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Margaret HamleyMay 17, 2024 9:15:50 AM3 min read

Jessica Morrison OAM Olympic Gold and so much more

At thirteen, Jess Morrison was training for swimming six days a week in her hometown of Melbourne. She was a talented and committed swimmer who went on to win medals in freestyle at the World University Games and World Cups.

But throughout her swimming career Jess wanted to be recognised as something other than just "the swimmer."

Jess had never allowed others to decide her boundaries. At high school, she was told that the International Baccalaureate (IB) would be a tough option for an elite swimmer. Her response was to choose the IB anyway – at which she excelled.

In 2013 a serious shoulder injury ended her swimming career, but after a serendipitous meeting with rowing legend Kim Brennan, she spent three months learning to row “in secret”, remarkably, just three years after first picking up an oar, Jess was selected for the 2016 Rio Olympics and at Tokyo 2021, she won gold in the Australian women’s four.

Jess’s sporting story is an extraordinary tale. She is now considered one of the world’s leading female rowers and is currently in final preparation for her third Olympics as a rower in Paris in July 2024.

However, the truly remarkable thing about Jess Morrison OAM is that her sparkling sporting success is just one chapter of her story. Jess is a thinker, who from a young age made the decision to work hard for sporting success while never losing herself in the process.

At the AIS, Jess responded to the injury that stopped her swimming by reflecting that “many things in life are out of our control, we are not entitled to success”.

It was a chance to re-evaluate what mattered to her, and as well as exploring new sporting possibilities in rowing she opened a door to other career options by completing a Bachelor of Economics at the Australian National University and starting a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A) at Melbourne Business School.

The balance of sport and study was physically and mentally challenging, but it made Jess happy. She developed an elite skill set in communication, collaboration and creativity.

At Rio, her crew finished in seventh place and Jess knew there was more to come, but that “more” was both on and off the water. Post-Olympics, “guided by my intuition”, she made the bold move to follow her curiosity again.

This time she immersed herself in full time face-to-face study to complete her M.B.A. “Sport is a long career," she reasoned, "why do we need to rush?”

Being on campus at the Melbourne Business School - which was followed by a semester at the London Business School - introduced Jess to students from around

the world. They all shared her goal of pursuing excellence, her belief in the value of curiosity and her conviction that success is a lifelong exploration.

Jess maintains that balancing study, career and sport has enabled her to create a “sustainable way to excel.”

When she accepted a scholarship to the Hancock Prospecting National Training Centre, where athletes train forty hours a week and have access to top coaching and performance support, Jess also put her business skills to work as a consultant at EY.

Coincidentally, it was her great friend and mentor, rowing legend Kim Brennan, who helped to create the EY Sporting Employment Program, which aims to provide elite athletes with part-time work.

For Jess, winning Olympic gold at Tokyo just sparked another fire: she now wanted to chase her next version of success. Post-Tokyo, she again stepped back from the NTC for a short time to work, train and spend time with her partner, Austin, in San Francisco.

Jess is now a manager in the strategy and transactions team at EY, she believes that transferable lessons from sport, including “responsibility, accountability and awareness to take ownership”, have supported that advancement.

At the NTC, in final preparations for Paris, she can see that the knowledge she has learnt at EY, including being “action orientated, professional and an avid note taker”, support her and the Australian Women’s Rowing Team in controlling what they can do, day by day, to better their own performance.

Jess Morrison's determination to continually define herself as more than an athlete, has, ironically but inspiringly, been a significant factor in propelling her to become one of our country's finest athletes.


Margaret Hamley

Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Manager | Rowing Australia