Jessica Morrison (2010)

“Remain open to opportunities that come your way and know that if you really want to get somewhere, there are many ways to get there!”

Jessica Morrison won gold as a member of the Australian Women’s Fours rowing team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

However, she didn’t intend to be a rower, in fact she was a keen swimmer and aspired to be an Olympic swimmer. After she graduated from Lauriston, she was offered a swimming scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra with her goal at that time to represent Australia by swimming at the 2012 London Olympics.

Even though she performed well in competitions, she wasn’t selected for the 2012 games. Jess subsequently developed a shoulder injury and needed a full shoulder reconstruction. While she was undergoing rehabilitation she met Kim Brennan, an Olympic medalist who rowed for Australia at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Kim encouraged her to try rowing – she was 21 – the rest is history.

Leaning in with courage

One of the greatest challenges Jess had to learn was to build her endurance. In swimming, races are short and intense, whereas in rowing the races are much longer, with lower body strength the key as opposed to upper body.

Jess also had to learn to row as a member of a team. She had always been involved in individual sports and rowing needs everyone in the boat to work together. In her first regatta experience – she was beaten by a much younger schoolgirls’ crew who simply worked very well as a team.

As her second Olympics, with Rio 2016 under her belt, Jess was more experienced more confident and determined to win gold in Tokyo. For Jess, competing at an Olympic level is very much a mental game. She told us that most of the competitors have done just as much training so the difference can come down to the ability to stay focused and execute the race plan under pressure.

“In the Fours event we were confident that we had what was needed to win. We had a strong start and excellent mid-race rhythm but the last 500m was very tight and required a real wind to the line. We knew we needed to stay clean and move together. The team from the Netherlands really piled on the pressure but we managed to hold them off, beating them by just 0.34 seconds!”

We interviewed Jess Morrison in our recent Lauriston Life magazine about her experience at Lauriston and the elements that helped set her up for success.

Recipe for success

I took on the challenge of undertaking the International Baccalaureate Diploma in Year 11 and 12. I knew it was a huge workload and at the time I had a heavy training programme, so I knew it was going to be tough to achieve success in both areas. The Head of IB offered me the option of completing the diploma over three years but I politely declined. If anything, it made me more determined to prove that I could balance both commitments and be successful in both! These two years helped me learn how to structure my week, set bite size short term goals, manage my time, and set no limit for myself on what I thought I was capable of.

The same schedule I had back in school applies to my life today as an athlete and juggling a part-time career in consulting. It is a very familiar territory for me and one I know how to navigate well. I was awarded the Sir Angus Mitchell Award for Leadership, Sport and Academics in Year 12. It is something I was very honoured and proud to receive from the school at the time.

Highlights of Lauriston

Howqua was such a rich and fulfilling year for me and one I could have easily opted out of to stay back in Melbourne to train. I’m glad I made the decision to take some time away from swimming and to live up in the bush with my classmates and experience something totally different. I think at that age it’s risky to take your sporting endeavours too seriously because it can take you away from enjoying all the opportunities school has to offer and it is not going to affect your long-term performance. Howqua taught me to embrace change and to get excited about new experiences and that is the mantra I have taken with me to where I am today.

Advice for aspiring elite athletes
The support I received from my parents and coaches has given me the confidence to pursue my dreams, even when it meant changing my sport. My advice would be to remain open to opportunities that come your way and to know that if you really want to get somewhere, there are many ways to get there!