Growing up with her feet firmly planted in the Surf Life Saving world, it was not until Aly Bull saw her idol Naomi Flood compete at London 2012 that she believed her dream of competing at the Olympics could ever become reality.
With her initial sights set on the IronWoman Series, Bull began paddling at 16 years of age. She quickly found her groove, and was named the Under 17 Australian IronWoman Champion in 2012.
After her coach suggested kayaking to improve her ski paddling, Bull competed at her first national kayaking competition in 2013, making her first junior team and representing Australia at the Junior World Championships not long after, finishing eighth in the K4 500 meters.
Bull developed a love for the sport and made the decision to focus on kayaking full-time, a choice that proved to pay off when she made her Olympic debut in Rio alongside K2 partner Alyce Wood (nee Burnett).
At the Rio Games, the duo made the A-Finals of the K2 500m by finishing third in their semi-final. In the final they came eighth and finished in a time of 01.51.915.
“I definitely remember my first year being on the team, I had no idea what I was doing and I looked up a lot to AB [Alyce], my K2 partner for so, so many years. I just followed her around to see what she did for competitions and stuff,” said Bull.
“A great thing was being able to hang out with the under 23 team as a junior. Being able to make new friends and learn so much in those first 12 months was awesome.”
Bull made her second Olympic appearance at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games, competing in both the K1500m and K2500m disciplines, finishing just outside of medal contention in the K2 500m with Alyce Wood.
Now a dual-Olympian, 27-year-old Bull has taken on a leadership role within the team.
“It happened really quickly and without me even really realising it, I didn’t fully comprehend that the girls were asking me questions about experiences and things like that,” Bull said when asked about becoming a mentor.
“I was able to share some knowledge but also allow them to grow and learn for themselves as well. I didn’t want to impose the way that I do things on them because everyone is different and brings their own values to the team.
“It’s been a joint learning experience in a way, they look up to me and I look up to them in other areas because they’re coming through with all these awesome skills as well that I’d like to learn.”
Bull has her sights firmly set on Paris 2024, noting that the next nine months will be hectic for all involved.
“With less than one year to go to Paris it has started to feel like ‘oh, it’s really game time now’,” said Bull.
“We never really relax ever in sport cause whenever you get the opportunity to race you want to be racing your best, so this next few months will be really really important.
“I think the third time’s the charm. I feel like we’ve been in such a good place this cycle and I’m really excited to hopefully get the opportunity to race in Paris, it’s going to be good.”
Although firmly focused on kayaking, Bull often returns to competition in her first love of Surf Life Saving. She won the world surf ski title at the 2018 Lifesaving World Championships and the prestigious Open Surf Ski title at the 2023 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships in Perth earlier this year.
Bull is also a firefighter with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, and in addition to her coaching team, she credits much of her success to her family and external support systems.
“I’m so grateful to my family, to folks back home at the sunny coast, my brother and sister in law in Bundy and to Cody, my fiancé, he’s my rock,” she said.
“Also to my firey family at Durack, A shift station in Brissy. It means the world to me that I have their support to be able to go overseas and go and race and then come back on shift like I’ve not missed a beat.
“I wouldn’t change anything for the world.”