Carney was born in England, but moved with her family to Australia at an early age.
Carney began her sporting life as a runner: when she was in grade four, she was the only girl to win a medal in the school Wesley College (Victoria) cross-country mixed race. As a teenager Carney remembers jogging after school everyday. "From that time on there has hardly been a day when I haven't trained", she said. At 13 she set a Victorian record in her 3,000 m debut, and at 18 she was winning national school titles. She wanted to go to the Olympics, but realised she wasn't going to hit her peak as a middle-distance athlete until her late 20s. She reached the finals in the under-20 national championships in the 1,500 m and 3,000 m. As she thought running for another 10 years would be "boring", she decided instead to do some cross-training and triathlons. Emma quickly became one of the few athletes to represent Australia in two sports - Athletics and Triathlon.
In the spring of 1993, Carney tried her first triathlon, which she won after overcoming a 7-minute deficit from a 700 metre swim. Her accountant father, David, told her, "It’s 18 months until the world championship in Wellington. If you learn to swim and train, you’ll be the best triathlete in the world." She recalled, "My father went over everything I had to do point by point and it all made sense."
In November 1994, she fulfilled her father's prediction, winning the ITU World title—her first international triathlon—by a record margin of 2 minutes 12 seconds. From June 1995 to April 1997, Carney recorded an unbroken string of 12 straight ITU World Cup wins. After a narrow loss to Michellie Jones at the 1997 Monaco World Cup, she recorded another four straight World Cup victories, before adding another ITU World Champion title in November. Viral infections meant that she failed to win the 1995 and 1996 World Championships, but still managed to finish second in 1996.
Her fellow 1997 World Champion, Chris McCormack said, "Emma is hard!", referring to her shockingly long training at fearlessly high intensity, and her ruthless ferocity in competition.
After winning the Ishigaki World Cup race in April 1998, Carney never again won a World Cup or World Championship race. In July she could only manage 15th in the World Cup race at Gamagori, then failed to finish at the Lausanne World Championships in August, but partly recovered to finish fourth in the November Auckland World Cup race. Following a metatarsal injury in 1999 which prevented her running for eight weeks, she finished 3rd in the Montreal World Championships. In 2000, she failed to qualify for the Australian Olympic women's triathlon team, despite an appeal to the CAS.
She described this period as a "shitty time", when she could not work out what was wrong. She said, "my reaction to racing badly was to train harder—which was the worst thing I could do for my heart." Despite her problems, she managed to win some races, including the 1998 Australian National Championship, the 1999 Australian Long Course Championship and the 2000 Australian long course and sprint national championships.
Carney was forced to retire from professional triathlon in 2004 after suffering a cardiac arrest in Canada. She was later diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a life-threatening condition that causes the heart to beat too fast and out of control, usually during high-intensity anaerobic exercise. The doctors found it difficult to diagnose her condition, partly because Carney's resting heart rate when asleep was only 21 bpm. In October 2004 surgeons implanted an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) in the right ventricle of her heart.
She later speculated, "I always raced so hard that maybe it contributed to damaging my heart. Having said that, I probably was unable to approach it differently. That was just the way I was wired - all or nothing."
In 2006, Carney's elder sister Jane died of cancer. She had thought that her heart problems were "really hard", but describes her sister's death as "a well of anguish that surpasses anything I’d ever seen or felt in life."
After her ICD implant, doctors told her that she could not exercise at all, but Carney found that not exercising made her heart worse and that instead it was better to exercise a little every day to keep it under control. She now finds that she can do "quite a lot" of training, provided she avoids damaging high-intensity spurts. For example, she completed an iroman-length (180 km) bike ride, and hopes eventually to complete a full Ironman. Occasionally she exercises too hard, causing her ICD to "shock" her heart, as happened once when she was out running with her father. It also happened in 2008 when she was taking part in the 299 km Melbourne-to-Warrnambool bike race, when she forgot about her condition and attempted to chase down the leading pack.
Carney has had a strained relationship with her sport's governing body, Triathlon Australia (TA), partly because of their reluctance to allow her to compete, with her well-known heart condition, in their races. She has called on TA to require annual ECG and ultrasound tests of their elite athletes. Emma now spends her time coaching through www.emmacarney.com.Note: only top-ten finishes are shown in the table below.
Source: http://www.triathlon.org/athletes/profile/emma_carney/2012 - Triathlon Australia Hall of Fame
2014 - International Triathlon Union Hall of Fame
2016 - Inducted as Athlete Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame