Running in the family

Just to be able to call yourself an Olympian is what we’re celebrating.

Are you related to an Olympic athlete? IEU member Helen Davies is. She tells us about life with a rapidly rising star of track and field.

When Helen Davies, a teacher at St Pius X High School at Adamstown, asked her 10-year-old daughter, Rose, how she’d won her event at the first diocesan athletics carnival she’d attended, Rose’s answer was simple: “I just ran, Mum!” Fast forward 11 years to 2021, and distance runner Rose has just represented Australia in the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 5000 metres.

Rose Davies attended three schools in the Hunter region: Holy Family Primary School at Merewether Beach; St Pius X High School at Adamstown for Years 7-10; and St Francis Xavier College at Hamilton for Years 11 and 12. Helen Davies has been a teacher at St Pius X for 19 years. Originally trained as a PE teacher, she left teaching to work in local government for 13 years, returning to teaching in 2002. “I think I’ve been in the union all that time,” Helen says.

When Rose is not running, she’s studying to become a teacher herself, having enrolled in a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) at the University of Newcastle. It runs in the family.

Brilliant career

In January this year, at Melbourne’s Zatopek 10 meet (named after Czech long-distance runner Emil Zatopek) Rose took out Australia’s 10,000 metre title in a time of just 31 minutes, 39.97 seconds. This stellar run rocketed her from Australia’s 50th best time ever to seventh. But it didn’t quite qualify her for the Olympics.

Then in May, at Nijmegen in the Netherlands, Rose finished fourth in the 5000m, clocking a personal best of 15:08.48 – beating the Olympic qualifying standard and paving her way to Tokyo. Her family’s joy for her was tinged with disappointment, as spectators could not attend this year’s Games owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rose’s national athletics career began when she was in just Year 6 at Holy Family. “She was selected for her first national representation in cross country, gaining a silver medal,” Helen says. “It was our first experience at an elite event. Rose was so focused on getting the NSW blue tracksuit, she thought of little else.”

Recognising her talent and enthusiasm, Rose’s parents sought out a coach. Then when Rose was 13 and attending St Pius X, she won her first national title for the 1500 metres. “She competed throughout her four years at St Pius X, and we’ll always be grateful for the support she got from the school,” Helen says.

During Year 11 and 12 at St Francis Xavier, injuries and a focus on her studies impacted on Rose’s athletics. “She was getting college offers from the United States, but she wasn’t convinced it was the right path for her,” Helen says.

Finding funding

Becoming an Olympic athlete requires substantial financial input, but in juggling her studies with training and travel, Rose no longer has time for paid work. For four years she worked at Newcastle Leagues Club, which rostered her shifts around her running schedule.

“But there came a point that Rose couldn’t maintain a training workload of running over 160km per week and still front up for eight-hours shifts on her feet,” Helen says.

With little government funding on offer for junior athletes, it was up to Helen and Paul to support her. “Like a lot of parents in this position, it has required a big financial commitment to ensure Rose has had every opportunity we can manage,” Helen says.

For the past two years, commercial sponsorship from New Balance, which makes athletics shoes for women, has helped. “It’s particularly helpful with training gear and shoes – Rose goes through lots of shoes!” Helen says. “Now, as an Olympian, we hope she will attract more sponsorship as she will need to travel often to compete internationally.”

Every little bit counts, Helen says. “I would like to acknowledge the work of the IEU in that regard – any increase in salary assists us in supporting Rose,” she says. “I’m aware that the gains we’ve made in pay are off the back of the challenges pursued by the union.”

Then there’s that perennial issue teachers face, workload intensification. “The increasing demands of a teaching workload over the years certainly made it challenging to get Rose to the places she needed to be,” Helen says.

Olympic spirit

Rose may not have made it to the finals in Tokyo, but that’s beside the point. “Just to be able to call yourself an Olympian is what we’re celebrating,” Helen says.

“We knew many people were cheering Rose on from their homes and we are incredibly grateful for and humbled by the support she has. I extend a big thank you to the staff at St Pius X. Their interest and efforts have helped make this exciting time even more special.”

Monica Crouch