Ed Fernon was the only Australian male to compete in the Modern Pentathlon at the London 2012 Olympic Games, after picking up the sport only a few years prior, aged 19 (he notably had little or no experience of 3 of the 5 disciplines!).
Ed juggled training with studying a Bachelor and Masters of Commerce from Sydney University, even swimming with the early morning 9 to 13-year-old group in an effort to improve his technique in the water. While training for the Olympics, he had a chance encounter with Michael Phelps and Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman, who imparted the ‘What’s Important Now’ (WIN) mentality by which he now lives and which served him well in qualifying for the Olympics.
He has since forged a career as a property entrepreneur, setting up his own business, Freedom Development Group.
Alongside this, Ed is also the Vice President of Sydney University Sport, the Vice President of Modern Pentathlon Oceania and an Ambassador for the Black Dog Institute. He is currently training for the Mongol Derby, the world’s longest and toughest horse race.
What skills did you learn from your sport that have transferred to your post-sporting career?
For me, it was more about the process I came to. There were no coaches, no support in Australia and very limited funding, so for me it was about going out and finding the coaches, having that goal and trying to create my own support network in sports where I didn’t actually have any knowledge of these sports before I started and then having to create my own training program, write my own plans and periodisation. This has really transferred to my business now in terms of planning, budgeting and working through all what is effectively required for business. Sport was essentially my training ground for business in a sense.
What has worked best for you during your retirement, what's had the biggest positive effect on your life? What have you found most difficult about retirement?
I think it’s always hard to go through change and a lot of people are resistant to change. Just because you retire from sport doesn’t mean you retire from things you love and things you’re passionate about.
But you can’t do everything. When I started my business in property, I was trying to train full-time, study part-time, as well as launch my business. So it just got too much and I ended up having some major fatigue issues which just created huge problems across all facets of my life. So being able to focus on what is important to me, focusing on what I am really passionate about, that’s what helped me succeed in my sporting career. I was very passionate about that, but then once that came to an end, I needed to find that new area that really excited me; every morning I wanted to get out of bed and tackle this new challenge.
So I think that is really important for sportspeople…that it’s not the end of the road, it’s just a new beginning…but in a sense that’s a new and exciting challenge in itself.
Was there any advice or specific people that helped and guided you?
My study was incredibly important in giving me certain skills and certain tools. I took a Commerce degree at Sydney University, I majored in Finance and Economics and then I went on to my masters. For me, study was fantastic at the time of training because I was training in 5 sports often doing 4 sessions a day and up to 6 hours each day, so training was my main focus and then study was sort of my getaway and my break so that’s my mental stimulation which I think really worked hand-in-hand.
But later down the track, I came to a point where what I really learnt from the training is more of the organisation: having that clear goal, that clear picture in my head of what I wanted to achieve, and then creating a plan and having the determination to see that through. So finding good quality mentors and people who could help me along the way, and doing a lot of research about how I was going to put that plan into action.
And then just constantly focusing on what’s important now. I was lucky enough to do a training session with Michael Phelps over in Colorado Springs at the US Olympic Training Center and at the end of that training session, I spoke to Bob Bowman, who was Michael Phelps’s coach. He talked about having a ‘WIN’ mentality, which is something I have really taken into business. He talked about ‘What’s Important Now?’ So that’s just focusing on the present and focusing on the daily tasks and all the things I need to do that are going to make a big difference tomorrow.
I always believe that people overestimate what they can achieve in the short-term and underestimate what they can achieve in the long-term. So having that plan in place for today, so that you can achieve what you want tomorrow is very important.
I was quite selfish in my training and a lot of these tough athletes are also very selfish in what they do as they’re in their bubble. But to know when you are finished that there is a big, wide world out there and even if you don’t know what you want to do right now, that it’s about going out there and finding out what you want to do and creating that new goal and that new challenge for yourself.
I believe that if people aren’t laughing at your goals then they (your goals) aren’t big enough. There’s no reason that you can’t apply the lessons you’ve learnt from your sport to your career (after sport).
How did you identify career and study options, either during your sporting career or in retirement, which led you to working in the industry or job you are in now?
I took up modern pentathlon when I was 19 years old. I’d never picked up a pistol before, I’d never picked up an Epée and I was a terrible swimmer. So not only had I not done these things, I had no idea how to be successful. The most important thing for me – and something that I’ve taken into my business – was to find someone who’s done that. I went out and found a mentor who’s an Olympian in each one of those sports. So they put that plan together for me to execute, which was really important.
When I came to business, it was the same thing. I was really interested in property, but I certainly had no idea what I was doing. But in the early stages, I went out and did the same thing; I went out and found mentors or coaches in property who had been there and done that, and who could provide sound advice and would help me along the journey.
What career path are you following now?
I competed at the London Olympic Games and after that, I was looking for a new challenge, a new goal and a career as well. We’re an amateur sport, so we don’t receive any funding so I had to pay for a lot of my training expenses. So wanting to go out in the real world, I wanted to find a job and a profession. I was quite passionate about property, so what I ended up doing was starting to research. I didn’t start with a lot in terms of a plan or a model, but with the help of a couple of mentors, I created that plan.
I went into property with very little money because I’d put my money into my training previously. So with very little money, I was able to work with quite a few people and build up a property portfolio. I recently purchased the old Katoomba Golf Club which we re-branded as Escarpments Estate in Katoomba. We’re currently developing 24 townhouses here and also converting the old golf club into a restaurant, gym, golf driving range (which will be the first one in the Blue Mountains) as well as a function centre.
What I found in sport was that determination and planning, and being able to deal with that level of pressure. It was finding comfort in discomfort to take on this new challenge and creatively put this new deal together, which at this stage has been successful. But it’s also something I’m quite passionate about and enjoy. For people coming out of their sporting career, it may take them a couple of different jobs to find something that they really love, but something which they will certainly have that passion about again.
Why did you decide to work for yourself instead of taking a job?
Midway through 2014, I was given an option of whether I go full-time or whether I take a redundancy. That was really a big turning point for me, because at that stage I had about $3,000 that was to carry me and I’d purchased a house and I had a mortgage, so I was under some financial pressure.
With my business I had to make it work, I didn’t have a choice. I knew that if I took the full-time role then it will just delay what I was passionate about. The job was paying the bills, but I wasn’t particularly enjoying that role. But I had to have the courage to make that big decision.
What sort of athletes do you think would be suited to your role or industry?
I wouldn’t say it’s a particular athlete that would be suited to the role in the industry. I just believe that it is someone who is quite proactive, someone who can go out there and has the determination and the vision to be quite entrepreneurial in their approach. I don’t think you need particular skills as long as you’ve got the determination and tenacity to see it through.
For me, that helped when I was taking risks in my business to say to myself, “I’ve competed in the Olympic Games, I’ve competed in the World Championships. I understand what pressure is like.” So I tried to translate that into a mental state and have the determination to take the educated risk into these other areas, other challenges and levels of discomfort.