Athlete for Good grant recipient Rhydian Cowley on his journey in environmental sustainability and his work with Bush Heritage Australia

Dual Olympian and Victorian Institute of Sport athlete Rhydian Cowley has been selected for the P&G Athlete for Good Program, receiving $24,000 USD for his chosen charity Bush Heritage Australia.

A joint initiative established by Worldwide Olympic Partner P&G, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the Athletes for Good program champions Olympic and Paralympic athletes from around the world and the charitable causes important to them.

The program shines a light on the important work athletes are doing in their communities in areas such as equality and inclusion, sustainability and community impact.

Sustainability and climate action has long been a passion for Rhydian Cowley, but it wasn’t until the Black Summer Bushfires that he decided to become more actively involved in his response to climate change.

“It was during the first lockdown, just after the bush fires in 2019, I had a lot of time to think about things and really clarify what my values were outside of my sport.

“I love being active, being outdoors and just having that real connection to the place I am in,” Rhydian said.

“I had also started to see the impact climate change was having on my sport, with a recent training camp being interrupted by the bushfires. It was that realisation that people may not be able to always enjoy being outside, if the air is full of smoke!”

“I remember thinking to myself, well if this is something that is important to me then I should really do something about it, that I should live by those values and demonstrate them through my actions”.

As a first step, Rhydian began researching local organisations in the sustainability sector he could support financially and lend his voice to as an Olympic athlete. It wasn’t long before he came across Bush Heritage Australia, a not-for-profit conservation organisation that works to protect Australia’s ecosystems and wildlife.

Bush Heritage Australia uses the best science, conservation and right-way knowledge to deliver landscape-scale impact while working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the agricultural sector to ensure their impact is deep, sustainable and collaborative.

“Bush Heritage was an organisation that was doing the sort of work that really aligned with my values,” Rhydian said.

“For me, the model of making sure there's the respect for traditional owners was also really important”.

Initially becoming a donor of the not-for-profit, Rhydian is now a full-time employee working in the ‘Gifts in Wills’ team to help fundraise for its conservation activities. He is also a member of the organisation's ‘Green Team’, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of the organization's activities.

A self-proclaimed ‘yes man’, Rhydian loves to get involved and often puts himself forward for various opportunities. For instance, he is currently a member of Athletics Australia’s Athlete Advisory Committee, playing a key role in the very early stages of their sustainability journey, as well as being an athlete ambassador for Sports Environment Alliance, EcoAthletes and Front Runners.

So, when he saw the Paris 2024 Athlete for Good grant advertised on the IOC’s Athlete 365 portal, it was only fitting that he applied.

“The application involved an online form where we were asked to share our story and what we were doing outside of sport to give back in certain areas,”

“The area I applied under was in climate change and sustainability, we were then asked to nominate the charity of our choice, explain the work we had been doing with the charity in the past and what the funding would help the charity achieve,” Rhydian explained.

“I decided to choose Bush Heritage Australia for the grant, because of my long history working with the charity and the strong relationship I had built with them”.

Rhydian worked closely with the grants coordinator at Bush Heritage to write and submit his application and after a seven month wait, he was announced as one of 20 athletes to receive the $24,000 USD ($37,430 AUD) grant.

“It was so nice to receive the official announcement and to finally be able to tell people!”

“It was one of those things where, I was pretty sure it was going to happen based on the correspondence I was receiving, but it wasn’t official until I had received that letter,” Rhydian said.

“It’s also exciting to know that I have been able to contribute to the organisation in an additional way, on top of the work I am already doing.”

It is now up to Bush Heritage Australia to decide what exactly the funds will be used for, with the money going towards initiatives such as supporting on-the-ground conservation work at one of their 42 reserves and/or funding their partnership work with Indigenous ranger groups.

Currently training towards Paris 2024, Rhydian continues to use his platform as an Olympic athlete to advocate for climate action and is intent on doing his part to make the world a better place.

“I remember when I was first starting to get involved in climate action, I didn’t know if there were any other athletes who were worried about it. But as I have progressed with it, I have come to realise that there are actually quite a lot of athletes who are worried about climate change and who have noticed the impact it has had on their sport,” Rhydian said.

“It has been really great to build these networks and connections with other athletes, we have been able to support each other by sharing knowledge and what we've been doing in different spaces."

“While I am not the entrepreneurial type, for me it’s just about going in and getting in the trenches with someone that's already got a good idea, joining in and helping in any way that I can - that's the way I like to approach it,” he continued.

“The community engagement networks of the Australian Olympic Committee, Australian Institute of Sport, Victorian Institute of Sport and Athletics Australia have also been a great avenue for me to get involved in climate and sustainability initiatives.”

When asked what advice he would give those who are interested in getting involved in climate action, the 32-year-old said to just start somewhere no matter how big or small.

“The first step is just to do something. It can be as simple as reflecting on what you do in your life, in your sport or at work and understanding how you can have a lower environmental footprint.”

“Individually, no one person is going to solve climate change by themselves, it will take lots of us working together. So just starting somewhere and doing what you can, I think, is a good first step".

Find out more about the Athlete for Good grant here.

Article sourced by Australian Olympic Committee

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