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How to nurture an Olympian!

When your mum is as strong, inspirational and driven as Penny Wilson the footsteps to follow are gargantuan, even with this pedigree Olympic medal winner Emma Wilson has carved her own path, forged her own destiny. What a jaw dropping mother and daughter power house the Wilson's are! Dripping in solid gold determination!


The apple doesn't fall far from the magnificent Wilson tree, abundant with the fruit of their labour. The flowers of modest stars are given room to bloom, humble in their nature and with the roots firmly planted in the family, with the tender love only a mother can give the secret to their success is strong, calm supportive arms wrapped around them all with lashings of competitive spirit.


I have been lucky enough to speak to Penny and ask her what it is like to be the mum of an Olympic windsurfer, in this interview we delve into the journey of her daughter, the emotions, the immense pride, the power of a mothers love and how to nurture an Olympian!


By Emma Nicholson.

I started off by asking Penny, Emma is following in your footsteps, you were a trailblazer in the sport of windsurfing, appearing at the 1992 Olympics when women's windsurfing made its debut, and again four years later in Atlanta, what did it mean to watch Emma’s bronze medal win?


Penny said: "I think when we knew that she had a medal secured before the medal race we were all so relieved. The mission had been to get a medal! I know its hard to believe, but I didn’t ever look at the results or want to know. I only knew how she was doing by talking to her brother Dan in Australia who was able to watch all the races live on TV!


"I would wake up in the morning turn on my phone and chat to Dan and Tash to find out how it was all going! Dan was so proud when his little sister was winning the Olympics! I didn’t get to speak to Emma until the evening after she had won her medal. When I saw her receive the medal with such an emotional celebration I knew how happy she was!"


"Finding a way to focus this bundle of energy that was going to try and win a medal at something at all cost!"

What did it take to get Emma winning the RS:X events at the Youth Sailing World Championships in 2016 and 2017 and medals at the 2018 and 2019 RS:X European Championships and the 2022 iQFoil European Championships?


Penny said: "Emma has always been extremely self-motivated, so all I can ever do is try and help her carry out her plans! She would say what she wanted to achieve and I would try sit down with her and work out how in a way that we could afford!


"Obviously the financial cost is massive and probably what we struggle with most now that the foiling equipment is so expensive. Some countries get all their equipment for free so obviously they have a big advantage.


"Luckily when the kids were little I trained to be a massage therapist specialising in injury rehabilitation, so this helps Emma to train hard and keep pushing. The transition from youth to senior had to be done earlier than conventional as Emma had her heart set on the Tokyo Olympics, so this had its challenges and again the transition from RSX to foil had to be expediated as the girls not doing the Tokyo Olympics were all able to swap to the foil 18 months before Emma.


"I think it helped that Emma and I had done a lot of fun foiling together from when we very first saw it and had both enjoyed wing foiling together, so foiling was something we were both pretty happy with. We really were not expecting Emma to do so well at Lake Garda in 2022 and to see her dominate every race until the medal race was a nice shock!"


"Emma chose the one sport she enjoyed most - windsurfing."

You are a true, windsurfing racing legend and Emma is such an inspiration to so many young people, you must be so proud of Emma?


Penny said: "I think we are often guilty of forgetting Emma got a bronze medal in Tokyo! Life always has so many challenges we are constantly moving on to the next. But yes I am very proud of her, but not only because of the results but of the way she deals with every challenge thrown at her and is able to find the positives from most situations."


"I just pick up the pieces and glue her back together again on land!"


Lets take it back to the beginning for Emma, when did you notice Emma had such potential? What support did you have to give Emma at the very beginning?


Penny said: "I don’t think it was really a case of noticing she had potential. More a case of finding a way to focus this bundle of energy that was going to try and win a medal at something at all cost! She played hockey, tennis, football and swam at full power. The windsurfing was a family activity at weekends.


"As each sport became more serious it was impossible to do them all and school work and exhaustion was taking over! Emma chose the one sport she enjoyed most - windsurfing - and focussed on that! Whilst doing GCSEs I would pick Emma up from school in Bournemouth, drive to Weymouth for training then back to Bournemouth ready for school the next day!"


Other parents reading this that maybe about to start the journey with their children into the windsurfing olympic pathway what advice would you give them?


Penny said: "Only do it if you love it! If that love ever goes then stop."

Who inspires you?


Penny said: "Good question. I was originally inspired by Ben Ainslie’s parents, the family support they were able to give him when he was competing as a young Olympian. It’s always been important to me to try and keep a family environment for as long as possible." What are some of your best memories from your windsurfing journey?


Penny said: "Best memories from my windsurfing journey have to honestly be introducing my kids to the sport when they were tiny. The smiles on their faces. I remember the first time Dan got into the harness and foot straps and sailed alongside me. That smile was priceless!"


"I am very proud of her, but not only because of the results, but of the way she deals with every challenge thrown at her."

Paris 2024 what are your hopes for Emma?


Penny said: "My hopes for Emma are totally that she enjoys herself! I don’t watch her race or on the water! In December Dan took me out on the rib to watch her on the IQ - that was the first time I had seen her in action! I just pick up the pieces and glue her back together again on land!"


"Best memories from my windsurfing journey have to honestly be introducing my kids to the sport."

Do you find that you can help Emma in ways that others can’t because you know exactly what she is going through?


Penny said: "Yes I think that is the strength of our relationship. We are able to chat rubbish to each other for hours. But also if she is upset about anything she will tell me and I can decipher it and try and find a solution whether it is to do with the racing, equipment, her body or her dirty washing!"

What are your emotions as you watch Emma on the world stage?


Penny said: "I literally can not watch. It is impossible for me. I can not think of anything worse. I don’t know why! My role is to help Emma do everything she can in the training so that there is no need for me to watch the racing!"


"Only do it if you love it! If that love ever goes then stop."


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