Helping athletes hone their crafts

Rosie Popa is a member of the Australian national rowing team. She is a world medalist and is on track to participate at the Olympics in Tokyo. Rosie values the benefits of having an identity outside of sport and definitely walks the talk. She works as the mentoring program facilitator for The Athlete Advantage and has recently founded a business – Rosemary Local – that brings together creativity, commerce and opportunities for athletes. Rosie chatted to us about the mission behind her new business and how she runs it while remaining at the top of her sport.

Love the name Rosemary Local! What was the inspiration behind the business?

I have always loved art and crafts, and am in awe of amazingly creative people and what they are capable of producing. From there, a few moments of inspiration bubbled into an idea. Firstly, I was driving home after the Olympic Games were postponed, and the national training centre closed due to COVID19 lockdown, and I had the idea of starting a platform that promotes athletes who also have an artistic side. I thought it would be a good way for communities to connect with athletes, and a nice outlet for athletes to focus on while we were all processing our new realities.

Then, the day before I was due to drive back to Penrith to resume training, I went with some of my teammates to an artist named Bromley’s art store. It just so happened that Bromley was at the store at the same time. He was so engaging and easy to talk to; it was really special that I could put a face and a bit of background to all the art I was surrounded by. I fell in love with one of his paintings, and immediately had to buy it. I have it now in my bedroom in Penrith, and I think it has even more meaning to me now, having met the person who has created the piece.

I realised that with so much of what I buy, I have no idea who is behind it or why they were inspired to make it.

I began talking to some of my teammates and other friends who spend their time creating art and started to dig a bit deeper into why they haven’t decided to sell their own work. The major theme was that they loved the process of creating but the thought of making their own websites, or selling their art to others, put a pressure on them that detracted from the process of creating it. It wasn’t worth it because it became a source of stress rather than an enjoyable experience. Also, they couldn’t find a platform that took care of everything apart from the creating itself. So, I thought I’d try to create something that did exactly that.

So, that’s the mission behind Rosemary Local...

Exactly! To connect, empower and support local creatives.

And how do athletes use the platform you have created?

Although not all the creatives on Rosemary Local are athletes, the vast majority of them have either rowed or are currently rowing. Athletes who have a creative flair contact me directly and from there we talk about a product they would like to sell on Rosemary Local. I ask them to fill out a form with product details, and provide a bio about themselves to give the readers some information about the artist. This includes their sport, if they study and/or work, and their inspiration for creating the product(s). Once that’s sorted, I take care of the promotion, sale and delivery.

This keeps the artist free to keep doing what they love. It promotes mindfulness, provides an outlet for creativity without the stress of the business part, and helps them build a sense of purpose outside of their sport.

Two of the girls that are currently training with me at the Women’s National Training Centre in Penrith have products on the site. They’re both really enjoying the process of thinking up new arts and crafts they can create, and we have the handover of the products at the training centre. Another athlete was at the training centre, but is now training for selection at her club in Sydney. She is no longer receiving the training centre funding, is training full time and finishing up her uni degree. By selling her products on Rosemary Local, she can get a bit of cash flow, and I can pick up her sold products whenever I head into Sydney for the weekend.

Sounds like there’s a lot of great benefits for athletes?

It’s a really good way for athletes to switch off, as well as feel a sense of purpose outside of their work/sport by celebrating something that is uniquely them.

Personally, it has been a great way to mentally switch off from my training and  have something other than my sport that I really care about. I feel like I’m more present in my training, and find myself not overthinking the little things that come up in the high pressure environment of training for the Olympic Games.

There’s a lot to juggle! What does a typical day look like for you?

Rosie Popa

Wake up is usually around 6:15am. I arrive at the training centre at 7am for warm up and then I’m on the water from 7:30am to around 9:30/10am. I have a second breakfast, followed by a second session around 11/11:30am. Afterwards, I’ll either stay at the centre to have lunch and do some work (either The Athlete Advantage or Rosemary Local), may have to go to the post office to drop off deliveries, and if I have time, catch a 30 minute nap.

The third session is around 4pm and when I get home, I will try and do another hour of work before or after dinner. I stretch and wind down before bed around 9:30/10pm. We have Wednesday afternoons off so I’ll aim to knock out a few solid hours of work then, and on weekends work on whatever needs to be done with Rosemary Local and The Athlete Advantage.

Phew! How do you manage your energy?

It takes a conscious effort to maintain energy levels for everyday training as well as working on the side. I have the luxury of my non-rowing commitments being flexible, so I can fit more work in on afternoon’s off or when I have a longer break between sessions. This helps me rest and recover when I really need it.

Sleeping and eating enough are big factors, but also managing mental energy is really important, too. Even though I’m pretty busy with juggling full-time training, a job and a new side hustle, I value down time and making sure I get my quiet space with yoga, stretching and mindfulness, or even just watching TV with my housemates is a great way to recharge.

Do you have a message for athletes thinking about starting their own business?

I heard this great perspective from a mentor at The Athlete Advantage when I was introducing him to a mentee. He said:

"An elite athlete has the opportunity to develop themselves as their own brand, and transfer the skills they have learned as an athlete into their career."

I sat with this, and the ‘brand’ I want to develop is to utilise my platform and visibility as an elite athlete to help support others, help spread positivity about the amazing things people are doing, and celebrate their talents.

Athletes thinking about starting their own business need to have a very clear and simple idea to start with and be really open to learning new skills. I’d say, be open to taking on constructive feedback without taking it personally. Enjoy the challenge of doing something different and new. Also, ask for help if you need it.

How can our readers find out more?

Head to the Rosemary Local website or check out the social media platforms:

Instagram @rosemarylocal

Facebook @rosemarylocal1

LinkedIn @rosemarylocal

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