By -

Law student and Australian waterpolo player Amy Ridge has long dreamt of competing at an Olympic Games. As the COVID-19 crisis looks likely to postpone Tokyo 2020, Ridge shares her hopes and fears.

Most lawyers in NSW would agree the past month has presented challenges that law school – or even years of practice – could not prepare them for.

Fortunately, Australian waterpolo player and UNSW law student Amy Ridge is used to being thrown in the deep end. Juggling hours of training in the pool with studying a law degree at UNSW over the past four years has required it.

“Most mornings, I’m out at Homebush training in the pool for two hours from 7am, then between 9 and 10.30am we will have gym, or pilates, or a spin session in a 35-degree heat chamber,” Ridge says.

“I have the middle of the day off – and that’s when I’d usually be racing back to the eastern suburbs to go to university or studying a subject online at home. Then I’m back in the pool for club training or national league games at night.”

The 23-year-old had her first sink-or-swim shot at a professional waterpolo career when she debuted for Australia in April 2017. She made a splash for the Australian “Stingers” at the World League Intercontinental Tournament in Sacramento, and quickly established herself as a formidable goal scorer.

“That game is a bit of a blur. I just remember I got in the pool for the first time,” Ridge laughs. “They put me in, and within 20 seconds I scored a goal. I think I actually scored two goals in that game, against China.”

The Stingers took home a gold medal from the tournament. Ridge returned home to blitz the 2018 local season in Australia, earning the title of second-highest goal scorer in the national league, with 50 goals from 22 matches for her then Cronulla Sharks team (she has since switched clubs to her original team, the UNSW “Killer Whales”).

I meet Ridge at UNSW’s main campus in the eastern suburbs of Sydney in the days prior to the COVID-19 crisis escalating rapidly in Australia. At the time of our interview, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is yet to set a ban on gatherings of people. The International Olympic Committee believes the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead. Universities remain open and sports leagues around the nation continue to play, but an eerie feeling floats through UNSW’s campus.

Ten days later, as I prepare to publish this story online, the Australian Olympic Committee has announced that Australia will not send athletes to a Games this year, and for athletes to prepare for a Games in 2021. By the time this story is printed in a week’s time, the Games will almost certainly be postponed.

image description
Amy Ridge, Australian waterpolo player and Arts/Law student at UNSW.

Ridge and her teammates have already been rattled by the virus, when team officials made a snap decision to cancel a training tour in February to Europe. The girls were due to play in Italy and Hungary, but had to fly home when team doctors caught wind of the crisis hitting Italy.

“We were on a flight to Italy, stopping over in Dubai. We were on the overnight flight to Dubai when patient zero in Italy was infected, and the news about it came out when we landed,” says Ridge. “The Australian Olympic Committee doctors were like, nope, you are not going. So, we spent 36 hours in Dubai then flew home.”

The decision proved to be an incredibly good call. The COVID-19 crisis rapidly exploded in Europe, with forced lockdowns and public shops, facilities and restaurants closing. Thousands of confirmed cases have been reported in Italy – where Ridge’s team was due to play and train for two weeks.

image description
Ridge - second from bottom right - and the Australian waterpolo team.

Ridge, who has been dreaming of a chance to represent Australia at the Olympics since she was young, will be gutted if the Olympics is postponed. As a child, she watched replays of the Stingers winning gold at the Sydney Games in 2000. These days, she swims alongside players who won bronze in London or Beijing. She says her hero is teammate Bronwen Knox, who just finished studying a Juris Doctor and is aiming to play in a fourth consecutive Olympics in Tokyo.

“This has been my life for four years, my dream,” Ridge reflects. “The Tokyo Olympics will be the pinnacle of all our [team members’] careers. If it was cancelled, I’d be heartbroken.” Fortunately the Games looks likely to be postponed rather than cancelled. Either way, Ridge is raising her gaze to a further horizon. She says competing at the following 2024 Olympic Games in Paris is well within her reach.

“Do I see myself getting there? Definitely,” she says.

A post-sport legal career is still a long way off, but Ridge is considering pathways into humanitarian or sports law when she hangs up her waterpolo cap.

“Bronwen Knox has been doing some work for ASADA – the anti-doping agency – and she wants to combine her law degree with work in a sports field. That seems like a really good way to do it,” Ridge says.

Ridge has deferred her law degree this semester to focus on training. Amid the haze of indecision surrounding the 2020 Olympics, she is gaining valuable skills that cannot necessarily be taught at law school.

“Playing at an elite level of sport, you learn resilience,” Ridge says.

“You learn to work in a team, and see the benefits of hard work and persistence. After being overlooked and missing out on many selections as a junior, I will always have something to prove. I’m always trying to get better.”