The start of a new year brings a flurry of resolutions and goal-setting, and for Jess Fox it’s no different. Each January, the 25-year-old canoeist embraces the fresh start and opens a new journal to fill with her goals for the next 365 days.
And while it would be easy to assume that Jess’ list for 2020 has one goal only – to medal at the Tokyo Olympics, which she qualified for at the end of last year – there are plenty of other events on her calendar. The Australian Open Canoe Slalom in February. Three official Olympic training camps. The World Cup in June. And then there are her off-water goals.
“I try to write down some physical goals, some competition goals and some personal goals,” Jess explains. “Obviously for 2020 my sporting goals are pretty clear, but I also want to take the time to set really good routines and take care of myself, and make sure that in the lead-up to the Olympics I have things I enjoy doing that aren’t for a specific purpose. I love to read and paint, so making a little bit of time each week where I’m filling up that cup, relaxing the mind and the body, and just doing something else.”
More than sport
It’s a balanced, level-headed approach – both on and off the water – that hasn’t wavered since Jess first started paddling on the Nepean River at the foot of the Blue Mountains in NSW as a child. Her parents Richard and Myriam, both Olympic canoeists themselves, moved the family from France to Australia in the late 1990s to take coaching roles in the Australian canoe slalom team ahead of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Jess began playing around in the boats on the weekends and by the age of 15 was competing internationally. Since then, she’s represented Australia at the London and Rio Olympics, and has unseated her dad’s previous record to become the most successful individual paddler in history. Her trophy cabinet holds 26 World Cup gold medals, seven World Championship titles and two Olympic medals.
Jess’ achievements on dry land are also impressive. In 2011, the year before she competed at the London Olympics, she topped the state for PDHPE in the HSC and scored a near-perfect ATAR of 99.1, making her Dux of her high school. In 2018, she completed her bachelor’s degree in Social Science (Psychology).
Even though she’s only in her mid-twenties, Jess understands the importance of preparing for life after paddling. After Tokyo, she plans to do some work experience and explore different fields she’s interested in pursuing.
“I took  to try and think about where I’d like to go next. I think it’s important for athletes to have that balance, at least at certain times of their careers, to take your mind off your training and try to do something else, and also set yourself up for life after sport once your athletic career’s over,” she explains.
“I think that’s an area where a lot of athletes struggle, going from the highs of being in the Olympics and then suddenly life’s normal and there’s not that same thrill and excitement of competition.”
But there are still plenty of thrills to come. In the lead-up to the Games in July is a demanding training schedule to help Jess prepare.
A typical week involves five technical white-water sessions, one or two sessions on the flat water and then two to three gym workouts. Jess also makes sure she finds the time to fit in at least one Pilates class a week at her gym.
“What I do on the water and in the gym is quite fast-paced and explosive and powerful, so it’s nice to slow it down and focus on posture and technique and those little muscles. I like that it complements my training,” she says.
And even though she’s a gun on the water, Jess is more than happy to admit she started in the same beginner’s boat as everyone else when it comes to Pilates.
“Everyone’s kind of thinking, ‘Oh, you’re an Olympic athlete’ and it’s like, ‘No, no, no, I’m the same as you,’” she laughs. “It’s nice to learn something new, to just feel like you’re not good at something [and] to evolve your technique and do it with people you wouldn’t normally do it with.”
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Focused on the finish line
With such a big year ahead, Jess says she’s lucky to have a great support network around her: her mum and dad, sister and boyfriend – who are athletes, too – as well as a group of understanding friends “who get that I won’t always be able to come out to events and will miss some birthdays”. Then there are her teammates, strength coach, physio, team manager, sponsors and management team.
“They all make up that bigger picture [and] help you get to where you’re trying to go.”
And, of course, it all comes back to those goals. “I’ve always set my goals quite high and challenged myself each year to learn something new, to evolve my technique or just grow as an athlete and as a paddler, so when I do get to the next Olympic year I’m better prepared than I was at the previous Games. I like that saying that motivation will come and go, but it’s discipline that keeps you going,” Jess reveals.
“Some mornings you won’t want to get up to go to training or it will be harder to stay motivated, but what’s important is knowing what your goal is and that you’ve established that routine and the discipline to keep going when it’s a bit harder.”
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