Twigg cycles out of retirement and takes the long way home
It could be said World Champion Emma Twigg does not follow the conventional path. In the lead-up to the Rio 2016 Olympics, Twigg, from New Zealand, made the unusual decision to step away from the national team and study.
She chose a masters degree, based in three European countries, no-where near close to New Zealand. Twigg knew the ramifications from Rowing New Zealand. She would not be allowed to compete on the national team if she was not training from the home base at Lake Karapiro. But she would not be stopped.
Twigg successfully completed the masters programme and maintained her fitness. In a star come-back, she qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in July 2016 in Lucerne, Switzerland and earned the spot on New Zealand’s Olympic team for Rio. Following the Olympics Twigg returned to Europe, where she worked for a year at the International Olympic Committee—and completed an Ironman in her spare time.
But Twigg could not be satisfied with the logical airplane ride back to New Zealand at the end of the year. She, along with two friends, decided to bike. They aptly called the trip “the long way home”. Twigg’s partners are fellow athletes, Rebecca (Becs) Wardell and Sarah van Ballekom. The idea was sparked several years ago when Twigg and Wardell were riding in Lausanne. Wardell said that if her contract wasn’t renewed, “she would just get on her bike and ride back to New Zealand.” In the end, her contract was renewed and it took a couple more years, but the three committed last Christmas to taking ‘the long way home.’
The trip began in Switzerland on 30 April with Twigg leaving the group en-route, while Wardell and van Ballekom continue on. The team is raising money for a charity in New Zealand called Forward Foundation, which works to inspire the next generation of female leaders through sport. They also have a goal of connecting with fellow Olympians along the way.
“We tried to visit a school and connect with at least one Olympian in every country we went to. It took six weeks to get from Switzerland to Istanbul. We were averaging 100km per day, I think we had two days off in that whole time. Sometimes we had a massive day with 170km and some days would be around 70km. It evened itself out. We were spending between 4 and 7 hours on the bike,” says Twigg.
The rowing community came out in full force. “There are rowers everywhere as we went and they took really good care of us, but other Olympians as well, with really cool stories. Getting to know them and their sports was really cool.”
While Twigg says it was excellent for base training, she hopped off in Istanbul, Turkey and flew back to New Zealand to get back in a boat and make her comeback.
“It actually all clicked (the decision to return to rowing) when I was in PyeongChang for the winter Olympics with the IOC. I think I was probably 50/50 at that point. But being at the Olympics and looking at the athletes there and the impact they were having on people and inspiring people, it all clicked.
“It’s probably less about the medals and things this time around and more about the fact that I still enjoy being an athlete and pushing my body and inspiring people,” Twigg says.
The plan now? Now back in New Zealand, Twigg will train over the winter months and do some trialing and erg testing in August. That will determine if Twigg will be back in a regional performance centre, at which point she can be invited back to the national squad.
“To be part of the New Zealand summer squad is the goal,” she says. “As an athlete you have a gift that is available for a certain amount of time and I feel like I still have something to give.”
For more about “the long way home” and to track the progress of the remaining two riders – visit their website here: http://www.thelongwayhome.co.nz/