As Jo Brigden-Jones waves goodbye on a stellar paddling career we look back on what has been a truly memorable and mostly joyous ride.
The Sydney 2000 Olympics was the impetus for Jo putting her hand up to try paddling (with a bit of a push along from mum). A shy, scrawny 13-year-old started flopping around Narrabeen Lake with the Sydney Northern Beaches Kayak. Jo’s first nationals at Nagambie in 2001 may not have been her finest moment – torrential rain for the entire event, a dunking falling out of the K4 and more chaos than she’d ever experienced. Fortunately, things only got better from there on.
Rumor had it that Duffy scared her but a couple of years later Duffy told her – “don’t fear to dream big” and so began the Olympic dream and what it might take to get there. Jo first represented Australia as a young 15-year-old on the Junior Team. While Jo never went to a Junior World Championships (they were only conducted every two years until 2009) she did make two junior teams on the years either side (2004/2006). The primary event for these tours was the Bochum International Regatta in Germany – one of the premier junior events at that time. Jo medaled at her first international event with a silver medal in the U/16 K1 1000. This was the teaser for what was to come. Jo was also selected to the Australian Team for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival team in 2005 and 2007 – a legacy event from the 2000 Olympics
Following on from Junior representative honors Jo went on to represent her country for the next 18 years, competing in two Olympic Games in London and Tokyo and every open national team from 2009-2021. While that elusive Olympic medal was not to be, Jo won a bronze medal in the 2011 World Championships in the K2 200 and multiple World Cup medals across a number of years.
Jo’s career has not been without disappointment and injury but Jo demonstrated over the years that determination and self-belief can conquer all. She’s endured multiple shoulder surgeries, toe surgery days before nationals where she had to be lifted into her boat to race and the bitter disappointment of missing the Rio Olympics after winning consistently through the domestic season.
Jo also chose to secure her life after sport while still competing. She began with a degree and career in nursing and more recently retrained as a paramedic. Balancing career and sport concurrently gave her a very balanced perspective on life and sport. Those who know Jo also know she loves coffee and loves to bake – something she hopes she will do more of now that she’s hung up her paddle.
In Jo’s own words “What I’ve learnt from sport is that it’s the people that you meet along the way that have the biggest influence on you. I got so much out of the people I surrounded myself with, who supported me and pushed me to achieve my goals.
I have so many memories of achieving those goals, pushing the limits, laughing with my teammates, the hard times, injuries and tears of frustration and the pure joy of success and achievement. I have travelled the world, paddled in some incredible places and met the most amazing people.”
The boat shed at Narrabeen won’t quite be the same without Jo’s familiar face. As she moves to the next stage of her life after sport she can be duly proud of her achievements and the legacy she leaves. As Sydney Northern Beaches Kayak Club’s first Olympian we wish her well and wish her every success.
Special thanks to Christine Duff for the article