Morwell's own Alex Vuillermin is off to Bulgaria to compete at the World Rowing Championships. file photograph

Morwell’s own Alex Vuillermin is off to Bulgaria to compete at the World Rowing Championships. file photograph

When teenager Alex Vuillermin qualified for the Paralympic rowing squad last year, she set about creating a list of goals she intended to achieve before Tokyo 2020.

Top of the list was a spot on the Australian team for this year’s World Championships in Bulgaria, which she can now mark off with a big tick.

Just a week out from her 19th birthday, the Morwell resident recalled her chat with The Express a year ago when she was selected for the Tokyo 2020 squad and said her progress since was a “surreal” feeling.

“I was actually reading the article yesterday and it’s just amazing. It’s so surreal to be where I am. It’s insane,” Vuillermin said.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet but I’m definitely excited and very honoured.”

She jetted out to Italy for training yesterday before taking to the waters in Bulgaria with her teammates in the PR3 mixed pairs.

A very special, all-important piece of luggage will make the European journey with Alex – an oar hand-crafted for her by her father.

The oar – made out of a drill handle and strap – was designed by her dad Paul and made with the help of a local metal production company to suit Alex’s needs.

“Because I only have three fingers I can’t fully hang on to the oar, so he’s completely made all the adaptions and I take it with me overseas,” she said.

Alex said she would take comfort knowing she had a piece of home alongside her in Europe, especially after making the decision to move to Melbourne in February to pursue her rowing.

She trains at the Victorian Institute of Sport and, despite the brutality of 4.30am wake-up calls on wintry mornings on the Yarra, said the decision was the right one.

“I made the decision that I want to take it that step further with rowing and that I needed to be somewhere close to water and good coaches,” she said.

“My coach is amazing. She has been through the system and has been an athlete so she knows how it works.

“And it only takes me three minutes to get to training, which is pretty good.”

Alex is not too far from home either and comes home to Gippsland most weekends and is thankful for her start at the Bairnsdale Rowing Club.

“I love home so I come back to Morwell a lot,” she said.

“Bairnsdale Rowing Club [was] the roots for me. That’s where I first started. I rowed with Jess Thompson and Lynne Broad and they really helped,” she said.

“In the beginning I didn’t know what I was doing and they spent hours with me in the boat.”

Alex is also studying nursing at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne – another goal she can tick off her list.

The Paralympics might be two years away but the 18-year-old is certainly on track to ticking that one off too, with the squad for the World Championships “essentially the same boat that would go to Tokyo”.

“It’s a lot more realistic now and I think it’s a lot more achievable,” she said.

“The fact next year is 2019 means it’s only one year away, which is not that long when you think about it.

“I do think about making it all the way sometimes. It’s a matter of thinking about it in the long-run and what you want to achieve in the future and having the capacity to say ‘I’ve made it, so keep going’.”

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