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Keeping it in the family

Rowing is a cross-generational sport.

This year’s Aon Sydney International Rowing Regatta has seen the full extent of talent through family generations. Over 10 rowers at this week’s National Championships have at least one parent, grandparent, part of the Australian Rowing Team Alumni.

For the Free family, rowing is in their blood. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Free was born into a family of rowers. His father and coach, Marcus, and uncle, Duncan, were both successful in the boat, as was their father, Reginald, who was an Australian representative in the sixties and seventies.

For Olympic gold medallist Duncan, seeing his nephew, and now his daughters, row makes him smile. He admitted rowing has, and always will be, a much-loved sport of the Free family.

“Three generations of rowing now, it’s a pretty cool thing to see and dad would be over the moon with how Jackson is going and watching the other kids come through as well,” he said.

Jackson has never been forced into rowing, it’s something he decided to do when he left school. His dad and two-time World Cup medallist, Marcus said he’s got the DNA to be a good rower.

“Dunc and I are not those parents that make our kids row. It was something Jackson tried, and DNA obviously helps. There’s a part of him that’s interested in it and hopefully he’s going to be good at it as well,” Marcus said.

Marcus, Duncan and Jackson Free at the SIRR 2018 (Copyright Rowing Australia/Delly Carr)

As Jackson’s coach, Marcus knows how to balance his parent and coaching duties to ensure Jackson gets the most out of his rowing career.

“Being a parent, you know the athlete better than anyone else and you know how to push them to get the best result but you also know when to back off. We’ve found a way that works,” said Marcus.

With so many successes in the sport prior to him, Jackson, who rows for Griffith University Surfers Paradise RC, said he uses his dad, uncle and Pop as inspiration to achieve good results.

“I remember back in Grade Four, uncle Dunc brought his gold medal in for show and tell and that made me think that I could do it too. I’ve got a lot of experience behind me, so that’s very beneficial,” said Jackson.

With all this experience behind him and pressure to perform, Jackson focuses on forging his own path.

“There’s some points where I feel like there’s a lot on my shoulders because Dunc, Pop and dad achieved so much. Before Pop passed away in 2015, he told me to forget about what they did and to make my own story and that’s what I’m doing now,” Jackson said.

2016 Rio Olympian Madeleine Edmunds and her sister Jacinta, a fellow National Training Centre athlete, are daughters of Olympic bronze medallist Ian Edmunds.

Ian shared similar thoughts to that of Marcus and Duncan Free. He admitted sharing rowing with his daughters was something special.

“It’s very rewarding and satisfying knowing that what I did is something that they’re interested in. Since they were 13 or 14, they’ve been on a path where they enjoyed it and were good at it,” he said.

Ian said rowing is a sport you’ll fall in love with for life.

“Rowing is one of those things that gets into you early, it gets its hooks in and becomes part of you. It’s just part of our life now.”

Rowing Australia Deputy Performance Director and Olympic silver medallist Jaime Fernandez is the father to two teenage rowers. Jaime believes children who get into rowing reflects the family they come from.

“It’s a sport that requires a significant amount of discipline and hard work. It’s a very challenging sport and for young people to commit to that, I think that says something about their character and their family structure.”

Jaime echoed the voice of the Free’s and Edmunds, adding he loved watching his children participate in the sport that means so much to him.

“I’m chuffed they’ve taken up the sport that I love so dearly and one can only hope that they have a similar experience to mine by being involved,” he said.

While Duncan and Marcus Free, Ian Edmunds and Jaime Fernandez want their children to achieve good results in the rowing boat, their priority is seeing their kids enjoy what they do.

“Whether Jackson comes first or fifth, if he has a good row, he knows he’s had a good row. Seeing the smile on his face when he crosses the line with a good result is what I love,” Marcus said.


ARTeam Alumni Relationship to athlete Athlete racing at SIRR
Marcus Free (ARTeam Alumni, World Cup medallist)

Duncan Free (ARTeam Alumni, 2008 Olympic Gold Medallist in Men’s Pair)




Jackson Free
Jaime Fernandez (ARTeam Alumni, three time Olympian and 2000 Olympic Silver Medallist in Men’s Eight) Father Ashley Fernandez

Miguel Fernandez

Robin Bakker (1992 Olympian at the Barcelona Games) Father Adam Bakker
Ian Edmunds (1984 Olympic bronze medallist in Men’s Eight, 1983 World Championships bronze medallist) Father Maddie Edmunds

Jacinta Edmunds

Ion Popa (1986 World Champion in Men’s Eight, Olympian and Olympic bronze medallist in 1984) and Sue Chapman-Popa (1984 Olympic bronze medallist in Women’s Coxed Four) Father and mother Rosie Popa
Brenton Terrell (Olympian at 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul) Father Peta Terrell
Susie and David Palfreyman (coswains in the ARTeam) Grandparents Oliver Miller
Tony Lovrich (1984 Olympic silver medallist from LA Games) Father Joe Lovrich
Virginia Lee and Teesan Koo

(Virginia – Olympic bronze medallist from the 1996 Atlanta Games in Lightweight Women’s Double, also competed at Sydney 2000, is also a World Champion Lightweight; Teesan was a coxswain at some of the World Champs)

Father and Mother Sophie Koo (coxswain)
Richard Powell (Two-time Olympian, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, as well as multiple World Champs) Father Georgia Powell
Adair Ferguson (Represented Australia at multiple World Champs, was LW1x World Champion in 1985, and Commonwealth Games gold medallist) Mother Hamish Harding