Australia’s first female Winter Paralympian, Emily Rahles-Rahbula on the powerful combination of diverse mentors, resilience and determination

Emily Rahles-Rahbula Winter Paralympian
Image credit: Alamy

Confidence plays an integral role in facing challenges, accomplishing great things and realising outstanding achievement in work and life. But success is rarely a journey that is travelled alone.

To celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic Movements, four remarkable elite winter athletes share their journey to success and the people who helped them #SparkConfidence as they navigated their extraordinary sporting careers and professional pursuits.

As a para-alpine skier and the first Australian female winter Paralympian in 2006, Emily Rahles-Rahbula knows that it takes confidence to build success. She also knows it requires resilience, leadership and the help of others along the way, both personally and professionally.

“My ski racing career wasn't a particularly easy journey. The reality was that I spent a long time being the only female around in the sport,” says Emily. “I had to call upon a fair amount of resilience and that self-drive to keep going, especially when it seemed impossible to overcome a particular obstacle.

“That resilience and determination has helped me get through some of the [challenging] times that I've experienced throughout my career,” she says.

This awesome energy also helped Emily navigate a life-changing cancer diagnosis in her second year of university and, as a result, loss of her right leg above her knee.

She completed her degree in engineering prior to embarking on her ski racing career, which paved the way for success in life after sport. Now, with more than 15 years’ experience across both the public and private sector, she works in infrastructure transformation in the water industry. Her growth as an engineer through operational and strategic roles and leading teams of more than 30 people across a diverse range of disciplines, has been an exciting and rewarding journey thus far.

Her advice for building self-confidence stems directly from her skiing career. “When I recognise self-doubt creeping in, my first step is to acknowledge what is going on. I try to think about the things that I have control over and those that I don’t. Only then is it possible for me to focus on the things I CAN do to continue to move forward, progress and build confidence,” she says.

As an athlete, she reflects, breaking things down to smaller tasks helps. “You can also reflect on the positive things that are happening for you. And that can build your confidence.”

Emily’s work today focuses on managing infrastructure within the water sector in innovative ways, with the aim of addressing climate change. And working with others is also an essential ingredient to the success of any individual or team. “I can't be someone sitting at a desk, just brainstorming ideas alone. The best outcomes come from collaborating with people, sharing resources and different points of view and different ideas,” she says.

Additionally, finding a diverse range of mentors and collaborators is key. “It’s about finding a broad range of mentors. If you're very closed and you've only got one particular mentor, you're going to get a narrow perspective of how to manage whatever decision or issue you're trying to grapple with.”

Ultimately, however, it’s connection with others that she values above all else, when it comes to navigating life, confidence and success.

“The strength of friendships and relationships is something I highly value and can't survive without. I would never undervalue the breadth of support that I've had to achieve what I've achieved, and still, the support that I have now from family and friends,” says Emily.

“My partner, Cameron, who also knows what it's like to have a disability as a leg amputee has been one of my biggest supporters. We were both ski racers on the same team. Our relationship is built on a mutual understanding of what it is like to survive cancer, compete at an elite level in alpine sport and chase a professional career.”