Emilee Cherry is epitome of what most like to think of as the typical Aussie athlete - the country girl with an unwavering love of family, friends and sport.
The 24 year old star of the gold medal winning rugby sevens team grew up in Roma, a regional Queensland town where the sense of community was underlined by involvement in sport and where family and friends were the key elements of a happy childhood.
Cherry now appreciates the value of those early years.
“Sport was, for everyone, a central part of life there. That’s where you met your friends and all your family was involved. I think that was probably one of the greatest, most beneficial things to me, that I got to play every sport and that’s where I really gained my love for sport; playing with friends and family and the main thing was just playing for fun,” said Cherry.
While Touch footy seems to have been the bedrock for quite a few of the Aussie Sevens women, it was not the only sport Cherry enjoyed as a country town kid.
“I did a lot of swimming growing up; played netball, little athletics, soccer, cross country, triathlon – we just played any sport that was going,” she said.
“I grew up in a street where there was me and one other girl and then there were six boys that we grew up with. (We) played backyard footy every afternoon or cricket and touch – all just a central part of our life, with our friends, was sport.
At 14, Cherry moved to boarding school in Toowoomba where touch footy became a mainstay. She credits her school as a key factor in her success.
“Fairholme was great - they encouraged me to continue my sport while studying. As well as myself, the Etheridge girls were both at Fairholme. Dom Du Toit and Denny Hayes are also both Fairholme girls and all have been or are in the sevens program right now,” said Cherry.
That shared experience has underlined a strong bond between some of the Aussie women which adds to the close culture that, Cherry emphasises, is so important to the unit.
“We’ve worked really hard on the culture over the last few years. Now, there’s a new team dynamic. We have set a good basis with a family culture and looking after each other is really important to us.”
“My family are my greatest supporters and a great support network for me.”
While Cherry has a deep appreciation of the role her family has played in getting her to this point, it’s her mother’s role in her life for which she has gained a special appreciation.
I can't believe it was a week ago that our official Olympic campaign begun. It was an absolute honour to receive my Olympic jersey from my Mum. For her to support and help chase my dreams all over the world, I will be forever in debt to her 💚💛 Our team was so lucky to be surrounded by such a great support group. Thank you 👏🏽
“Someone who is very special to me and has always supported me is my mum.
"Looking back now I don’t think I realised how fortunate I was being able to grow up in that relaxed country lifestyle with mum driving me to Brisbane every weekend – that’s about six and a half hours one way - every weekend she would drive me up and back either for a Touch tournament or a sevens carnival or an athletics carnival.
"She put in so many hours, invested in me, and I’m so grateful for that now."
There’s no doubt Laurie Cherry is proud of her daughter, “She just lived and loved it all.”
She enjoyed early success on the international circuit when she was named the 2014 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year in just the second year of the Women’s World Series.
Cherry is a pioneer in her sport who now finds herself a role model to young girls across the nation – and she is a very proud Queenslander.
While the past five years have been somewhat of an onslaught of rugby for Cherry; she has still managed to find time to study a teaching degree – recently graduating with a Bachelor of Health Sciences and PE – an achievement with which she is very pleased.
“I’m pretty relieved and stoked to say that I’ve finally graduated from university and I can now look on to doing something different or adding to that degree,” she said.
While getting the most out of her sporting life and success and enjoying the camaraderie of her teammates, Cherry admits her favourite thing in life is still to go home to the country.
“I love when we have a break long enough that I can go back to Roma. My grandparents own a farm so I go out there – my favourite place in this world is there. No internet, no phones – it’s just nice out there,” she said.
“She does love time in the country for the peace, quiet and the connection to the land and mainly because it also means family time for us,” agreed her mum Laurie.
This country-girl-at -heart though still has work to do in the big city – never more than next week on home soil where she will be looking to perform at her best in front of family and friends at the Sydney Sevens tournament.
The Women's Aussie Sevens kick off their Sydney 7s campaign on Friday, February 3 at Allianz Stadium.
FIXTUREAussie Women's SevensDay One – Friday 3 February
Australia v Brazil - Pool B - 1.36pm (AEDT)
Australia v Ireland - Pool B - 4.18pm (AEDT)
Australia v Fiji - Pool B - 7.00pm (AEDT)