Tess Lloyd, left, and Jaime Ryan in action during the Tokyo Olympics.
When Tess Lloyd was learning to sail as a child at Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club, no one could have imagined that in 2020 a global pandemic would change the world, and among the many changes the Olympics would be postponed. Tess’s love of sailing grew into a vocation that saw her – despite the pandemic – represent Australia at age 26, competing in the women’s sailing 49er class in Tokyo with sailing partner Jaime Ryan.
Tess says: “If going to the Olympics was easy, everyone would do it.” But to get to Tokyo, Tess has overcome greater challenges beyond the standard rigours of being a professional athlete. When Tess was 16, she was competing at a junior regatta in Brisbane when a windsurfer lost control and crashed into her, knocking her unconscious before she fell into the water from her 29er skiff. Her then sailing partner Lewis Duncan pulled Tess from the water. Tess’s skull was fractured; she underwent surgery and was put in an induced coma to relieve the trauma to her brain.
To the relief of her family, friends and sailing community, Tess came out of the coma after almost three weeks, and while she had no recollection of what happened, her love of sailing was still with her. Before she could get back on the water she spent 10 months learning to walk and talk again. “It’s definitely something that’s made me a stronger person. There’s some really good things that have come out of the accident, and I think it overwhelms some of the negative things.”
Tess is certainly a trailblazer to look up to for girls starting out on the water. Professional sailing continues to be a male-dominated sport and Tess believes it definitely would have been encouraging to have more of a “girl squad” when she was starting out. “There were definitely times when I wanted to give up and it was quite challenging, but I’m just so glad I kept pushing and got to the Olympics. I think there’s a push in society to support more women in sport. I’d encourage all girls to get involved in any sport they want to put their mind to. For more girls to be involved would be fantastic because there’s definitely not a lot in Australia compared to Europe.”
Competing at the Olympics during a pandemic took some of the shine off the experience but it highlighted to Tess what really mattered. “It really made me just love the sailing, being on the water, doing what we’re good at and what we love. With everything else that was going on, you sort of felt free and able to enjoy yourself because on shore was where things were more stressful and pressured following all these rules. As simple as it is, the highlight was being on the water.”
One question Tess has been asked a lot since competing in the Tokyo Olympics is was it really worth it? “People ask that because we didn’t win a medal or perform as well as we would have liked. Just being able to go and represent your country is pretty special. All the special moments that happen along the way all add up – the friendships, and the life lessons that you probably wouldn’t learn in a different environment. That’s something very special and to be proud of.”