Why Olympic rower Emma Twigg definitely wasn’t going to do the painting

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Emma and Charlotte Twigg bought their second house in January, and live in Cambridge near to the centralised high-performance rowing programme. Emma is a four-time Olympic Games rower for New Zealand, and Charlotte is a former Wellington cricket player and commercial manager for the Northern Districts cricket team. As told to Mikaela Wilkes.

Emma: If you want to row for New Zealand then you have to live and train in Cambridge. I’m from Hawke’s Bay originally – I’d like to end up back there in future – and Char is a Wellingtonian, but her family now live in Christchurch.

I left Napier when I left school and joined the New Zealand rowing team, and have pretty much been here ever since.

It’s a pretty little town, and I was nervous about how Char would enjoy it when she came up here. But she loves it as well.

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We previously lived in a house about half this size, about a block away. We’d definitely like to start a family at some point, so a bigger space is future-proofing and we’ve also got room for friends and family to come and stay.

For what we’re doing right now, we love it.

We get to live the quiet life during the week, but home is still really accessible to Auckland, Tauranga and Raglan for coastal weekend trips.

We put up an George & Willy display board in the kitchen and Char’s job is to come up with a new inspirational quote every week. She was really committed until she came across a David Groggins quote about how big fires start with lots of small sparks. We had that up before the Tokyo Games, and it’s kind of stuck.

The open-plan living and kitchen area is where the couple like to hang out during the day when they’re home. The walls are painted in Dulux Mt Aspiring Quarter.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

The open-plan living and kitchen area is where the couple like to hang out during the day when they’re home. The walls are painted in Dulux Mt Aspiring Quarter.

This most recent lockdown has actually been a dream.

I’m on leave, so I could just chill and go for walks.

Whereas in 2020, I had to train to a really high level from the garage. I spent lots of time on the rowing machine, which isn’t my favourite thing to do. And obviously, you’re training without your people around you egging you on.

It was a challenge, but we got there in the end. We were lucky in hindsight, that this one came after the Games. If it had come earlier, things could have been quite different.

Twigg says her results in the Tokyo Games could have been different if she'd been unable to train on the water due to lockdown conditions.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF/Waikato Times

Twigg says her results in the Tokyo Games could have been different if she’d been unable to train on the water due to lockdown conditions.

Winning gold was ‘a funny one’.

There’s a huge amount of elation and celebration when you cross the finish line in a race like that, but it was all pretty surreal for me.

I realised what I’d done, but because I’d taken so many years to finally achieve first place, it didn’t really sink in until I was actually on the podium.

I got very emotional thinking about all the people close to me, who had felt all the high and lows with me in prior competitions, and the excitement we were experiencing together. It was pretty nice.

Most of the time Twigg keeps her gold medal from the Tokyo Olympic Games in a sock, or on the TV console.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Most of the time Twigg keeps her gold medal from the Tokyo Olympic Games in a sock, or on the TV console.

It’s strange pulling an Olympic gold medal out of sock.

But a sock is actually the perfect thing to keep it safe and undented when I’m travelling around schools. I’m still doing a bit of training to keep myself sane, as well as visiting classes a couple of times a week to make sure I’m sharing the medal with young kids, and hopefully inspiring them.

At home, it tends to sit on our TV console.

Meanwhile, Char is at work and bringing home the bacon.

“I can't believe it, honestly, crossing the line it was disbelief,” Twigg told Sky TV after winning gold in the single sculls. “I didn't actually hear the hooter and I thought for a minute I'd stopped before [the end]. I'm lost for words. I can't believe it.”

Christel Yardley/Stuff

“I can’t believe it, honestly, crossing the line it was disbelief,” Twigg told Sky TV after winning gold in the single sculls. “I didn’t actually hear the hooter and I thought for a minute I’d stopped before [the end]. I’m lost for words. I can’t believe it.”

Mental health in sport is a delicate topic, as is mental health in general.

I think it’s great that we’re talking about it more.

There’s part of me that knows what is required to be best in the world at something. You’ve got to work really hard, and there will be some hard times. But we shouldn’t be sacrificing mental health achieve success.

This desire to be the best or to win at all costs, in anything you do, is probably not a healthy one. Finding balance is important.

The beauty of my experience regarding the post-games comedown is that I’ve previously returned from the Olympics without such great results. I was familiar with the general feelings of going to the Games, of being on such a high and then having to readjust to normality.

Emma and Charlotte Twigg like to hang out in their sunny kitchen during the days when they're at home.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Emma and Charlotte Twigg like to hang out in their sunny kitchen during the days when they’re at home.

And now I’m honestly just enjoying not having anything to do.

I’m accepting this is my downtime to see people, catch up, and have a normal life for a little while – having achieved what I wanted to achieve in Tokyo.

I think I’ll always be involved in sport, although not necessarily in rowing.

Twigg says she'd liked to put her masters in International Sports Management to use in future, perhaps in a more commercial sport, where she can work closely with other athletes.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Twigg says she’d liked to put her masters in International Sports Management to use in future, perhaps in a more commercial sport, where she can work closely with other athletes.

I see it as a real responsibility to be a role model for young LGBTQ people.

It’s almost a stereotype now that female athletes are gay, because there are so many of us who are open. But when I was young, I thought I was the only gay rower there was.

It’s still not hugely common within my sport compared to the likes of rugby or soccer, and I believe male athletes face more stigma than us.

A friend of mine, who works for the NZ Olympic Committee, introduced Char and I. We call her cupid.

She set up a brunch for the three of us, at a time when I was meant to be heading to Europe. I ended up cutting my trip short to return to rowing, and after about a month back in NZ, I realised we could have something more long term. We’ve been married for two years now.

‘I think the more we normalise being who you are, in whatever industry, then that's a really positive thing,' says Twigg.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

‘I think the more we normalise being who you are, in whatever industry, then that’s a really positive thing,’ says Twigg.

The couple have repainted the house to freshen it up. The garage is painted in Dulux Okaritō.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

The couple have repainted the house to freshen it up. The garage is painted in Dulux Okaritō.

We had painters in last year to give the whole house a spruce up.

I didn’t do the painting myself because that would’ve been a silly way give myself RSI before the Games.

I’m big into looking after my lawns, though. We had quite a lot of garden going on, and I’m a minimalist, so I stripped it right back.

We’ve created a space that we really love.

A friend of Emma's introduced her to Charlotte four years ago, and ‘the rest is history’.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

A friend of Emma’s introduced her to Charlotte four years ago, and ‘the rest is history’.

Dulux has a partnership with Emma Twigg, giving rowing clubs around New Zealand the chance to win a decorative renovation along with a training session. Keep an eye out for the announcement of this year’s winning club.



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