For Rhydian Cowley, there wasn’t one “aha moment” when he became passionate about the climate fight.

“For me, it’s been a process of building up and learning more about causes, symptoms, and solutions,” said Cowley, who competed for Australia in the 20 km Olympic race walk at the 2016 Rio Olympics and is set to do again at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. “With that has come growing frustration – noticing how domestic policies and policy debates often don’t align with science, or public good. The last few years in particular though it has really become clear how urgently we need to do things – in January this year, I had to train in a mask a few times because of the overwhelming smoke haze caused by a large part of southeastern Australia being on fire. Distance races in championships are facing tougher and tougher conditions as extreme summer weather becomes increasingly likely – my event was even moved 800km (about 500 miles) north, from Tokyo to Sapporo for the Olympics, in order to reduce the risk of an extreme weather event impacting the competition.”

Rhydian Cowley competing for Australia in the 20km walk at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Cowley believes that the need for action on climate is urgent and that athletes need to lend their voices to the fight.

“We can’t just leave [climate action] up to the goodwill of governments and big businesses to take care of,” Cowley noted. “Athletes in the past have been encouraged not to be too political, but yet some of the most visible protests against injustice have come from sports – from John Carlos and Tommie Smith¹ through to Colin Kaepernick  So I guess now there’s a real sense of urgency for me to help push real climate action along in whatever way I can, and encourage my fellow athletes to do the same.”

The Melbourne-area native became an EcoAthletes’ Champion because he sees the group as the type of vehicle he’s been seeking to help him use his platform to spur climate action and the #climatecomeback.

“EcoAthletes seems to have a good strategy for giving athletes the tools with which to communicate effectively about the climate crisis and is committed to helping athletes advocate for real change and solutions, not just greenwashing,” offered Cowley. “Their commitment to diversity in their champions – connecting voices from all around the world to build the political will for change, is also impressive. When I discovered Eco Athletes it was a bit of a lightbulb moment of discovering that not only I can harness my being an athlete to also push for climate action, but also that I could do it as a part of a collective team, rather than as an atomized individual.”

Rhydian Cowley competes at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia (Photo credit: Amelia Asianides)

For its part, EcoAthletes is excited to welcome Cowley as its 20th Champion in its brief existence.

“Rhydian Cowley’s curiosity, tenacity, and thinking big have served him well in race walking,” EcoAthletes founder Lew Blaustein said. “He will bring those valuable qualities to the EcoAthletes Champion team and we are happy to have him on the team!”

Speaking of thinking big, Cowley has set high expectations for his involvement with EcoAthletes.

“If I can encourage other athletes, and members of my community to also find their voice and engage more on climate action, that would be a win,” asserted Cowley. “If we can find climate projects (community solar, battery microgrids, reforestation projects, etc.) and policies (e.g. the phase out of internal combustion engine cars, effective carbon pricing) to support and actually help them be implemented, that would be an even bigger win. Communities are already pushing for change – let’s try to help them speed and scale it up. If we can be a part of a process causing political parties and big businesses to take their climate responsibilities seriously with their policy-making, fantastic. All of these are contributions towards the largest aim of all — meet the actions necessary for us to keep global warming to 1.5 (or at worst, 2) degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages, so that catastrophic scenarios and the injustices they would bring can be avoided. So that the planet is safe for human life and we can to continue to have sport.”

¹ John Carlos and Tommie Smith famously raised gloved fists while on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Smith won gold and Carlos took bronze in the 200 meter dash.

Photo at top: Rhydian Cowley (Photo credit: Athletics Australia)

Rhydian Cowley can be found on Instagram