Jess Fox, the 22-year-old Australian silver medalist in canoe slalom in the London 2012 games and, as of just last week, a bronze medalist in Rio. She’s a lover of Harry Potter, bilingual in French, topped NSW in PDHPE in her Year 12 exams (is there anything she can’t do?!) and adores food. Year13 had the honour of chatting to Jess while she was on the road to Rio about what life looks like, and what life was like when she was leaving school.

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What does an average day look like for you?

An average day is pretty busy! I’m up around 6.30 for training at 7.30-9. This is followed by a video of review of the training session where we look at technical points we can improve on, followed by a physio or massage appointment to keep my body in check! Home for lunch, quick nap (very important!) and then fit in some uni work before heading back to training in the afternoon. Between training sessions is time reserved for uni work or sponsor/ media commitments. I try and catch up with friends when I have some free time too! Evenings are reserved for uni cramming, food, detangling my afro helmet hair and chilling with the family.

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What did you do to get where you are? Who inspired your journey?

I was lucky to have parents who were both high-level athletes in canoe slalom and they were the inspirations, the teachers and motivators. After trying different sports I picked up the paddle more seriously at around 11 years old. I always tried to be the first on the water, and the last one off. I loved training, loved racing and set goals for myself. I guess there was no secret, lots of hard work, persistence and a big dream!

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What do you love about your ‘job’? Can I call it a job?

I wouldn’t call it a job. I’m fortunate to live my passion and do what I love every day. It’s challenging, always different and there’s always something to learn on the water. Every river is different and every race is different so the variety keeps it exciting and I love the creative aspect, searching for new techniques and playing with the features of the river.

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What is the most challenging component of the sporting world?

The mental aspect. Someone told me sport was 20 % physical and 80% mental. Anyone can train their body to be physically fit, to lift weights, to run faster, jump higher… but the mental side is what makes the difference. Developing mental toughness, learning to deal with pressures, not everyone has that and that is the hardest part in elite sport and one aspect that I am continually looking to improve.

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How did you learn to navigate the sporting world?

I grew up along the sides of the river when my Mum was still competing and Dad was coaching her. They later became coaches for the Australian team so I moved from the pram to playing with the rocks, in the dirt or sand and later took up the sport myself. I was surrounded by high-level athletes and coaches and grew up knowing that the ‘Olympics’ were a big thing, something special. I guess being around this high-performance environment I learnt about attitude, work ethic and persistence. One of the best things I took away from it was the power of watching others and to learn from that – being a sponge and soaking up as much information from as many people to learn as much as I could.

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What are some common misconceptions about your lifestyle?

“Oh you’re so lucky, you get to travel the world”: I hear this one a lot – and it’s true, I do feel fortunate to be racing and training all over the world and discovering some unique places around the globe, but it’s not a holiday! We train hard, and we don’t have much time to be tourists. Sometimes I just miss my bed, my shower pressure (the little things make the difference ha!), and having a good coffee with friends (so hard to find a good cappuccino in Europe!).

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What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Don’t worry about missing high school parties, – the Olympics is the biggest party of all! I think there was an element of FOMO in high school where I’d see all my friends having a good time on the weekends but I couldn’t because I had a race or training early in the morning.

(I actually first met Jess at a high school party back in the day- so she definitely didn’t say no to everything! She was also crazy humble, and neglected to mention the whole currently-training-for-the-Olympics thing)

I was so focussed on my goal, though, that I thought of it as a choice because I knew that if I went out, I’d be tired and underprepared for training. Now, I don’t regret any of it, because I worked hard to make it to the Olympics in London and Rio, which is an amazing celebration.

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What are your plans for the future? Do you have any, do you think you need any?

Yes, I think it’s super important for me, as an athlete, to have plans for life after sport. I’m in a sport where I won’t really make a good living off it, or injury could easily force me to retire, so it’s important to have something to fall back on. I’m studying a bachelor of social science online (psych and communications). I’m not really sure what I want to do after my sporting career – I’d love to stay involved in the Olympic movement through the Youth Olympic Games or work in TV … who knows!

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Check out the shorts from her time in Rio. Despite a 2 second penalty in the finals she still secured a medal. What a powerhouse!

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