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Rower cherishes Chengdu experience

Summer Games 18 September 2023

It was a silver-lined summer for South African rower Courtney Westley following her impressive feat at this year’s Chengdu FISU World University Games.

The 21-year-old, who watched her older brother in regattas every weekend during her childhood, took up rowing just before starting high school. She then carried her newfound passion through to university level, and currently represents the University of Pretoria where she is enrolled as a third-year student studying geography and environmental science.

Following a fifth-place finish at the Under-23 World Rowing Championships in Bulgaria barely a week before the start of the FISU Games in China, Courtney had a lot less preparation time than she expected, but feels the Under-23 Championships put her in good stead.

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Images courtesy of Courtney Westley“I was home for just two nights before flying to China – just enough time to do washing, repack my bags and catch up with my mom!” she tells “But I found that the tough racing at the U-23s allowed me to bring a lot of that knowledge and experience into the [FISU] Games where I could aim for more and learn as much as possible. At the end of the day, it’s how much we take from each experience and implement it into the next that grows us into great athletes.”

Flying through the heats and semi-final, Courtney used her talent and prowess to row to a well-deserved silver medal in the W1X final on the water in Chengdu, feeling a sense of pride and relief as she received her medal after the race.

“It is always an honour and a blessing to be able to represent my country in doing what I love most, and standing on that podium allowed all the pieces to come together: the hard days, the long days, early mornings, and past results, they all led to moments like that, making it all pay off,” she says.

Following her event, Courtney and her compatriots were able to spend time sight-seeing in China, adding to her unforgettable experience at the Games.

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“We were grateful to be able to spend another four days in China after racing before we flew home, where we could really travel around Chengdu and experience the beautiful culture through our panda tour, trip to Kuan Alley and Zhai Alley, and our experience of the Chengdu night life,” she says. “The Athletes’ Village was a phenomenal experience in itself, and being able to trade pin badges with other athletes allowed us to meet and engage with people from all around the world. There was never a dull moment in the Village!” 

The driven student-athlete, who hopes to work in the field of climate change in future, has a philosophical outlook of what she hopes to achieve next.

“The bigger picture has no finite ending at this point in time for me,” she says. “The end goal now may be where I would like to see myself at the end of the season, working towards the position I want to be able to put myself in as I progress into the next season. But I know full well that the current end goal is never truely the end.”

Written by Fabio De Dominicis – U-Media reporter