Career

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Emma Tonegato

Seeing the world, one assignment at a time


Rugby sevens star Emma Tonegato has found a surprising way to ease the pressure of being a professional athlete.

Representing your country on the World Rugby Sevens circuit has some striking benefits. As the series circles the globe, players visit some of world’s most exotic destinations, including Dubai, Sydney, Hong Kong and Paris.

For Australian Olympic gold medallist Emma Tonegato, the rich experiences offered in those beautiful cities often are endured with a laptop resting across her knees and a university textbook open by her side.

While many of her teammates savour tourist opportunities, Emma calls on all her discipline to sit in a hotel room, studying for a looming exam or tackling a 3,000-word assignment.

Such is the bittersweet life of a student-athlete.

“Putting my head down in uni work can be tough (on tour) so you have to pick and choose what you do,” the ACU Bachelor of Occupational Therapy student said.

“Everyone might be going out but you have to miss out to stay home and do work. During the last tournament in Canada I had two assignments due when I got home so I pretty much just stayed in the hotel.”

Nan’s story

Emma and her peers in the Australian sevens rugby program were signed to full-time playing contracts in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Proud to be part of the first generation of Australian women playing rugby union professionally, she also recognised the importance of developing in a holistic sense through tertiary study.

But what course would satisfy the curiosity of this active and industrious young rugby player from Wollongong on the NSW south coast?

Exercise science or physiotherapy would have aligned with her passion for sport. Emma instead chose a different path when her grandmother Julia Brown suffered a stroke in 2015.

“I remembered the impact the occupational therapist had on Nan’s recovery,” the 23-year-old said.

“There was the therapy and the home visits, and helping out with Pop as well. I think it was great that she got back to full capacity. It appealed to me to think that an OT helped her back to a full life, not just dealt with the injury.” 

Emma Tonegato on field

Well-rounded athlete

Like so many careers, there are constant challenges faced by the student-athlete.

Due to the demands of playing at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and other international tournaments, Emma reckons she has missed four weeks of classes in the first semester.

Assignments pile up while she is on tour and the season-ending Paris leg of the World Rugby Sevens from 8-10 June comes with the added pressure of sitting for an exam on her return to Australia.

Being part of ACU’s Elite Athlete and Performer Program offers support in the form of early access to time-tabling and assistance with seeking extensions. Her persistence is critical, given the importance of having a long-term purpose that fits with her personal identity beyond sport.

“University gives me an outlet. It’s an opportunity to escape, have a break from rugby and keep my brain stimulated,” she said. “I also wanted qualifications that give me confidence and allow me to prepare for life post-professional sport.

“The prospect of having a degree makes me feel relaxed about the future.”

Sensing inspiration

The University’s community engagement program enabled the Commonwealth Games silver medallist to further explore the opportunities provided by her course.

Sense Rugby is a rugby-based occupational therapy program which develops self-esteem in children affected by conditions including Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and emotional regulation difficulties.

It puts her growing skills to the test and provides a chance to help kids with a variety of difficulties to enjoy sport.

“The kids we work with find it tough to fit into rugby or other team sports,” Emma said. “They might have sensory issues, or learning problems, but they get down there with us, hit tackle pads and that puts a smile on their face. And I find that really rewarding.”

Emma Tonegato is studying part-time for a Bachelor of Occupational Health at ACU. Find out more about studying health sciences at ACU.

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright @ Australian Catholic University 1998-2018 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G