Jemima is a professional race walker with a passion for grassroots community initiatives for public health.
She has competed in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the 2019 World Athletics Championships, and was selected to represent Australia at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Learn more about her background, love of movement, and what she looks forward to as a Bluearth ambassador below.
Picture: Glenn Hampson
What’s your background? How did you grow up and what’s been your journey into your sport? + Can you tell us a bit about race walking? (How you discovered it, why you love it so much, etc)
I grew up as the eldest of three sporty girls, from a line of strong women athletes. Mum loved playing netball and running the 400m hurdles, grandma still lights up the tennis court most days and apparently my great grandmother did the same. These women gave me strong legs and a tough work ethic.
Little Athletics was just one of the many sports on my rotation. I quickly learnt that I was a natural endurance athlete and really struggled in the sprints, jumps and throws. But racewalking was the event that no one took seriously. It was like the ‘break’ between your other events, where you’d stroll around the track and talk to a friend. Until one day. I was doing just that when my friend’s dad yelled out ‘girls it’s not just a stroll, it’s a race, have a go!’. Something clicked in that moment and I found that my combination of endurance, hyper-mobile joints and firey competitiveness were a great trio for racewalking.
As a young girl, I loved how rapidly I was improving. The sport helped me form a sense of identity and belonging, led me towards new friendships and was a fun way to pick up a little medal at local athletics competitions. But as puberty hit, the struggle began. I think this is a key moment for young girls in sport which we need to address to improve participation in physical activity. The physical and physiological changes made training feel harder. Compounding this were the pressures and comments surrounding body image in sport, which made me resent the changes that were occurring. It’s amazing to reflect on the pressure for young women to retain a pre-pubescent figure. I found myself with no self belief, no drive, none of that competitiveness that I had as an 8 year old. After competing at the World Youth Champs in 2015, I needed to step away from sport for a while and be a ‘normal teenager’.
I’m so grateful for the next key moment in the story. 2 years later, I was in Japan with my family. My youngest sister thought the cute stationary and sushi were pretty fantastic and she simply stated “the next olympics are in Tokyo- I’d like you to make the team so we can come back to this cool place and I can get more stationary.” I didn’t take her seriously for a second- my self belief was still very low and I hadn’t re-discovered my ‘why’ factor in the sport. But mum, whose opinion I value highly, suggested that she thought I had what it took to represent Australia on the world stage. There was my ‘why’. In that moment, the idea of putting on the green and gold sparked a flame. I realised what a cool opportunity it would be to travel the globe doing a sport that also connects you to people, encourages you to set goals and overcome challenges. The flame is still burning.
What kind of training do you do to be the best you can be on the track?
I cover about 120km per week, or 5,500km per year. This is made up of two “long walks” of up to 30km, two speedy sessions on the track, 2-3 gym sessions and an array of fun easy sessions where I enjoy inviting a friend along. Despite being in an individual sport, there’s a whole team on board including a sports dietician, sports psychologist, strength and conditioning coach, masseuse, physio and biomechanists who I connect with regularly to keep my body functioning optimally. I live just 2km down the road from my coach Brent, who has coached Olympic gold medalists and went to a Commonwealth Games for racewalking himself. We have a little Melbourne-based squad of 10 and some international training partners who we meet up with for training camps.
Something I’ve discovered recently is that rather than thinking “when I succeed in sport, I will be happy”, we can think “if I focus on my happiness and wellbeing, the success will come.” This means that it’s just as important for me to be doing 10 minutes of meditation in the morning and filling in my journal each night, where I record: gratitude, my daily act of kindness, mood, sleep quality, lesson learnt, something to work on, worries or concerns and something that made me smile.
As someone who tried all different kinds of sports when you were younger, you must’ve played in a lot of teams. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with community sport / getting active with others, and why you think it’s important?
Any opportunity to be active was exciting, whether it was school lunchtime activities like salsa dancing, house vs house tunnel ball or Sunday soccer games.
The social aspect was what drew me in. When you have a shared passion or activity, you connect with people who you may have never met otherwise. I’d jog warm-up laps with a teammate three years older, do drills with someone from a different cultural background, celebrate a win with someone who holds a different perspective on things. These connections made me more open-minded and established great skills of working in teams, communicating, planning, losing well, winning well and more.
Community sport instilled an awareness and passion for the importance of movement for our physical health. From a young age, I could just feel the impact of activity: the endorphin rush, the post-training floating feeling, the strength, the proprioception, the ability to sprint after the bus. This understanding meant that as I grew up, no matter the circumstances, it felt natural to plan some physical activity into every day.
Being active with others from a young age and then right through life is just about the best and most important thing for us to do. I’m so glad that I had these opportunities early on and I feel that it is my mission to build greater inclusivity into the fabric of sport at all levels so that no one misses out on the same.
What does ‘moving well’ mean to you?
Moving well is about moving in celebration of your body, rather than battling against it. It means moving with intention and purpose. It means waking up and choosing what sort of activity feels right that day, and enjoying the process. This enjoyment doesn’t necessarily mean that it always feels easy, because there are moments of grit and persistence which bring immense reward afterwards. When this combination of purposeful, celebratory self-love takes place, moving well can be effortless.
Why do you believe moving well is important?
We know that moving is important, for our physical health and beyond. But moving because we feel societal pressure to change our figure, or persisting despite injury cues, or moving with constant pain can be damaging. So, focusing on moving well by framing it as an act of self-love, listening to our bodies, celebrating them and challenging them within reason is the best gift we can give ourselves.
What are some ways you incorporate movement into your days?
Outside of my set training, here are some ways I nudge myself into physical activity:
- Playing with my dog at the park (Amber, 8, Burnese Mountain dog, very fluffy)
- Walking down the street to help with groceries
- Swapping the car for a bike on a sunny day
- Taking the stairs rather than a lift
- Cooking (think: kneading pasta dough, whisking batter, grating carrots)
- Ending the day with a some easy yoga with my sister
Can you tell us a bit about your university studies and why you want to forge a career in public health?
In 2020 I finished my Bachelor of Science (physiology major) at the University of Melbourne. This broad undergraduate degree was a great option for me, as I finished year 12 still quite confused about specific career paths. The Melbourne model gives you four subjects per semester, where three are from science and one is a “breadth” elective. A number of my elective classes where in the public health area: Health Geography, Global Inequalities in the Anthropocene, Global Health, Security and Sustainability.
At the same time, I was working as a research assistant for a charity called The One Box, which delivers free boxes of fruit, veg, milk and bread to food insecure families around Australia.
I found my work in the food security area and these university subjects to be so captivating. Learning about inequities made me frustrated, learning about solutions made me excited and doing some work taught me the importance of tackling issues at their root cause. What I love about public health well summarised by Desmond Tutu’s quote:
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
In 2022 I will start my postgraduate medical degree, with a plan to do a Master of Public Health as well. This will enable me to work clinically and upstream in the preventative health and wellbeing space.
Why did you decide to become an ambassador for Bluearth?
In October 2020, I noticed a photo from Bluearth promoting the TAFISA World Walking Day. As a professional racewalker, supporting this day seemed to make perfect sense! I also loved the notion of celebrating the power of sport and physical activity to unify communities during the pandemic. I sent a message to Bluearth to introduce myself and ask how I could help them promote the day. It happened to be perfect timing, as they were on the hunt for new ambassadors and asked if I was interested.
I’d been presenting to primary school students for a few years, but was really excited by this opportunity to join a movement that took things a step further. Not only does Bluearth bring speakers to raise awareness about the importance of physical activity and mindfulness, but there are coaches to guide the students through a physical class and great online tools to continue these healthy habits at home. I readily accepted the role and cannot wait to visit my first school soon.
What do you look forward to as a Bluearth ambassador?
I look forward to contributing to a movement which inspires mindful activity every day. I look forward to seeing the kids smile, leap, throw, chase, embrace and breathe calmly. I look forward to presenting to their parents, teachers and our donors and telling these people just how impactful the program has been.
What advice do you have for young aspiring athletes?
It’s about effort, not outcome.
It’s about enjoyment, not pressure.
It’s about the friendships and life skills, not trophies.
Find the thing that makes you feel excited, empowered and free.
Find the level of involvement that feels right for you, from the community level to the professional.
If it is a professional career that sparks your interest, build a support network.
Remember that you are doing this because you love it. Your worth as a human being has nothing to do with what you do on the sporting field. The people around you will love and support you regardless of the outcome. Set yourself free from expectations and enjoy each opportunity you get to do this thing that makes you feel alive.