Webster and O'Hea ready to lead Australia

​Not only will Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship holders Rowie Webster and Jenna O’Hea be representing Australia at another Olympic Games, they will also be going as team captains.

Rowie Webster was announced captain of the 13-strong women's water polo team for Tokyo 2020 on Monday, and two days later, Jenna O'Hea was named captain of the 12-strong women's basketball team

Rowie Webster has been on scholarship for over 15 years at the Victorian Institute of Sport and during her time has been known to mentor many of the younger athletes.

In 2020 Rowie had to make significant career sacrifices in order to achieve her goal of competing at a third Olympic Games, so when the announcement was made that Tokyo would be postponed, it was a heavy blow for her personally.

But, It came as no surprise to anyone at the Victorian Institute of Sport, to see Rowie not only rise to the challenge of setting her sights on 2021, but also offer mental health and wellbeing advice to athletes around the country. Webster also continued to lead her Stingers teammates even though she was isolated from most of them with the majority of the team based interstate.

At 33 years of age, Webster was ecstatic to be named captain in her third Olympic Team.

“It’s unbelievable to be announced as Captain of an Olympic team,” Webster said.

“To be able to lead out an incredible group of women, it will truly be the honour of a lifetime and a childhood dream come true.”

“Hearing the words ‘you’re going to the Olympics’ from your head coach is special. I probably didn’t realise how much I needed to hear those words finally being said.”

Throughout her journey, she has inspired and touched so many people at the Victorian Institute of Sport but insists that “it takes a village to raise an Olympian” and that she wanted to take an opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to her journey.

One of those people, is VIS Strength and Conditioning coach, Jono Wallace-Smith, who has worked closely with Webster for many years now. Her selection onto the Olympic team came at no surprise for Wallace-Smith, admitting that Webster may be the most competitive person he has ever met. 

“Not a year has gone by that I have worked with her where she is not trying to add another dimension to her game and is super clear about how we’re going to go about doing that.” He said.

“When you consider everything that she has gone through during this last Olympic cycle – the highs of international medals and her captaincy, and the lows of some terrible injuries – her selection is a truly remarkable achievement.”

“To say I am proud of her going to a third Olympic Games couldn’t be more of an understatement.”

After a nine-year gap between her debut in London 2012 and second Olympic Team in Tokyo, Jenna O’Hea will be given the opportunity to lead the Australian Opals out in Tokyo.

2020 was an extraordinary difficult year for O’Hea who broke her wrist early in the year and had to work hard in order to return to the court in time for Tokyo 2020.

When COVID ruined those plans O’Hea threw herself into the “iso” training regime and was a huge inspiration for not just the players in the Australian squad but also for other Victorian Institute of Sport athletes who she often reaches out to.

O’Hea is passionate about raising awareness around mental health and following a conversation with the Southside Flyers management she decided to use basketball to talk about mental health.

Through her own initiative of personally wanting to donate $100 to Lifeline for each 3-point shot she made, the 8 WNBL clubs and WNBL organisation supported the initiative, which resulted in over $15,000 raised.

"I found the more vulnerable I was, the more honest people are back to me.” O’Hea said.

O’Hea is a well-liked regular around the Victorian Institute of Sport gym and a huge supporter of the other elite athletes around her. She regularly posts congratulations messages to other VIS athletes on her Instagram when they achieve success and posts mental health messages with links to Lifeline and other support means.

Victorian Institute of Sport Strength and Conditioning coach Ben King, is one of the VIS experts that has had the "privilege" of supporting O'Hea through her journey, and he couldn't be happier to hear the news of her selection. 

"This has been a long and arduous preparation for any Olympic athlete, let alone a team/national captain. To see the way Jenna has carried herself has reminded me of the privilege I have to work with the quality of people that I do." King said. 

"Jenna is the ultimate professional and an athlete that knows how to get the best out of herself." 

Like Webster, at 33 years of age, O’Hea can’t wait to lead the team out in Tokyo.

“There’s a lot of mixed emotions with this announcement.” O’Hea said.

“To say I’m excited is an understatement but there’s also a huge sense of relief.”

“It’s been a difficult 24 months with the delay of the Games and I’m proud of each and every Opals squad member for their strength and resilience throughout this process. The 12 of us are ready to come together and compete for that elusive Olympic gold medal.”

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