As a fourth generation member of Tamar Rowing Club who has spent half her life rowing, the prospect of a maiden world championship has Ciona Wilson rather excited.
After her first international season, Wilson is in pole position to row in the Australian women’s eight in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv in September and said she is loving the journey.
“I’ve been rowing for 13 years and I just turned 26 so half my life. That’s a long time to be going backwards. But I would not change anything,” she said.
“I’ve made a lot of life-long friends, learned lessons about discipline and perseverance. I think it’s a very character-building sport. But it’s not for everyone.
“I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve learned that international racing is not dissimilar to domestic racing just a lot faster.
“I’ve also learned that racing is actually quite fun and gets funner the higher up you go.”
Having relocated to the women’s national training centre at Penrith, the former Launceston Church Grammar student has joined Huon’s Sarah Hawe and Georgia Nesbitt as Tasmanians in the national squad.
Wilson rowed in the eight which came third and fifth in world cups in Linz and Lucerne earlier this year and then won at the prestigious Royal Henley Regatta in a new course record.
Big Boat Time! It's the Women's Eight first up! Our girls (and boy!) in green and gold will take on an impressive field including China @Roeibond@RowingNZ@usrowing@rowingcanada. Can we get another World Rowing Cup medal? #WRCLucerne#ARTeampic.twitter.com/Vpdq5gGcUu— Rowing Australia (@RowingAust) July 15, 2018
“Henley was unbelievable. I had been told what to expect but it was probably three times what I was expecting in terms of the crowd and atmosphere. It was really special.
“It definitely gives a good taste of what the international level is about and makes me want to step up for Bulgaria and to compete at the international level for as long as I can.”
Wilson will soon head to Rockhampton for a final training camp before the team flies to Europe, for two more weeks training in Varese, Italy, and then to Bulgaria.
Rowing Australia is prioritising the women’s four in which Hawe and her crewmates did not lose a race in 2017, winning two world cups and a world championship, with the class set to join the Olympic program in 2020.
The eight crew is far less settled with injuries hampering its long-term preparation for Tokyo.
“We’ve had a mixed season,” Wilson said. “So far this season we’ve had a rib fracture, a stress reaction, appendicitis and a wrist injury so we’re just waiting for everyone to be 100 per cent fit before the selection process can begin.
“I think we are quite a strong crew. We’re very young and quite inexperienced at senior international competition. We’ve got a lot of development still to come but we’ve learned a lot through the season and hopefully can step up onto the podium at worlds. That’s where we want to be.
“I’ve found that being part of a women’s eight can be quite loud. When you have six boats lined up each with eight rowers and a cox it can be very loud and you have to learn to channel that out and focus.
“I’m quite excited to see what the level will be in Bulgaria. I’m sure it will be quite a step up from the world cups. Most people tell me it's not much different to the world cups just faster and harder and it’s only going to get faster still for Tokyo.
That's a long time to be going backwards.Ciona Wilson
“I just want to get through my first international campaign and hope to get back to the centre next year.”
Wilson spent last winter training with Tasmanian Institute of Sport coach Brendan Long and fellow national aspirants Henry Youl and Blair Tunevitsch on the Tamar River but said she has benefited from Rowing Australia’s introduction of national training centres.
“On the Tamar I was the only female that was rowing internationally and although I enjoyed training with the boys, here I’m training with 25 other women all pushing each other so it’s been great
”I think the centre has been really good being settled in one location and I can study up here and do other things outside of rowing. You can create a new life. But I know I’m here for a reason.”
With a father and grandfather who also rowed at state level, Wilson is well aware of Tasmania’s rich rowing heritage and keen to continue a lengthy line of international representatives.
“It is quite a strong history to Tasmanian rowing and a lot of women like Kerry (Hore), Dana (Faletic), Kate (Hornsey) and Sarah (Hawe) and I’m very conscious of continuing that, especially in sweep rowing.
“Also there has not been a lot of heavyweight female rowers to come out of Launceston in quite a while. Ingrid Fenger and Carly Cottam were both lightweights, so I’m proud of that.”
While you're with us, did you know that you can now sign up to receive breaking news updates direct to your inbox? Sign up here.