by Committee member Sara-Jane Seery
LIFE OUT WEST
I grew up on a cotton farm 600km west of Brisbane. The closest township, Talwood comprised a corner store, primary school, and pub spread over two small streets. The one road in and out of town meanders parallel to the border river like a black snake. Trips to ‘town’ – or Goondiwindi – were all-day outings requiring a 2hr round trip, and groceries were bought in quantities to last two weeks. Power outages, drought and tip runs – life out west was unique. I have the fondest memories of walking the paddock fallows with the cotton in full bloom and galloping along the levy banks on horseback. I will cherish them always.
THE HORSE GIRL
I have always been – first and foremost – a horse girl.
I lived up to all the cliches: a room decorated with horse posters, figurines and books. I owned all the Saddle ClubTM books and merchandise and dedicated spare time to learning everything about horses.
I wasn’t introduced to horse riding in a conventional way, but what I would describe as a twist of fate. In 2004, my dad noticed a horse in the back country of the property. A rogue bay stockhorse mare, she was intelligent and cunning with an unwavering reluctance to be caught. No history and previous owners long moved on, we named her ‘Girl’. We participated in my first pony club camp together. As I improved and grew more confident, I moved onto different horse partners and continued to ride at local shows and compete at interschool competitions.
Horses teach you so much more than riding. I learned many life lessons in the saddle: loving unconditionally, strength, perseverance, success, failure and uncompromising loss.
I am who I am – for the love of horses.
Upon graduating high school in 2011, I stood at the infamous ‘crossroad of choices’, where I had to make the decision on what life I wanted to lead in the next 5 to 10 years and beyond. I found myself asking the question “what is a skill that has unlimited potential?”. I started looking to careers with languages and started learning Japanese to make myself stand out in the crowd on the competitive jobs market and bring more opportunities my way.
It was not easy for my family to understand the resolve, and it took courage to remain steadfast to my decision in favor of a more traditional career path. It was many firsts for my family: the first to pursue tertiary education, the first to pursue a language-related career, the first to be competent in a language other than English.
I continued my Japanese education in university and took advantage of the opportunities in cultural exchange with visiting Japanese students in addition to studying abroad in Japan. I was fortunate enough to find employment as a Coordinator of International Relations on the JET Program in 2016, which accelerated my potential in a Japan-related career.
TWO WORLDS COLLIDE
It was while working on the JET Program when I decided I wanted to be a part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I volunteered at a local riding stable in Japan to meet people in the Japanese equestrian community and learn the technical terms. When volunteer applications opened, I applied to be a volunteer through the general volunteer portal. Then, I started to reach out to professionals in the high-performance team of Equestrian Australia. I researched several avenues to see where I could be involved. After returning to Australia in 2018, I felt defeated with no leads coming to fruition and I had settled to being a regular volunteer.
However, in May 2019, I received a formal offer from the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee Volunteer Team to participate in the Tokyo2020 Test Event – Eventing. In August 2019, I travelled to Tokyo to be a part of the Test Event as a volunteer on the Sports Information Desk. I gained insight into important processes in sports administration and met experts who are responsible for gathering important data on climate, facilities and surfaces. I was also fortunate enough to see the construction progression of the stadium and arena at Baji Koen Equestrian Park and had the privilege to see the first phases of the Sea Forest Equestrian Park (cross country). A few months later, I received a formal letter of promotion to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games as a Technical Delegate Translator.
WORKING AT THE TOKYO OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic had distorted the excitement surrounding the Tokyo Olympic Games. Preparing for international travel was incredibly stressful, and the fear of being denied boarding the flight or entry to Japan was very real. The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body of equestrian sport had kindly provided PCR rapid tests which were recognized and approved by the Japanese Government. I flew Singapore airlines into Tokyo via Singapore. In Changi airport, I met various staff and media crew from different sports. Upon arrival into Tokyo, the airport system for immigration was completely different. That day, there was a huge influx of athletes, teams and staff which congested the system, and it took 8 hours to process through Narita. No food was provided and only one bottle of water post spit test. Once cleared, we collected our accreditations and were ushered to the bus station. we were to catch a bus to the TCT transport depot and change to special TCT Tokyo2020 Taxi’s to the hotel. I reached the hotel at 7pm.
My role for the Tokyo Olympic Games was as Overall TO Coordinator, and my duties comprised of assisting technical delegates and international officials with their duties by disseminating information, assistance with Covid-19 testing and travel arrangements. I later assisted on the ground, assisting officials for the cross country and showjumping phases of the Eventing discipline. As a technical delegate, integration with athletes and nation teams was restricted, however, I was fortunate to have a well-rounded role where I could learn the administrative side to sport at that level and have the opportunity to meet high-profile judges and experienced FEI stewards from various nations. It was also a unique opportunity to witness the integration of Japanese stewards and officials at international level. I would like to be an international official in equestrian sport in the future and feel very motivated and inspired to continue down this path to work with the amazing people who contribute to my sport in this way.
Between the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I underwent a mini quarantine with Paralympics Australia as a requirement to transfer between the two Games. I was transported to Mishima City in Shizuoka, the region for road cycling and velodrome, and spent 5 days in quarantine with other transferring staff from Paralympics Australia. I was tested for Covid-19, and once cleared to returned to Tokyo.
At the Paralympic Games, I was recruited by Paralympics Australia as a National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Assistant. I assisted Paralympics Australia staff with their operations within the Paralympic Village. As the building was over-capacity under Covid-19 measures, I was accommodated outside the Paralympic Village in Shinagawa, and was transported by minibus with other Shinagawa-based staff into the Paralympic Village each day. Throughout the Paralympic Games I assisted in the following; setting up the village, decorating the communal spaces within the building allotment and setting up the athletes’ rooms, assist nutrition team with the delivery of the food into the building; collecting athletes and staff from Haneda airport; collect mail, medal boxes and certificates for distribution to athletes; assist teams at venues; assist the pack up of goods and sports equipment for shipment back to Australia etc. The atmosphere within the team was unified and electric, it will be one of my greatest memories as being a member of the Paralympic ‘Mob’.
The Tokyo dream has come and gone – so what am I going to do next? The short truth is, I don’t know.
I have recently been selected to participate in the Australia-Japan Youth Dialogue – an initiative to support emerging young leaders in the Australia-Japan relationship, so I hope to meet people with a shared passion for our bi-lateral partnership and explore some possible collaboration efforts.
Following the wave of the Olympic and Paralympic experience and with Brisbane the Olympic host city in 2032, I would like to work on supporting the participation of people with disabilities in the Australia and Japan sphere through sport, arts and cultural exchange between our two countries.
Moreover, with 2022-2032 celebrated as the “Decade of Indigenous Languages” by UNESCO, I would also like to get involved in supporting the indigenous Ainu and Okinawan communities of Japan and the preservation of indigenous languages in both Australia and Japan.
Further, I would like to investigate the current strategies for the preservation of Japan’s 8 indigenous horse breeds.
Whatever I choose to do next, it will exist within the realm of Japan, disability or horses.