The thrills, the realities, and the dangers of travelling the world | Waterskiing World Champion Jacinta Carroll
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On today’s episode of Navigate I’m joined by world water ski champion Jacinta Carroll. Jacinta has remained unbeaten in world water ski jumping since 2013, has jumped further than any woman in history. In addition to being a world champion water skier, Jacinta is a practising physiotherapist, an Australian weight lifting champion and is currently studying for her masters in sports medicine at the University of Queensland. Jacinta has been travelling the world and competing since she was 13, and shares with us her tips for travelling and competing in the elite level. Jacinta also tells us how she navigated a very scary trip to Russia.
Jacinta Carroll, Thanks for joining me.
0:00:55 – 0:00:58
|No worries, glad to be here.|
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|So I think it’s important for everyone to understand where it all started. How did you become a world record holder in women’s ski jumping?|
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|Haha, yeah. So my family took up water-skiing just socially, my parents had an old little boat and my dad’s actually a Sandblaster so he was asked to go down to a local ski club and remove the slime from the boat ramps. So he did that and as a thank you, they invited us down to the club for the Christmas party, and it kind of took off from there. We then joined as members, and they had a coach that would come once a month and train any of the young juniors there, so we started doing that for a bit of fun and then Dad entered us into a competition.|
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|So, for the uninitiated, explain the sport?|
0:01:41 – 0:02:45
Yeah, I guess, water-ski jumping, the easiest way to describe it is everybody has probably watched the Winter Olympics and you see the Norwegians come down that mountain and down the massive ramp, and they fly with their skis in the V position for as long as they can. So, in the most simplest terms, I do the exact same on water. Obviously, you can’t have a hill on water, so we use a boat to generate that speed, and then we use more of like a pendulum swing to give us that momentum coming into the jump. So instead of just standing straight behind the boat, you’ll swing yourself left to right, to build up more speed and more momentum, to go across and fly further across the ramp.
So currently my best distance is 60.3 metres. So I’m in the air for about 3 to 4 seconds. So we have the same air form as what the Winter Olympic Athletes do.
We land on water, they land on snow. I’m pretty sure both are as hard as each other when you’re landing on them upside down.
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|Oh yeah, yeah, I can imagine.|
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|Haha, yea so, that’s my main event. I do also compete in two other events, but not to the same standard as what I do with my jumping.|
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|How old were you when you first went over a jump behind a boat?|
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|I was eleven. I wanted to, I wanted to when I was ten but Rodger, you’ve seen me before, I’m not the largest person, I am quite a short little girl. So they said that I was too small to go over and I was devastated, like my two brothers were able to learn. And I think that’s what contributed as well to me being so competitive as a kid because I’d play catch up. I had to wait a whole nother year after my brothers before I could learn so then I wanted to just chase them down.|
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|You entered your first competition as an 11 year old?|
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|And from there how did it progress to travelling the world in this sport?|
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Yeah, so I had my first international experience in that second year when I was 12. I went to New Zealand to for an Australia Vs. New Zealand competition and then by the age of 13 I had, I didn’t make the team, but my older brother who was 16 made the Australian team for the junior world championship in France.
When I was 13 and I made the emergency position, the reserve position so my parents couldn’t afford to come with us, so that was my first really, travel experience alone where my 16 year old brother and me as a 13 year old flew from Australia to Italy and then travelled from Italy to France for Matthew, for my older brother to compete.
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|Yeah, yeah, and obviously there was other parents and staff that had their kids there, and then it was just yeah my 16 year old brother being in charge of me for those 3 weeks in Europe.|
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|So as a 13 year old you went to see your first world event, when did you get to compete in one?|
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|So the next world championship, I was 15, and I went to Peru and I was in the team for that event. I went in, and I think I was ranked about 8th in the world at the time and I was very fortunate enough to place second and bring home the silver medal from that event there.|
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|And that was the…|
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|That was 2009.|
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|2009, In between world cups, I assume you do a lot of other travel?|
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|Yeah, yeah at that age I was probably just going between Australia and New Zealand in those Aussie/Kiwi type challenges. But in the year of 2009, I was selected in the junior team in January at 15 to be competing Peru and then I went to New Zealand in February and then in August I was selected in the senior team and went to Calgary in Canada. And then in September, I went to Mexico for the Under 21 world. So I was able to compete in the three different age brackets in three different countries, in that year. That was a pretty, pretty massive year. Yeah at age 15 to be able to do so much in the one year.|
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|Was that then the pattern going forward?|
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|Yeah, yeah, really or no, in 2010. I was in year 12 at school, so I my parents believed that I needed a proper education and they didn’t want me to be just an athlete. So I took three weeks off to go to America in May, and apart from that I attended school for the whole year. So I didn’t really have that big of a year in 2011. I wanted to get a really good year 12 score to get myself into university. But then yeah the norm from that was but for the next basically 2011 until 2016, I was then six months in Australia and then six months overseas tripping between different countries, competing.|
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|Yeah, that’s incredible, and you managed to obviously fit university into all that as well?|
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Yeah, I did. Ah, Undergraduate degree down in Melbourne for the six months I was in Australia, I would do all the subjects that I needed to do practical components for. I would schedule them for that time. And then the rest of the time I would do online courses like psychology, that didn’t mean that I had to be in person at the university and so forth.
And then my travel reduced a bit when I started my Physiotherapy degree, because I obviously had a lot more hands-on components and I needed to be at the university more often.
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|What did you find the hardest part about juggling the competitions and university?|
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Um, Haha, the 3 AM exams that I had to sit. Yeah obviously the time frames and the times zones like, to be honest in the academic world, a lot of the times its, well, that’s your exam date, that’s your exam date. And universities are getting a lot better at it these days with their elite athlete programmes and you know UQ at the moment have been absolutely fabulous with me and my time off and sporting commitments, but yeah there was times when I was definitely in my pyjamas doing an oral presentation to a class at 3am in the morning, while I was competing the next morning at 8am.
I sat exams in front of mirrors in America to prove that I wasn’t cheating, to then submit my exam results, so that was probably just that time difference and you know, and these days everybody has learnt in the last few months that you can do everything online and you can do zoom and this and that. But 10 years ago, when that was first starting, it was still quite new for somebody to be able to do a complete online exam.
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|So travelling the world at such a young age and obviously you get into a certain routine and you, there’s certain practises that you do as you travel to make things a little bit easier for you. What are some of the tricks that you use when you travel?|
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Um, ok, so it might sound super, super basic, but I kind of laugh when, everyone tells me about aww you know, I can’t get used to the time zones and all of this, my mantra has always been from day one, “When the sun’s up, you’re up. When the sun’s down, you’re down.”
So, it didn’t matter, if it was, you know, 9 o clock at night and I wasn’t tired, if the sun was down, I had to go to bed. All electronics off and just lie there.
Even if I didn’t sleep, I had to force myself into that pattern and I think the earlier you can get into that routine and the more strict you can be on yourself, in that sense the easier it is.
I would generally get on the flight, Google a time frame of the zone that I was flying to, so say I was leaving Melbourne and I was going to Orlando, I would put my watch straight away on Orlando time and when I saw that it clicked over to 9pm Orlando time, I would turn off my screen on my aeroplane TV, and I would just lie there and close my eyes and put my eye mask on and try and nap at least to start to get my body into those time frames and I really think that’s been huge on my career.
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|What’s the longest you’ve flown? And then you know, you had to compete straight after landing?|
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|Um, so there would have been times during my physio university degree and it was funny you ask actually, two days ago, I had the reminder pop up on my instagram saying this happened five years ago and it was I flew for 76 hours like return, to spend 48 hours in the country.|
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|So I flew from Australia, to Singapore, Singapore to Moscow, the day I landed I competed. I competed the next day and then I flew home that night so I went to university. I landed in Brisbane back on Tuesday morning at 8am. I went to class by 10am and everybody asked how my weekend was and I’m like, Yeah, it was pretty good. I was in Moscow.|
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|So a lot of this travel, we’re going with teams, were you also doing a lot of individual travels during your career?|
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|What’s been the most probably, the scariest event that’s ever happened to you when you’ve travelled, coz we have all got these stories. Has there been something that stands out to you?|
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Yeah, definitely. So. Like, obviously little incidents here and there, and you might be walking down the street late at night because you have landed on the plane late at night and need to get some food, and it’s all pretty scary and new.
There was one incident in of course, typical Moscow, Russia, which I travel to quite a lot and this was my second time there, the first time I was on a team, whilst the second time I was an individual, all the other competitors had landed coming from America so they had already been transported to the lake to compete, and I was landing in the morning and I had to compete that afternoon.
So walk out of customs and I’ve got my bags and everything, it all looks pretty familiar from the last time I had been there. I saw a man with a sign that had my name on it, and it had a picture of a water ski jumper, so I was like ok, perfect, that’s my bloke, I walk up and he didn’t really speak much English, he said hello and basically waved for me to come with him, so I followed him out to the car park and we walk up to this little hatchback.
Now if you know, it might be hard to picture, but my skis are basically in a container/bag that’s at least 2 metres long and a foot wide. So looking at this hatchback, I’m like ok how are my skis gonna get into this car? This is gonna be an interesting ride out to the lake.
So the bloke goes to open up the boot and put his back seat down, but for some reason or another, like it was a very old car, the seat was stuck and it was not moving. So, he actually pulled out a knife, and sliced through his seat and then pushed my water skis through the car. So that was kind of alarm bell number 1! I had been travelling for 40 hours, coz I’d had a 10 hour layover in Singapore, so I was quite tired at this point anyway.
So, I get in the car, and the bloke driving, had the sign for my name and another bloke in the front seat, and as I go to get in the backseat there’s pornography magazines all over the back seat! So I pushed them aside and thought “Hmm, Interesting” not really a huge alarm bell, but another note taken, and we turn out of the airport and I when was 18 I was so good with my travel, I was like on it, where I could have rocked up at Qantas Air and got employed straight away. I knew all about every road that I need to take, I knew about all of my flights, all of my competitors flights, all of the other competitors would come to me about their travel arrangements because I was just on top of it.
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Yeah, so prepared. So by now I’m like okay, I know the lake is about 10 minutes away from the airport and we are sitting in a lot of traffic on the highway and it’s probably been 30 or 40 minutes, and the guy driving is just staring in the rear view mirror going “oh! The Girl, so beautiful, all of the girls just beautiful.” And I was like, “Oh Thank you, that’s very nice!” and he’s like “No, bring me all your friends, you all so beautiful” and me being quite tanned, brown hair – and I was thinking “I thought they liked blondes in Russia”?
Like, why is he saying this? He was tooting his horn for ages and no cars were moving so we ended up driving down the side, the grass, of the highway and turning into a gravel road, and I thought “Okay, this must be a back way to the lake” and then we pulled across to the side of the road, about, you know, maybe 5-10 minutes down the road, and by this point I’m getting quite worried like we have been driving for a long time and there was no water ski lake in sight, and I’m thinking we should be there by now, Google maps said its only 10 minutes from the airport and I’ve been in this car for an hour and a half. So I started taking some photos and at that stage, I think I had like an old Nokia phone. And I was sending them to my brothers, that was middle of the night, I think they were out clubbing back in Julong, like, I’m quite worried, I don’t know where I am. I dunno what to do.
So then the driver got out of the car and he went into this barn, and he comes back with a bottle of Vodka, typical Moscow. And he’s like “oh the girl, must drink, must drink” and I was like “no thanks, no thanks I’m fine, I’m competing today” and he goes “Nooo. Yes. We wish you luck! Drink!!”
And I was like “no, I really don’t want to drink”, and at this stage I’m freaking out, like I’m 18, I’m on a gravel road with two 40-45 year old men, that were massive mind you, like large men, parked on the side of field trying to be forced to drink vodka! Like I just lost it, so I was trying to take photos and send to my brothers. And my family is not like a lovey dovey family. And like, we never would have said, I love you, and I’m pretty sure I text my brother’s saying “make sure you tell Mom and Dad that I love them because I don’t know if I’m gonna get out of here.
And uh, then the organiser called me and I answered it, and he asked where I was because he tracked my flight and understood that I had landed two hours ago and yet I wasn’t at the lake, he didn’t know if I was stuck at customs and I said “no, I am in this car, these guys are trying to force me to drink vodka” and he asked me to give them the phone and I was like “No, this is my only safety net right now” Like if I give them my phone, then I’ve got nothing. And he promised me and assured me that I would be safe.
For some reason, I gave them my phone and you could just hear them yelling at each other in Russian. So then the driver, he gave my phone back, and he is like “Oh the girl, you so beautiful but you must compete now” and I was like “Yes, please, take me to the lake, take me to the lake and he’s like “okay, we go to lake, but if you need any help while you’re here, you call me” and I was all like “thank you, like that’s really nice of you” and he goes “here’s my number” and he passed me his business card, which was a naked woman with her hands tied together with a piece of rope.
So, I lost it, I was 18, there’s two macho men in the front seat, porn magazines everywhere, handing me business cards that’s a naked woman with her hands tied together, trying to force feed me vodka and I’ve got no idea where I am. Like honestly speaking, I thought “that’s it, like here we are, that barn is my murder site, that’s where I’m going to get taken, this is it” or other things done to me.
And then unbeknownst to me, we drove down the road another kilometre, turned 1 or 2 streets and boom! We were at the lake. That whole time I was only a couple of paddocks away from the lake, but I obviously had no awareness of where I was at the time. So that was probably the most horrifying experience.
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|Oh yeah, quite a traumatic event.|
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|Oh, yeah. And it was like I didn’t actually tell my parents for quite a while because I didn’t want them to freak out. But I also didn’t want them to think that that was the normal. And I shouldn’t be travelling overseas and so forth, so. The next year, when that event came around, I was too scared to go!|
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|You were an already prepared traveller. Did that change anything or how you prepare? Was there anything that you added to your preparations?|
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|Yeah, I think I try and organise to land in the country that I’m going at the same time with other competitors now. So generally speaking now I’ll make sure to land before them and go “Hey let’s all share a hire car! I’ll get there before you, and I’ll wait for you.” Yeah and it might have cost me more money but at the end of the day when it involves your safety or potentially your life, it’s not a big price to pay.|
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|So the first woman to beat 60 metres?|
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|Yeah, I was the first woman to go 60 metres, 60.3. But in America it’s measured in feet because it’s a bit backward still and no female has ever gone 200 feet. So I got 198 foot. 4 times!|
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|Wow! So the goal next year Florida! Get it all done. World record holder, distance 200 feet as well.|
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|Yeah, that will be the goal.|
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|What’s it gonna take?|
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Um it’s gonna take a combination of everything. It’s not just me, it’s the right, like it’s the strongest boat you can get. It’s the best boat driver in the world. And it is the perfect wind five miles an hour, five kilometres an hour, headwinds you know one of the times where I equalled my world record. It was pouring rain another time. Like they give me the level two driver not the level one best driver.
And they gave the men the level one driver and the girl’s a level two, you know.
Then, like there’s all of these little factors and you have to get all stars aligned, to be able to do what I want to do, so. It’s about getting some good karma in the next 12 months.
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|Well, you know, I look forward to seeing how you go in October, and I wish you all the best in the attempt and it would be great if you could stand up there at the end of it and go, Thank you water skiing. I’m bowing out to follow something else. but if not I’m sure you’ll probably sort of keep a ski in the water, for the 200 foot mark.|
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|Yeah, Thank you. And thank you for having me on. It’s always good to obviously have a chat and you know, teach people about my sport but also inform people that even when you are the most prepared person and a bit OCD about being prepared. Stuff can always go wrong|
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|Absolutely. Jacinta Carroll Thank you very much for your time.|
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|No worries, thanks Rodger.|
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