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out of touch: covid stories from wa

Matt Wearn

Matt Wearn was headed into what he calls “one of the best years of his life,” when the news of the postponement of the Olympics came down.

Out of Touch documents the unique experiences of Western Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020.

Matt Wearn, one of the world’s best sailors, was among the first athletes selected for the Western Australian Olympic team. Matt started sailing in Fremantle at six-years-old and was headed into what he calls “one of the best years of his life,” when the news of the postponement came down. He opens up about how he worked through mental strain, the challenge of being separated from his partner and fellow Olympic sailor Emma Plasschaert, and building a resilient mindset to focus on going for gold.

Copyright © 2020 Matt Wearn

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories and the State Library of Western Australia by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories. 

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History/Biography: Funded by the State Library of Western Australia. This collection of stories, documents, experiences of the COVID 19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020. The COVID 19 pandemic led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Western Australia on the 16th of March.

WA went into lockdown between the months of March to May, with further restrictions continuing for months after. During this time, events were cancelled, schools shut down and parks became overcrowded. Thousands of individuals, businesses, communities and organizations were severely impacted as they were forced to work from home social distance and book emergency flights.

This collection, produced by the Centre for Stories in Northbridge, Western Australia, explores these unprecedented effects and contributes a record of this remarkable time in history. Sailing world champion and Olympian Matt one discusses the effects COVID had on the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.


Matt Wearn: I was always the weird kid that sailed on boats. I guess friends and yeah, people at school never really understood it. I really enjoyed going sailing and there was just it was quite a cool thing to do on the weekends and stuff like that.

So, I had quite a bit of success at a domestic level, at international level as a youth, I really didn’t have much success at all. So, sort of see a few of the yeah, I guess the next generation coming through and they’re winning youth world championships and things like that and they’re still getting sort of down on themselves because when they come in to, I guess make the transition into the senior classes that they’re at the bottom of the ladder again and I got to work their way up. And I think that, yeah, that the biggest thing would just be just keep chipping away that yeah.

And don’t lose that enjoyment in the sport. I think that’s the biggest thing that if as soon as it becomes a bit of a chore and you’re not really enjoying the sport as much that your results then suffer anyway.

So, it’s just a big spiral out of control. So, I think that yeah, if you don’t sort of, I guess you forget about the paper and the, and the things like that and the numbers and that sort of stuff.

And you just go out and; and compete and train hard that you’re going to be better in the long run, I think. And I definitely found that at a later stage I guess more in senior ranks. And if I were to told myself that sort of ten years ago, then I think that would have been really cool.

I guess you learn over the years that when you step in your boat, there’s no other, I guess, issues, there’s no other worries, the kind of there to do your job. But there definitely are those days where I guess there might be other things going on in life or something like that, where you get really busy during the day and you just you struggle to get into that mindset of getting on the water. The goal is to win gold in Tokyo.

And I think that as a team that myself and Michael, my coach, who were ready to go do that this year for the longest time that we’ve been apart in the last sort of 6 years, I guess I guess personally I was just like, oh, this is one of those things that the media is kind of hyping up and we’ll still get to go over and compete. But yeah, just obviously stopped so quickly that it took me a couple of weeks to get my head around it and, and then for them to announce that they were thinking about postponing or even cancelling the Olympics. It was just like, whoa, like, what am I going to do now? Sort of thing? And gone from basically being, needing to be ready to be at peak performance to go now and have some time off and kind of got to switch that entire mind state to, okay, I’ve got to train at home in Perth, get ready and do whatever I can here to get ready to go to Tokyo racing again whenever that may be. Yeah. So, it was a bit difficult initially and there were times where I think, I guess things are a little bit uncertain about I guess the qualification

as well, whether I have to requalify for the Olympics. So, there’s probably a little bit of period there where I guess it consumed a lot of my day was just sort of thinking about what may happen and whether I have to go through that whole process again and things like that.

So, when they eventually announced that yeah or selected athletes will stay selected, it was as a pretty big relief. Of course, as you start to then sort of work my way into the day-to-day things that we can we can do.

In Perth, I kind of got to switch that entire mind state to like, I got to train at home, I’ve got to sort of the last 4 to 6 years I haven’t spent much time sailing in Perth or Fremantle at all.

So, it was quite a nice experience to sort of go out and sail, on my home waters again and so I guess I got a lot more enjoyment out of it and I guess that having that break as well made me realize that kind of this is a really cool opportunity to just sort of just enjoy my sailing again and have some fun and obviously in quite a good situation here in Perth that we could still go sailing. So, kind of just realizing that and having some fun with some mates and yeah, going out with the young kids in Perth and sort of relieving where I was sort of 6 to 8 years ago.

Yeah, it’s nice to see family and spend some more time as a family and friends as well that all of a sudden go from seeing each other almost all year to we haven’t seen each other since February. So, and this year, obviously, you both started for the Olympics and it’s meant to be.

One of the best years of our lives, really. There has been it has been really tough. And yeah, sort of I guess you all you want to do is go over and see each other and there’s only so much you can look at each other on Skype and things like that.

And yeah, you sort of. Yeah, but I think as well just that we have well I guess we’ve lost that opportunity to, to experience what we’re going to experience this year together. And I guess, yeah, obviously fingers crossed that we still get to do that next year with the Olympics and stuff like that.

But it was obviously just the other side of it as well that we made plans for after the Olympics. And um, yeah, sorting out visas and going and doing all that sort of stuff that we’ve had to sort of sit down and really reconsider.

And that I think at this point in time we both want to campaign for Paris as well. Um, yeah, after Tokyo. So, we’ve all of a sudden only got three years to do that. And then we sort of missed that 12 months ago and sort of started our lives as well.

So, I guess it’s been really, really tough in that sense. But I mean, we’re both getting through it and we both understand that we kind of need to be where we are at the moment. And um, yeah, I guess the biggest issue is just not being able to see when the end is, when we’re going to be able to travel and see each other again and, and stuff like that. So yeah, we’re just sort of sitting tight and putting on the big tough faces and yeah, getting through the very best we can. Yeah. Something that I hadn’t really planned to do.

And just one of those things that you kind of take for granted a little bit in some sense, if I think about the way I was thinking 12 months ago from now, I guess I sort of had the dates as of the end of July 2020, so prominent for so long that it’s quite hard to think that I’ll be competing at the Olympics in 2021, in July. I think that once all this COVID stuff starts to go away and I guess in some sense you don’t really want to believe or to put these hopes up too much that it definitely is going to happen, that there’s obviously still a possibility that won’t happen.

And I think that sort of I guess in some sense, I’m trying to protect myself a little bit from that as well. But at the same time, not really letting that affect the way I’m training and obviously hopefully getting to compete later in the year for everyone that has been selected in the sailing team, we’re still sort of, yeah, getting together and chatting a fair bit to keep that camaraderie going and we’ve obviously been quite successful over the last two Olympics.

So, trying to sort of reiterate that is definitely in the forefront of everyone’s mind and I think the vast majority of the people in the team, it will be their second or third Olympics as well. So, they’re going in with the mindset of like gold, like we’ve got to win gold in that been a priority. And I think everyone having that kind of that same kind of thought that we are going to go to win gold, it’s just it’s just created this really cool sort of environment within the team. Resilience one of the words that we actually have in our values within the team as well. And yeah, I guess at times within the sport we have to be quite resilient. So, it comes quite naturally to us that um, yeah, and I guess when everything sort of looked like it was starting to unravel with the whole COVID stuff,

that as a team, I think that we were extremely quick in to bringing up the plans of what might happen, what we need to do if it does happen as an athlete and as a person, I take a lot of confidence out of that as well, that the team sort of looking after us and we’re going to

be doing the right thing and that when we come out of the end of this, that we’re going to be looking good as well, that we can’t go to the gym anymore. So, let’s get some equipment over to Perth so we can have a home gym set up and just sort of that sort of stuff happen really quickly and just yeah, being really resilient in the resources that we had over in Sydney and: and making sure that we could, could set up over here as well as possible instead of being at 95% for the games that we would have been this year, it can really be 99%, 100% come July next year.

So, I’ve had to dig deep and; and bringing bring out that in a drive to, to really train hard and try to make gains through this period. So that’s something I’m definitely going to take forward when obviously things start to, to, to sort of go back to normal that yeah, when there’s those days where it’s cold or something and you don’t really want to go on the water that yeah, you just sort of go back to this time and go, yeah, you, you sort of want to fight through this and go out and do it and give it everything.

I think it’s just that natural competitor in me that I always want to go win and I’m not really going to settle for anything less than winning.


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