was just in survival mode.
“The hardest thing of it all was having to tell my mum while it was going on. I just emulated what the doctor told me, I didn’t know how to have that conversation.
“Of course there were tears - but I’m grateful that I’m here to tell the story.”
After blood thinners, three weeks of bed rest and two months away, Dawson returned to his old life at Caversham with a fresh mentality.
“It’s given me a new lease of life,” he said. “I’m at Caversham because I want to be there and that is so empowering.
“I feel very fortunate to be blessed with the opportunity to see things from that side.
“When the days are as bad as they can be, in winter training when you’re racking up the miles and going through hell, it can always be worse.
“It’s given me a much more healthy relationship to why I’m here and the goals I have in life.”
Dawson is now back on the road to Paris 2024 and pursuing a second Olympic appearance with Team GB.
“The same things that fuelled me before the event still fuel me to this day,” said Dawson.
“It’s because I’m in the hunt to win Olympic gold and to represent my country on the world’s biggest stage. But it’s not the like the world is ending when it doesn’t go to plan.”
British Rowing is the governing body for the sport and is responsible for the development of rowing in England and the training and selection of rowers to represent Great Britain. The GB Rowing Team is supported by the National Lottery Sports Fund. To find out more, and to follow the team, head to www.britishrowing.org/