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Emma Fessey – From the paddock to Plovdiv

At 21-years-old, Emma Fessey is about to make her debut for the Senior Australian Rowing Team at the World Rowing Championships. The UTS Rowing Club athlete has made her swift assent into the Australian team via a country New South Wales upbringing on her family’s farm and then through school and club rowing.

“So I grew up on a sheep and cattle property called ‘Bullabelalie’ about 100 kilometres north of Brewarrina in North Western New South Wales.

Emma as a young girl with her dogs on her family farm (Copyright Emma Fessey)

“I guess from my experience drought in our region is almost considered the norm however when we do get good seasons the country responds really well and productivity levels increase to a large extent. Because we lived so far away from the nearest school, the best option for primary school was through ‘School of the Air’ or Distance Education which my sister and myself did through Bourke. This meant that Mum was my teacher and we assigned Dad with the principle role who would come in every now and then if we were being naughty!”

It wasn’t until Year 9 that the New South Welshwoman took up rowing. “So I started rowing at my high school Loreto Normanhurst at the end of Year 9 in 2011. I definitely wanted to row earlier cause my Dad used to row, so I always knew that it was something that I wanted to try but I was needing to have a little growth spurt!

“I remember the first race that I did, I’d been rowing for 4 weeks, and I crossed all eight lanes in my single, I started in Lane 8 and finished in Lane 1. I thought there was something wrong with my fin but turned out that everything was fine with the boat, it was just me!” admitted Fessey.

The home school environment saved Fessey’s parents the 400 kilometre round trip to get her to school everyday, and also provided her with a slightly unusual lifestyle growing up.

“It was really good to be at home for school until Year 7, as we’d be able to do all of our school work in the morning and then head out and help Dad with sheep & cattle work or other jobs around the farm in the afternoon and still have time to muck around on the motorbikes and build cubby houses with my sister.”

Emma and one of her pigs (Copyright Emma Fessey)

After finishing at Loreto Normanhurst, the young athlete made the move into club rowing. “After I finished school, I had a year off rowing to focus on study and work, then I transitioned into club rowing, later in 2015, with UTS Rowing Club.

“My coach at school was David Gely, who then started working alongside Ellen Randell and Tim Mclaren at UTS. It made sense for me to make the move to UTS after school with familiar coaches and people around and also close to university.”

In 2018, Fessey made the decision to nominate for the Under 23 and Senior Australian Rowing Teams, but never expected to making the move to competing on the world stage so quickly.

“It’s a huge achievement to have been selected in the Australian team. Looking back, at when I was setting my goals for the season, 12 months ago, it was about getting me to the Under 23 selections, see what happens there, I never really imagined that I would be sitting here 12 months on preparing for the World Championships in the Women’s Eight, it’s still mind blowing.

“Obviously, it’s my first national team this year, I’ve been rowing for seven years and It’s really exciting to crack into that elite level of the sport and to be able race at the World Championships, to know I’ll cross that line and become part of the tradition and history of the sport. I will then be lucky enough to receive a McVilly-Pearce pin, and I just can’t quite comprehend that right now, it’s really significant and I’m very lucky to be doing what I’m doing.”

With that said, Fessey knows that she is in an unusual position making her first team at 21, and has some advice for those aiming high in the sport.

Emma Fessey (Copyright RA)

“Definitely you need to be really resilient and persistent and also be able to balance rowing with a lot of other things in life.

“I think it’s really important to have a holistic approach to your lifestyle, with that goal of wanting be an elite athlete, it’s really vital to have a lot of other things in your life and keep yourself busy outside of training. I was working 40 hours a week, studying, rowing, and had a few other commitments on weekends which can be challenging but I think it really helps you grow a lot as a person and can help you work well under pressure.

“When you do come into an environment like this, when you’re just rowing all the time – as a full-time job effectively – it is important to have done those other things so you can look back on it, and say, Wow, I’ve done all that, and now I’m here focusing on being the best rower I can be, and can invest a lot more into it.’”

With this being her first Australian Rowing Team, Fessey is thoroughly enjoying all the aspects of her selection into the team.

“I really enjoy the team camaraderie and huge support network. All the staff, athletes and coaches, it’s really nicely interlinked which I think is really positive.

“Coming to the AIS European Training for the first time was awesome. You have got all these amazing state of the art facilities and are just a quick 5 minute walk from an amazing location on the lake, we’re so lucky to have it all.

“It’s really cool to be here with the whole team, including the paras, to see how they train in comparison to us, and to be able to come together as one team from a lot of different training backgrounds, different experiences and share that common goal of coming to the World Championships and doing as best we can for Australia.”

Emma Fessey, bottom left, winning bronze in the Women’s Eight at World Rowing Cup 2 (Copyright Rowing Australia)