With the countdown on to the Tokyo Olympics, now a fortnight away, there is perhaps no one in South Australia more excited than 88-year-old retired shearer John Fahey of Hallett.
And rightfully so, because John’s granddaughter Emily Abbot, 24, has been selected to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in group rhythmic gymnastics.
John said he could not be prouder, but was not at all surprised by Emily’s selection.
“We’re very proud of her, but her selection is not surprising to us really because she’s so dedicated to whatever she starts,” he said.
“I know her very well and I know that when she starts something she’s got the character to pull through, she’s got great realistic ideas that when it’s the right time she’ll be there.”
It has not been an easy road for the young Olympian, having battled through serious injury and major surgery on her hip to repair a shredded and detached ligament and a rare benign bone tumour.
“She’s had a few times when she’s been very sad because of injury but I just knew by her character and the way she’s fought things off during her childhood that she would get through,” John said.
Emily, who spent some of her childhood at Minlaton on Yorke Peninsula and then Adelaide where her parents Margy and Chris still live, moved to Brisbane three years ago to pursue her Olympic dream.
But many school holidays were spent with her grandfather John and late grandmother Cathy at Hallett.
“She loved coming up here in the school holidays and we’d go out with her siblings too and explore the old gold mines around Ulooloo and had some great times,” John said.
“She also loved the horses I had here and she used to come with me and hop on a horse whenever she could, but once she started getting very good at gymnastics I used to get concerned that she would get stood on by a horse and I had to try and curb her a bit from her energetic wanting to get on the back of a horse in case she injured herself.”
Emily’s determination is perhaps not too surprising given John’s own commitment and work ethic, having only retired from shearing as a 67-year-old and then only because he cut a tendon in his thumb.
“It was hard work, but everything is hard work and it’s really not that hard if you love what you’re doing,” he said.
As she gets set to head to Canberra tomorrow into a training ‘bubble’ ahead of flying out to Tokyo, Emily will be in the first Australian rhythmic gymnastics team to ever compete at the Olympic Games.
“My coach has been trying to get a group to the Olympics for 25 years, we’re the first group of rhythmic gymnasts from Australia to go to the Olympics,” Emily told the Plains Producer.
“It’s just surreal, this is what we’ve been working so hard for – 30 hours a week, six days a week, two training sessions a day – so it’s just the most special news to finally be named.”
Emily said it would be a “very different Olympics” for competitors in 2021 but despite less pomp and ceremony, she was still excited and honoured to be competing.
“It will be a fly-in, fly-out Olympics – we head to Canberra on July 15, fly to Tokyo on August 1, arrive on August 2, compete on the seventh and fly out on the ninth,” she said.
“We’re only allowed to basically go to the gymnastics hall to train, compete, and be in our rooms, but all understandably so in the middle of a pandemic, and I don’t really care because I’m going to the Olympics and that’s been my biggest dream forever.”
Her dream began as a 10-year-old when she first took up gymnastics and she said she was immediately “hooked”.
“Last year mum opened a box that grandma had given her, and inside were some books of drawings that I’d done when staying at Poppy John and Grandma’s house in Hallett when I was 10,” Emily said.
“On them I’d written ‘I am Emily Abbot and I want to go to the Olympics’.”
Emily credits her ‘Poppy John’ with much of her drive for success.
“Poppy John is the most incredible man, he taught me to dream,” she said.
“He’s the one that taught me that you can have the craziest dream ever, he’s the biggest dreamer, and he also gave that same determination to my mum, so between him, mum and my dad as well, that’s where I get it from.
“I’ve always had big dreams and it’s because Poppy John taught me that – he’d take us out and pretend we were rock stars, it didn’t matter how crazy it was, and just make something out of nothing.
“He always taught me to dream massive, so I really have to thank him for all the dreams I’ve had that seemed impossible – he taught me if you work for it you can get there.”