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Gay Olympic rower aims to fight injustice: ‘Sport is a vehicle to shine a light’

Emma Twigg of New Zealand says her sexuality has never been a focus of her rowing career but now she’s ready to advocate for LGBT athletes.

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Emma Twigg New Zealand Rowing LGBTQ Olympics Rio
Emma Twigg at 2016 Rio Summer Games.

Olympic rower Emma Twigg of New Zealand is using the postponement of the Tokyo Summer Games on account of the coronavirus to prepare for competition in 2021, what you might call a “third-time’s the charm” strategy.

“If I’d known this was going to be a three-year cycle rather than a two-year, I’d have thought that was fantastic,” Twigg told the New Zealand news site, Newshub. “That’s the way I’ve got to look at it… it’s one more year to be better and everyone else has got that opportunity to make gains as well.”

Twigg narrowly missed out on a Bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, and decided to take a break from her sport. She finished fourth in the single sculls by a razor-thin margin, just as she did in 2012 in London. Twigg used that two-year hiatus from the sport to reset, reassess, and realize she had a platform as an out LGBTQ athlete.

Emma Twigg World Rowing New Zealand Olympics
Emma Twigg
World Rowing

“I’ve always taken the approach that I wanted to be known as ‘Emma the amazing rower,’ before ‘Emma the gay rower,’” Twigg told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview this week. “I feel very lucky that I’ve always been surrounded by people that have never shown me any kind of disrespect, and my sexuality hasn’t been a focal point of my sporting career.”

In February 2019, toward the end of her hiatus, Twigg announced her engagement to former Wellington cricketer Charlotte Mizzi.

Emma Twigg Charlotte Mizzi
Emma Twigg, left, and Charlotte Mizzi, in 2019.

They married in January of this year, and she said the blossoming of their relationship was the impetus for her desire to become an outspoken LGBTQ advocate.

Emma Trigg Charlotte Mizz Olympics Rowing New Zealand
Emma Trigg, left, and Charlotte Mizzi, 2019
Woman’s Day via Now to Love

“It’s not something that as soon as I figured out I was gay I was comfortable doing,” she told Reuters. “It’s definitely taken some time, and everyone has their own journey in that respect.”

In the interview, Twigg expounded upon the message she wants to send to the LGBTQ community, especially young people and closeted athletes: “Life goes on.”

“As I’ve grown, I’ve realized the power of my profile, and the opportunity to do good using the hard work I put into my sport.

“I’ve realized it’s less about the end result and more about enjoying the process, inspring people along the way and making use of my public profile for good.

“If you do have success, then you’re in an even better spot to do that, so that’s what drives me. Sport is a vehicle to shine a light on these things.

“If by reading my story someone feels more confident, then that’s a great thing... even if it just helps one young kid or aspiring athlete that is struggling with their sexuality.

“My job is being an elite athlete. It just also happens that I have a lovely wife, and hopefully, we’ll have children. And if that helps change people’s perspectives, that’s great.”

Emma Trigg Charlotte Mizz New Zealand Rowing
Emma Twigg, left, and Charlotte Mizzi, 2019
Women’s Day via Now to Love