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Olympic rower visits Sporting School

24 March 2022

Five years after getting their first taste of rowing via the Sporting Schools program, a Canberra school has received a gift from a special visitor that is hoped to inspire the new generation.

Olympic rower Alex Purnell is signs autographs for students
Olympic rower Alex Purnell signs autographs for students at Melba Copland Secondary School.

Rowing gold medallist Alex Purnell OAM visited Melba Copland Secondary School last week to speak to students and deliver a rowing machine.

The 27-year-old was part of the Men’s Four alongside Alexander Hill, Jack Hargreaves and Spencer Turrin who won gold and set an Olympic record in Tokyo.

Purnell spoke to Year 7 students about his journey to becoming one of Australia’s top rowers and the challenges he faced in a sport that didn’t come naturally to him.

“If you have a dream and you are willing to work hard, put in the effort and have a good attitude then your hard work will pay off,” he said.

“It was quite surreal to cross the finish line in Tokyo and this gold medal is recognition of all the sacrifices we made and the hard work we put in.”

Purnell, who has received direct athlete support from the Australian Institute of Sport since 2018, was visiting the school as part of Rowing Australia’s new Coles Start2Row program which aims to unearth the next generation of rowers ahead of Brisbane 2032.

The pilot program will see 10 schools across Australia including in Dubbo, Lightning Ridge, Cowra and Darwin receive their own rowing machine to encourage students, particularly those not close to water, to try indoor rowing.

I’m blown away by the impact Sporting Schools has had on schools. The connection with schools is so important.

Rowing Australia Participation & Education Manager Ron Batt

Rowing Australia Participation & Education Manager Ron Batt said Melba Copland’s interest in the sport started after receiving funding through Sporting Schools to deliver rowing in 2017.

The school now has six rowing machines which are central to getting students involved in the sport.

“The school really enjoyed it and they were able to buy a rowing machine and have run several rowing programs since. They have so many students that want to do rowing which is a great problem to have!”

“I’m blown away by the impact Sporting Schools has had on schools. The connection with schools is so important. Sporting Schools gives children a chance to try so many different sports they wouldn’t normally get to attempt,” Mr Batt said.

Rowing Australia offers the Riggers Indoor Rowing program for primary and secondary schools, with secondary schools also able to try an ‘on water’ rowing program at a local rowing club. In total, 21 rowing programs have been delivered in the ACT since Sporting Schools began in 2015.

“The students absolutely love it,” Melba Copland Secondary School teacher Joy Terry said.

“Students who would normally be reticent to engage in things will get on the erg [rowing machine]. They are focusing on the screen and challenging themselves. Staff have also become highly engaged in it challenging the students so that’s also become a huge motivator.”

Melba Copland Secondary School has also delivered Sporting Schools programs including tennis, touch football, netball, badminton, volleyball, lacrosse, rugby union, AFL, football and golf.

Find out more about Sporting Schools at

More information on the Coles Start2Row program is available on Rowing Australia’s website.

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