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Emma Baillie sailor

Turning setbacks into comebacks


Sailor Emma Baillie has had her share of setbacks. But like all true champions, her challenges have not discouraged her. Instead, she meets her trails with a renewed determination to make a difference on and off the water.

The first dose of bad news was deflating enough for 21-year-old sailor Emma Baillie.

Her first senior world titles, the 2018 Sailing World Championships in Denmark, had by her own standards been a “flop”. She had only just returned home to Brisbane from Aarhus when the second and third waves of defeat crashed across her bow.

Underperformance in Europe had resulted in Emma being cut from the Queensland Academy of Sport and Australian 470 class program. Then her teammate decided to relocate to Perth.

She was momentarily floored, but not beaten. 

“My journey in sailing will not stop here,” said Emma. “Nor will my pursuit for Olympic gold.”  

Combining skill with passion 

Rather than rage or sulk over her setbacks, she returned to the ocean where her talents as a mariner and skills as an occupational therapy student have combined to help para-athlete Matt Speakman.

Matt was paralysed after a motorcycle accident in Sydney in 1993, and he was told he would never again participate in the sports he loves. But he has since blazed an inspiring trail that includes professional motorsport, kayaking, alpine skiing and, now, sailing.

The pair now sail together up to four times a week as Emma coaches Matt towards his goal of competing at the World Cup in the Netherlands in 2022.

“The joy for me is seeing some one put away the wheelchair and get out on the water,” said Emma, who is currently studying a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at ACU.

“Anyone sailing past wouldn’t even realise he has a disability.”

Emma Baillie and Matt Speakman

Matt and Emma

For Matt, who launched the Queensland Para Sailing Academy, the partnership is invigorating.

“To leave your wheelchair behind and have the rudder in your hand and wind in your face is an absolutely amazing experience,” he said.

Overcoming obstacles with empathy 

Partnering a para-athlete has its challenges. A rapid rescue was needed on one occasion when Matt tumbled overboard into the Southport Broadwater. But despite Matt’s movement limitations, Emma doesn’t take charge on the SKUD 18 class racing boat.

“My university studies have taught me to view challenges from Matt’s perspective, and empower him to make the right calls. And we’re always working on how to make it safer,” she said.

“Communication is really important. Matt’s mentioned at other times people have just barked orders. That’s not our style. He’s the skipper, I just give him the information to make decisions.”

A bright future

Emma’s connection to the ocean runs deep. Both her parents and brother Reece are sailors. Her other brother, Luke, is a coach and former professional on the World Windsurfing Tour.

As a child she competed against, and often beat, boys on the way to becoming national youth champion in windsurfing.

A member of ACU’s Elite Athlete and Performer Program, Emma is back competing in windsurfing and has her eyes set on regattas in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

She has vowed not to be sidetracked by her move into coaching. Somehow, she still finds time for her own

Emma Baillie

training in the Olympic windsurfing class RS:X.

“The Olympics is something I’ve dreamt of since I was a little girl,” she said.

Emma Baillie 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 1998-2019 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G