Tara Rigney, one of 11 Sydney University Boat Club members bound for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, has a second important project on her plate besides winning gold in the Women’s Single Scull.

While undertaking her arduous rowing commitments, Tara is in the midst of her final subject in a Bachelor of Commerce degree which she is hoping to compete this semester. As a member of the Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness Elite Athlete Program, she’s being helped to organise her busy schedule by EAP staff to hopefully come away with a gold and a degree.

The Paris Games will be Tara’s second – she rowed in the women’s double scull with Amanda Bateman at the 2022 Tokyo Games where they finished fifth in their heat and won their B Final for an overall result of seventh at their first Olympic appearance.

But representing Australia in rowing wasn’t one of her early ambitions. While attending Loretto, Kirribill, she represented the school in cross country and rowing and was a junior SUBC member. She also represented in netball, her passion at the time. And her ambition was to play for the Matildas.

“I was playing for the Under 19 state netball team in 2016 and 2017,” Tara told Paddling Australia’s Rupert Guinness. “Both times I ruptured my ACL. “The first time I couldn’t play netball for 12 months. By the time 12 months had come around, it was time to trial again for the team. So I tried again for the team and was selected. I played four weeks. Then on a training session, I ruptured my ACL the same way for a second time.”

And that was the end of her netball ambitions. But her days as a junior member of the SUBC paid dividends when six months after post ACL surgery SUBC rowing coach Alfie Young contacted her. “He had remembered me from school,” she said. “He’d heard that I hadn’t rowed for about three years. He reached out and asked: ‘Do you want to come down and try rowing again at Sydney University?’ I was like ‘this will be a really good way to keep my fitness up for netball’.

“I loved rowing at Sydney Uni and learnt a lot from Alfie throughout my time there. I went down and hopped in the single scull. I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed rowing at school but more because of the friendships. I didn’t have the passion I have now for the sport. As soon as I jumped in single, I thought ‘this is awesome’.

“I loved being in a smaller boat because you could see the reward and the correlation between making your technical change and the speed. I planned on going back to netball, but I just loved rowing too much and it became my No.1 priority.”

Tara’s NSW rowing debut came in 2019 when she was selected in the state women’s youth VIII which raced and won the Bicentennial Cup at the Interstate Regatta. Following a dominant performance at the 2021 NSW titles she was selected as the NSW senior women’s sculling representative for the Interstate Regatta. She duly won the national title for the Nell Slatter trophy. She also teamed with Amanda Bateman to win the Australian double scull title. She won the single scull title again in 2023 and the open double scull triple with Rowen Meredith.

Tara made her Australian representative debut in 2019 competing in the coxless pair at the World Under 23 Rowing Championships in Sarasota where they finished 10th.

Following her effort at the Tokyo Olympics, Tara was selected in the Australian sculling squad for the 2022 international season, including the World Rowing Championships. She won bronze in the single scull at WRC II in Ponzan, silver at WRD III in Lucerne and bronze at Racize.

Backing up in the Australian team in 2023, she won silver at WRC II in Varese, Italy, and silver at WRC III in Lucerne. She then qualified for the Paris Games with a bronze at the WRC in Belgrade, Serbia.

Looking back on those four years she said it was only at the end of 2019 that she sat in the single. “That year really signified my journey from falling out of the boat in my first race – I also fell out of my boat at the National Championships in 2021 after being selected in the double – to my 2022 season, with getting that bronze medal,” she said.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way. I was really proud of myself, and grateful for the support of Rowing Australia, my coach Ellen Randell and the Sydney University Boat Club.”

An academic and sporting double would be a fine reward.