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FISH OUT OF WATER







AN INSIGHT INTO THE STRUGGLES OF AN ATHLETE’S TRANSITION







FISH OUT OF WATER







AN INSIGHT INTO THE STRUGGLES OF AN ATHLETE’S TRANSITION













JADE EDMISTONE



Copyright © Jade Edmistone 2016



Jade Edmistone asserts her right to be known as the author of this work with contribution from Linley Frame, Felicity Lemke, Sarah Lynch, Jade Neilsen, Samantha Riley, Sarah Ryan, Jess Schipper, Tarnee Southwell, Alice Tait, Petria Thomas, Libby Trickett, Elka Whalan and Lana McCloughan.

Cover design © www.boldbeardesigns.com

EBOOK ISBN 978-0-9946423-3-2

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing purposes of private study, research or review permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior written consent. Enquiries should be made direct to the author.

Disclaimer

The material in this publication is of the nature of general comment only and does not represent professional advice. It is not intended to provide specific guidance for particular circumstances, and it should not be relied on as the basis for any decision to take action or not take action on any matter which it covers. Readers should obtain professional advice where appropriate, before making any such decisions. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the author disclaims all responsibility and liability to any person, arising directly or indirectly from any person taking or not taking action based on the information in this publication.









This book is dedicated to those in my life who have celebrated with me during the highs and been there to hold my hand, my heart, and my mind as I have navigated the lowest of lows…

To mum and dad for standing by and supporting me when I wasn’t strong enough to stand on my own two feet…

To Annie for always listening and understanding without judgment…

And to Cass for opening my eyes to the world and loving me unconditionally.



Table of Contents

Foreword

Author’s Preface

Prologue

Chapter 1: You put your right foot in

Chapter 2: Photo Section

Chapter 3: You put your right foot out

Chapter 4: Reach for the Stars

Chapter 5: Hanging up the goggles

Chapter 6: Been there, don’t that, now what?

Chapter 7: Who am I?

Chapter 8: Tell me more

Chapter 9: It can be a lonely world

Chapter 10: I think I can, I know I can

Chapter 11: Words of Wisdom

Chapter 12: Am I really done?

Chapter 13: At the end of the day

Chapter 14: by Lana McCloughan (MPsych)

Epilogue

Athlete Profiles

Support is out there



Foreword

Wow! Jade Edmistone has just asked ‘little ol me’ to write a foreword for her book!

To create a foreword for this particular book has put me into experiencing a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. How can I possibly get all that I feel into words? It’s as if our language can’t quite satisfy what I need to say. I am not sure I have the credibility and the quintessential fame for this task, although I have had the pleasure to work with many athletes and swimmers to develop their mental health in a very unusual and powerful way. This project is such an honour, and I know how proud my mum would be!

It was Jade’s mum I met first. The love of a daughter from a mother can be so strong it can translate to emotions that cannot be spoken but only felt. I felt it that day! Jade and I would meet regularly and discuss swimming, the transition and life in general, and then she spoke of this book. I was in awe! I devoured the chapters’ one after the other and was delighted in the raw honesty.

When you swim and are a swimmer, your whole life revolves around swimming, you become obsessed with the stars of the sport, especially our Aussie stars! I was overwhelmed with the sheer brilliance of the concept of this book. I read through the chapters devouring the stories, yarns, and personal heartfelt information about many of our heroes of Australian swimming. It was like having a string of autobiographies all in one book.

Retirement can be a dirty word for swimmers. The emotions that drive the decision to retire can be scary, and that uncertainty evokes for some losing a sense of themselves. As I worked with one of the fastest swimmers in the world, they revealed to me that they wanted to retire after an extensive and incredible service to Australia and Australians. After some thought of what to say, my reply was ‘that retirement is not an option until you have created something as good as or better than swimming to enjoy’. Fortunately, my small but profound reply has promoted the most wonderful transformation into something that will be even more valuable for Australia and Australians in the future.

Working with elite athletes brings such diversity and challenges. I’m only a ‘crazy’ lady that is on her solo mission at pools talking, promoting mental health and wellbeing within swimming. I am unusual, quirky and can be extremely controversial. Let’s be honest, the ‘run of the mill’ person struggles to really prosper, and each athlete that contributed to this magic book has themselves a unique, creative personality that produced profound performances in the water. However, the reality is, the sport of swimming has had recent issues and problems, especially with the retirement choices of our heroes. It has been dramatic for some, and our media adores the entertainment it provides the public as well as the financial gains. Many books have been written by our swimmers to qualify and enhance these melodramatic stories. My delightful attraction to this book was how Jade had put together many different accounts of the transition into ‘real life’. This book isn’t the dramatic self-pitying stories of hardship and blame that seems to be popular on our bookshelves. These are real women, real stories, and real experiences that pass on and stimulate wisdom to our existence and the natural transformations that life has to offer.

Both my brothers retired from swimming and pretty much did not visit a pool for many years. My eldest brother keeps his Olympic, and Commonwealth medals packed away in a tin at the back of a cupboard as if that part of his life was just a childhood phase. I had a different experience! I remember regularly coming home to find my mum having prepared a cuppa with biscuits and sometimes, if I was lucky, crumpets with lashings of butter. It was her devious way of keeping and enhancing that communication with her teenage daughter and making sure that I did not follow my brothers in thinking that all my time in the water was wasted. She knew my swimming meant something different to me and knew I loved swimming and my swimming community even though I had not achieved the perceived success of my elder brothers. Little did I know she was preparing me for the next stage in my life and encouraging me to make a difference to all that I come in contact with in the swimming world. I will always be truly grateful to mum and for the transition into the real world that had begun with many conversations over cups of tea!

If you are a parent, a swimmer, a sporting fan, a coach, a teacher, or if you are a human that is fascinated in how the minds of others are stimulated into change then this is the book for you!

You can be certain of a fabulous read, and I challenge you to put the book down! You will gain so much of an understanding of the details of what happens after swimming and more importantly giving such insight into what mental tools are required for developing a future.

Jade! You are such a brave inspiration, and I know you will continue to thrive. Your enthusiasm for what is important for athletes is evident with this sensational work and I look forward to your extended creativity and what changes it produces. Congratulations!

Julie Robinson

Master & Trainer of Hypnosis and NLP for Sports Performance



Author’s Preface

Transition is the elephant in the room. It is the inevitable event that everyone goes through, but no one wants to talk about. The problem being, it is a huge issue that more often than not brings with it many difficulties. It’s my personal struggles with transition that has led to the writing of this book.

Like a lot of elite athletes, I had a retirement plan, but plans don’t always work out the way you want them to. After years in the sport that I loved, swimming, my time came to an end. In the years that followed I made a number of transitions, each of which brought their own difficulties. My first was from elite athlete to a new mother.

Being a mum was worlds apart from being an elite athlete. Not saying that I am a selfish human being, but as an athlete, there is a certain amount of selfishness that comes with the territory. When you are an athlete, everything is about you; your training, your recovery, your nutrition, your competition, your goals. To get to the top of any sport, you have to be the main focus the majority of the time. When you are a mum, the main focus is your children. So this was a tough transition to make and one that I most certainly struggled with.

Three years after leaving the sport, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Being bipolar II, my lows were by far more prevalent than my highs, and it is for this reason that it went undiagnosed for so long. While I didn’t know I was suffering from bipolar, I did know that I had been struggling with depression consistently since I was sixteen. I hid this as best I could, as I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone about it or that anyone else would understand.

What I now recognise is that throwing myself into sport and the training it required masked the symptoms of my bipolar for years, and it wasn’t until I stopped that it was able to be picked up. What followed were numerous medication changes, hospital admissions, psychotherapy and even electroconvulsive therapy. It continues to be a rough ride and an incessant learning curve but with my partner, my children, and my family by my side I am making it through.

Making any transition in life is difficult and coming from elite sport is no different. It requires a lot of work, self-reflection, and adjustments as you transfer from a goal-driven life filled with constant feedback to that of a ‘normal’ person where the feedback is limited to your own self-talk and self-belief. In this book, some of Australia’s best female swimmers have reflected on their own experiences. What worked, what didn’t work, what helped and what hindered as they transitioned from a life in the fast lane to a life like everyone else.

It is my hope that this book will bring to light a greater understanding of the transition experience - not only in the negative but also in a positive way. I would like to express my genuine appreciation to all the athletes for their honest and brave contribution to the development of this book. And to Lana McCloughan who so generously contributed by authoring the summarising final chapter in a professional and yet personal manner. Lana’s compelling words round out the book perfectly, bringing the perspective of an experienced psychologist, former elite athlete and more importantly, a friend.

I do hope this book will increase the awareness of all who are closely involved with athletes. An awareness, which may lead to the enhancement of athletes’ well being throughout, as well as after their active involvement in their athletic career.



~ Jade Edmistone



Prologue

For as long as I can remember, writing a book has been front and center of my bucket list. Something I had a desperate desire to accomplish but with not one iota of experience, knowledge, or know-how in the complex world of literature. English was always graded well throughout my schooling years, but was my least favourite subject by a country mile. My passion fell with mathematics, physics, and health, where logic, facts, and numbers spoke the truth so clearly. I never felt as comfortable in the realm of subjective grading where fantasy, imagination, and creativity filled the assessments; give me algebra, Newton’s Laws and equations any day!

Trying to understand where the urge to write a book came from was a challenge, but knowing how much I struggled to communicate true thoughts and feelings through spoken words made sense of it pretty quick. So writing a book it was, but what on earth do I write about, and how does one even go about doing that? There are endless autobiographies lining the shelves of bookstores and whatever it was going to be, the one thing I knew for certain was that it would absolutely be non-fiction.

I never gained a profile big enough in swimming to warrant any real interest being had in a book about my sporting life story. And while I achieved greatness following the black line, it wasn’t enough in my eyes to hold the attention of a general reader for a whole book. However I have experienced a lot of things in my life outside of the pool, and something I am very passionate about is the issue of transition - so I had found the subject matter of my book!

While the first part of Fish Out Of Water is my personal journey through life, you will find it very different to a standard autobiography. You may read parts of it and find yourself having questions and wanting to know more, but what’s important to realise is this story’s focus is on transition and not on Jade Edmistone. There are things in my life that are key to understanding the true picture of my experience and that is why they are included in these pages.

Over the years following my retirement through conversations with fellow athletes, it became evident that I was not alone in my struggles with transition, and there were so many commonalities I shared amongst my friends. We were all going through so many of the same difficulties, and talking about them over coffee and sharing a laugh or two was quite comforting. Just knowing I wasn’t alone with things I was feeling made a huge difference in being OK. So when I knew I wanted to write a book about my transition, I also knew I wanted to share other stories at the same time.

Over the years I have seen many a story hit the headlines with athletes ‘behaving badly’. Not excusing poor choices by any means, I am certain that a lot of what I have seen can be attributed to the issue of transition and more often than not these stories feature male athletes. Being a woman myself, I felt this book was an opportunity to give voice to the females of the swimming world. There are many experiences that are specific to women with pregnancy, childbirth and becoming a mother, and these deserve to be emphasised in their own right. In saying that, I believe there are many messages within these pages that are relatable to many demographics, both male and female, and in reading the words you will find yourself reflecting on your own life experiences – athlete or not.

The athletes I have included were purposely chosen in order to highlight some key points in relation to the issue:

Transition is not isolated to those that receive a high profile;

Transition is not isolated to those that achieve the penultimate in individual Olympic gold;

Transition is not isolated to those that spend a certain number of years on the Australian team;

Transition is not isolated to those that retire while young;

Transition is not isolated to those that do not plan for their retirement; and

Transition is not isolated to those that are forced to retire through illness or injury.

One important message I hope is highlighted through this book is that transition is a real issue, it can be a serious issue and it does affect ALL athletes to varying degrees. It is not about how much or how little you achieve in the sport, but rather how much time and energy you commit in trying to achieve. There is nothing that can be done to avoid going through it, but education and awareness of what it is and how to support it can go a long way in making ones experience more pleasant.

Please enjoy your experience in reading Fish Out Of Water!



Chapter 1

You put your right foot in



~

Big things often have small beginnings”

~



I learnt to swim in my grandparent’s backyard pool. Some of my fondest childhood memories are playing with my brother, cousins, aunts, uncles and parents at family gatherings in that pool. The primary school I went to had an outdoor, six-lane, 25m pool so I started swimming lessons and joined the school swimming club when I was seven years old. The pool was unheated, resulting in swimming being limited to between term four and term one each year, in the warmer months.

Unlike a lot of swimmers, I was very coordinated on land and did a lot of different sports growing up. I remember in one year of high school competing at the Queensland State School Championships in four different sports - touch football, swimming, basketball, and triathlon. The two I concentrated on most were touch football and swimming. I would swim from the September school holidays through to the National Age Championships in April. Touch football would run from March each year through the winter so they complemented each other quite well.

I continued this summer/winter split until the age of fifteen when my coach at the time suggested to my parents and me that it may be time to make a move to a larger swimming club that trained all year round and so it came time to make a choice between touch football and swimming. I loved them both, and they were so very different to each other, it was a tough choice to make. Although I had achieved more in touch football at that point, swimming was an individual sport that could be taken to a higher level, the Olympics, so that is what I went with.

Coming from a small school program swimming through the summer season only, it was quite daunting to increase my training both in kilometers and number of sessions swum as well as starting a gym program and training all year round in a 50m pool. I was nervous at the change, but my new coach was great and I settled into the new squad environment well.

With my first year of winter training under my belt, I made some huge gains in my best times. The next National Age Championships, at the age of sixteen, I made my first final and won a bronze medal with a six seconds improvement in the 100m breaststroke. Needless to say, I was convinced that the move was a good one! Things were going along smoothly, I was thriving at my new club, and school was traveling along well. I had always been a good student, getting high grades across the board, but in year eleven on the first of June 1998, my life took a different direction.

~

Sometimes the things we can’t

change end up changing us”

~

On that first day of June in 1998, I remember getting a phone call with some absolutely horrific news. One of my close school friends, Sheppo, had taken his own life. I was shocked and didn’t know what to think or how to feel having a good friend commit suicide and to have no clue he had been suffering or for how long. I had been very lucky in life not having to deal with any deaths up until that point, and I was inexperienced with what came with it. I was close to Sheppo, I was hurting like I hadn’t hurt before and I didn’t know how to cope with the pain.

His funeral was a week later, and it was the first funeral I had ever experienced. It was horrible; an open casket with the image still as clear as anything in my mind to this day. I did a eulogy through which I was a blubbering mess. I’m not sure that my words could have been understood, but I did the best I could. The whole experience was rather traumatic.

After the death and the funeral that followed, my world changed. I had thoughts and feelings that I didn’t understand, but I kept them to myself. Not believing anyone else would understand and unsure how to express and explain them anyway. I had nightmares nearly every night with the image of the open casket haunting my dreams. It wasn’t long before I reached the end of my tether, unable to take it anymore and needing an out. I hated life and what it had done to me. I couldn’t handle the emotions, and I didn’t know how to cope with them. Even though it was Sheppo’s suicide that had me feeling such hurt, I too wanted to kill myself and put an end to it all.

Struggling with my suicidal thoughts, when alone, there were days that I would walk around the house with a rope around my neck, crying uncontrollably and not knowing what to do. There were numerous opportunities for me to take my life but I just couldn’t go through with it. I didn’t want to have a member of my family, whom I love so deeply, arrive home to find me hanging. Keeping a rope with me all the time, each moment I got to the point where I wanted to end it but couldn’t, would be seen as a failure, beating myself up and thinking myself weak, unable to finish it off.

I was still swimming throughout this time, and I would use the training as a form of self-harm, pushing myself as hard as I could. It helped me feel better at the time, but the thoughts would still be there. Eventually, I started to hate the sport and school as well - it just wasn’t the same without Sheppo there. I’m not really sure why I hated swimming because my results were great, continually improving and generally doing well but the thoughts in my head were telling me otherwise. “You are a failure, you are weak, you are hopeless, and you are nothing.” Instead of swimming being an outlet and a release, it became a time of solitude with two hours of self-hating talk each session.

It was 1999, and I was in my first year of grade twelve. Because of my swimming, I had decided to spread my final year of schooling over two. I was not coping with the negative thoughts in my mind and eventually it became too much to handle so I left school altogether. I continued to swim but it wasn’t long before that came to an end as well, quitting in February 2000. I don’t like to use the word ‘retired’ at this point in my life because I feel ‘quit’ is more representative of where I was at being I just gave up for what seemed like no real reason. On reflection, there was a very good reason as my mental health was injured and I was too young and too naive to know any better or to know what to do about it. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone what was happening because I was embarrassed by what I had become and felt like I needed to hide it and appear to be ‘normal.’



~

Your life does not get better by chance,

it gets better by change”

~



After leaving the sport, I moved to Armidale, NSW to study a Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Teaching at the University of New England. The change of scene was great, and I didn’t miss swimming at all. I had a new focus and a new environment. Being in a college, the party scene was vibrant, and I turned to alcohol to help deal with the depressive thoughts that were still present in my mind. Drinking four nights just about every week of the semester, and not just a few, a lot. The alcohol was giving me a break from my mind - the way swimming used to. It was a time where I didn’t have the self-hating thoughts, and I felt free. The alcohol numbed the hurt and my mind and the more I could experience that sense of freedom the better. Amazingly I was still able to get great grades in the semester, finishing with three high distinctions and one distinction.

After one semester in Armidale, I transferred back home to Brisbane to study a Bachelor of Science at the Queensland University of Technology and after getting high grades from my first full year of study, I was accepted into a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University of Queensland. The drinking still happened but much less frequently now that I was home from college and with a newfound purpose that I was passionate about, becoming a physiotherapist, my mind was in a better place.

It was in my second year of the physiotherapy degree, in 2002, when I returned to the pool. One of the main reasons for diving back in was the 50m breaststroke, which was previously not an event, had been added to the program of the World Championships in 2001. The fifty was always my favoured event, and now there was an opportunity to compete in it on the world stage. I started training at the end of January 2002, and it wasn’t long before I was swimming the same times I was hitting before quitting two years prior. I loved being back in the water and focused on my goal of wanting to be the fastest woman in the world for the 50m breaststroke. Things seemed to be progressing rapidly, and I was taking some big steps forward in achieving that feat.

In June of 2003, I moved to Canberra to train at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). It was a great move, but it meant having to leave my physiotherapy degree, which was exceedingly disappointing. I was really enjoying that degree and becoming a physiotherapist was something that sat right with me, and was excited about. However, my newfound goals were stronger and proved more important to me at the time. The opportunity to train at the Australian Institute of Sport was too big to let go, and the move was inevitable. Because I had completed a year of science already, I decided to return to that degree to study externally and part-time while I continued to chase my swimming dreams in Canberra.



~

When you focus on what you want,

everything else falls away”

~



The horrible thoughts, images, and feelings that led to me quitting the sport three years earlier were still present, but they moved to the back of my mind and weren’t nearly as strong. I was focused on reaching my goals and doing what it took to get there, and the environment at the AIS was truly inspiring. I was surrounded by some of the best athletes in the country and even the world. Not just in swimming but in a range of other sports like athletics, boxing, water polo and basketball. Everything was there for you, all you had to do was take it and make the most of it. The training facilities were world class; there was a huge gym, doctors, physiotherapists, masseurs, a dining hall and your accommodation. If I was going to reach my goals, it was going to be from here.

My first National Championships following the move to Canberra was in March 2004. It doubled as the selection trials for the Athens Olympic Games. As always, I had trained hard for this meet and went in wanting to do personal best times. With two of the world’s best breaststrokers in Leisel Jones and Brooke Hansen as my competitors, I had no expectations of actually making the team. It ended up being a good meet for me. I achieved my goal of wanting to do best times and in doing so I finished third to Brooke and Leisel (who went on to win silver and bronze at the Olympics), missing selection onto that Olympic team by less than one second. It was at that moment I realised I did in fact, have the potential to make it to the top of the sport. That my goals and dreams could be my reality one day, so I came away from the meet and kicked my training up to the next level.

Later that year, in September of 2004, fourteen months after making the move to Canberra, I broke my first World Record in the 50m breaststroke (short course) and in doing so qualified for my first Australian team to compete at the 2004 World Short Course Championships in Indianapolis. The 2004 National Short Course Championships was a dream meet. It was in Brisbane so my family was able to be there and watch as I broke the Commonwealth Record in the heat, equaled the World Record in the semifinal and the broke the World Record in the final. It was truly amazing. My dad didn’t come to many of my swim meets over the years, but he was there to watch me, and I remember seeing tears in his eyes when I came up to the stands after breaking the World Record. It meant a lot to me that they were both there, and I knew my parents were proud.

The World Short Course Championships were held right after the Nationals, so I was off to Indianapolis on my first Australian team. I was so excited. It was a weird feeling going into my debut major international meet being the favourite now that I held the World Record. Here I was, in awe seeing all these girls I had only ever watched on the television and yet they were looking at me because I was now the fastest in history. It was a lot of pressure, the moment got the better of me, and I finished second in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke. I felt like I had failed and I had let my parents down being that they had flown halfway around the world to watch me swim. I was disappointed in myself at the time, knowing I could swim faster than I managed to on the day, but looking back it was a pretty amazing few weeks of my life. Breaking a Commonwealth Record, equaling a World Record, breaking a World Record and then placing second in the world in two events. A combination of moments I will proudly carry with me for the rest of my life.

With the first part of my goal complete, it was now time to focus on part b - the long course 50m breaststroke. I was on a roll and swimming well. In March of 2005, I qualified for my first long course Australian team by breaking the Australian Record in the 50m breaststroke. We later travelled to Montreal, Canada to compete at the 2005 World Championships in July. With the experience of 2004 under my belt, I was able to head into this meet with a lot more confidence and being sure of myself in feeling that I belonged on that stage. I had the meet of my life winning the 50m breaststroke in World Record time. The ultimate achievement that doesn’t happen all too often. It is more common for World Records to be broken in races that hold less pressure, like semi-finals. Being able to put that race together in the final, when the medals are on the line, was amazing. It couldn’t get any better. To this day that is the race of my life and will remain my favourite memory of my career in the pool. Part ‘b’ was now complete, I was the fastest woman in history for both the 50m breaststroke long course and short course, but while I was crowned World Champion in the long course format, I hadn’t yet conquered that feat in the short course arena.

In 2006 I wanted to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Being able to compete at a home games is huge, and it was something I desperately wanted to experience. The selection trials were held in the brand new pool that had been purposely built for the meet and it was a fantastic facility. I had woken up the morning of my 50m breaststroke but something wasn’t right, my back was extremely sore. I had been having a few lower back issues in the months leading to the National Championships and it seized up overnight. I couldn’t even touch my toes when I woke, but I needed to swim if I wanted to make the team. In swimming, you get one chance to qualify for the Australian team, and that is by finishing in the top two of the final (or top six for freestyle relays). There are no exceptions for illness or injury for anyone.

So I went to the pool and saw the team physiotherapist who worked on my back to loosen it up. Eventually, I got to a point where I could touch my toes so I at least knew I could reach the blocks for my start. I hopped in the water and did a modified warm up with a few drills that helped me find my feel for the water, but I did no dives or sprints. A normal warm up would have seen a few 15 and 25m sprints to get the fast twitch muscle fibers going, but I couldn’t risk it with my back so I kept it slow and easy.

I was nervous heading into the heat swim knowing how sore my back was and not knowing how it was going to hold up in a race. I just concentrated on the process. I knew all I had to do was to get through to the next round, the semi-final, and I would have more time to get my back feeling better. Being the World Record holder and World Champion, I had a little room to move with my times and didn’t have to swim my absolute best to get to the semi-final so all I was thinking about was my stroke and all the little things I needed to do to get to the other wall - the process.

I got on the blocks, took my mark and when the starting signal went, I dived in and went through the process, one stroke at a time. It felt as though the race went in slow motion, then I hit the wall, turned around to look at the time and low and behold it was a new World Record! I couldn’t believe it! My mum was up in the stands, and I remember looking at her in disbelief, and she too was in shock. How can I go from waking up and not being able to touch my toes to breaking a World Record? On reflection, it was the focus I had in the process. I wasn’t giving any thought to the end result; I only thought about the little things I had to do between leaving the blocks and getting to the end of the pool for that one lap. It is all about the process. I went on to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke.

Just five weeks after the National Championships and selection trials, the Commonwealth Games started in Melbourne. It was so exciting and very different to the other major meets I had competed at prior. It was my first time in an athlete’s village, and it was an amazing experience. It was so different getting up behind the blocks having a whole grandstand with thousands of people cheering for you to do well - it was exhilarating. I’m not sure if I got overwhelmed by the whole experience or what, but I didn’t quite hit the mark in my pet event, the 50m breaststroke, and while I was the favourite heading in, I disappointingly finished with the silver medal. Later in the meet, I did swim well in the 100m breaststroke and finished with the silver in that event as well with a personal best time placing me as the second fastest Australian of all time. It was a mixed bag of emotions with one great result and one below par, but overall it was a fantastic experience.

Straight after the Commonwealth Games, we travelled to Shanghai to compete at the 2006 World Short Course Championships. After winning the silver medal back in 2004, this was my chance to complete that goal and become World Champion in the 50m breaststroke short course. With a bit more experience to my name this time around, I wasn’t feeling as nervous as I was two years earlier in Indianapolis. With more confidence in my abilities, and myself, I had a great meet finishing with the gold medal in the 50m breaststroke, a bronze medal in the 100m and a gold medal in the 4x100m medley relay which we won in World Record time. It was a great way to finish what was a very busy couple of months in the competition pool.

I returned home from Shanghai and got married at a dream like wedding at my aunt and uncle’s winery on the South Coast of NSW. On the outside, life seemed to be going along perfectly. However, after such a big high, I fell down a little on the inside, and my bad thoughts started to come back and get stronger. At the time there didn’t seem to be any reason for this change in mindset because everything was going well, but on reflection, it was about goals. I was so focused on reaching my goal of being the fastest 50m breaststroker in the world, and once I had achieved that feat, I no longer had a clear focus. My reason for returning to the pool had been ticked off, so what do I do now? Not knowing what else to do, I just kept swimming.

Feeling the need for something different, my then husband and I moved from Canberra back to Brisbane, and I started training in a new program. The change was great. It was good being back home close to family, and the new program was a great fit for me. In the new environment, I felt I could sink my teeth into making the next Australian team, however, a few months later I missed selection for the 2007 World Championships. I was very disappointed having made the team for the last three years, and it meant I wouldn’t get the opportunity to defend my world title from 2005. It took some time to come to terms with that disappointment, but I managed to refocus and set a new goal of competing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics the following year.

~

If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet

has 25 more letters”

~

Training was going as close to perfect as it possibly could. I was fitter, stronger, and in the best shape of my life thus far. Everything was on track to make the team, and that was my retirement plan. I was going to swim at the 2008 Olympics and then retire happily having achieved all that I wanted in the sport.

For whatever reasons, things didn’t go to plan; I underperformed and therefore missed the team. It was a close race, but once again I missed out on those first two crucial places by a fraction of a second. I was absolutely devastated and cried for days. Both my coach and I had no answers as to why it didn’t come together. Unfortunately, it was just one of those things. There isn’t anything I could have done better in my preparation; I just didn’t execute the race to the best of my ability. I wouldn't say that I coped with that situation at all, but I had no choice other than to pull myself together because I was traveling to Manchester straight after the Olympic Trials to compete at the 2008 World Short Course Championships. Having that new focus and the drive to want to do well definitely helped to get back on track quickly.

Manchester was a mixed bag for me. I was still heartbroken from missing out on the Olympic team, but I had to suppress that as best I could if I were to have any chance of swimming well. I tried to convince myself that I was in good form despite the recent disappointment. My first event was the 50m breaststroke. I was the defending World Champion and the current World Record holder so there was a lot of pressure both internally and externally heading into the race. I didn’t cope with the emotions nor the expectations, and I finished the final in fourth place, taking another hit to my already weakened heart. How did I cope with such strong feelings? Like every other time I put my goggles on and dived into the warm down pool for a good cry where nobody could see. Sometimes that solitude of a long warm down is enough to calm yourself down and clear your mind for the next event. My next event was the 100m breaststroke, and this was my opportunity to redeem myself from the Nationals and to swim to my potential. At last, I got some success as I swam my personal best time and won the silver medal, a great way to end the meet.

Following the World Championships, I took an extended break from training to try and figure out what I wanted to do now that my original plan had fallen to pieces. It was during this time when a routine pap smear test picked up cervical cancer, a result that I had not prepared myself for at all. I remember getting the phone call from my GP who told me the news, and I was in shock, I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. It took a little while for it to sink in but what it did do was put my recent disappointments in the pool into perspective. When you are in sport and chasing big goals, it becomes your whole world and when you don’t quite reach what you are chasing it feels as if your life is crumbling around you. Now my health was in jeopardy, and the pool seemed insignificant. I was extremely lucky, had it removed completely and have had no issues since, touch wood. It all happened very quickly, and before I knew it, it was all over, I almost didn’t have time to process it, and I think that was a good thing.

I dived back in the water after that scare, but I still didn’t have a real focused goal the way I had experienced in the past. With the lack of focus, the bad thoughts were starting to get stronger again.

~

Every accomplishment starts with

the decision to try”

~

I got back into better shape after putting on a bit of weight during my break, training was going well and my times were getting faster again, but my plans took a turn. With the cervical issues, there was a chance that there may be difficulties falling pregnant, so at the end of 2008 my husband and I decided to start trying for a baby.

It was now February 2009, and I was swimming at the Japan Open in Tokyo when I suspected I was pregnant. I had been tracking my temperature each morning to know when I was ovulating, and it is supposed to drop back down once you are finished but mine was holding steady. I was getting hot flushes in the middle of my warm ups and feeling nauseous at times. This was my second time racing at the Japan Open, and it was one of my favourite meets to compete at. As I had done the year prior, I had a great meet and finished with gold in the 50 and 100m breaststroke. I was swimming some fast times once again and looking on track for the National Championships in April. However, I got home and took a pregnancy test straight away to confirm my suspicions. It was positive! Although we had started trying, I was surprised to have been successful in the first month.

Being only a couple of months out from the National Championships, I continued to swim for a bit longer. I was in pretty good form heading into the meet but just a couple of days out, morning sickness hit me. I was struggling with eating food so it wasn’t great timing for me to be able to put together a good race. I was only swimming the 50m breaststroke at the meet, and I managed to make the final. In a bit of a warped way I thought it would be a pretty cool achievement to make the Australian team as a pregnant woman but I missed out finishing fourth in the last race of my swimming career. Not the way I had ever dreamed of leaving the sport but I was content given the circumstances.



Chapter 2

Photo Section

Wynnum North State School Swimming Club Championships

1989, aged seven years

Wearing my Wynnum District representative shirt

1990, aged eight years

Always enjoyed being involved in the sport as a youngster

1992, aged ten years

Waving to mum as I marched as part of the Metropolitan East Regional Team in 1993, aged eleven years

At Wondall State School Pool

1994, aged twelve years

Meeting my childhood hero, Sam Riley (left)

1994, aged twelve years

With my childhood coach, Mr. Rod Doolan

1995, aged thirteen years

My grandparent’s pool, where my love for swimming began

1995, aged thirteen years

Wondall Swimming Club Championships

1995, aged thirteen years

Ready to race in lane four at the local club derby

1996, aged fourteen years

Receiving my first State School Championships medal (bronze)

1996, aged fourteen years

Recording my times during a training set

1997, aged fifteen years

National Age Champions, 4x100m Club Medley Relay

1999, aged seventeen years

Another of my swimming idols, Susie O’Neil

1999, aged seventeen years

My first National Open Medal

(silver in 50m breaststroke short course)

2002, aged twenty years



Chapter 3

You put your right foot out



~

The hardest part of moving forward

is not looking back”

~



I was now pregnant and had a new focus on becoming a mum. It was new and exciting so the transition out of swimming was smooth and any sadness and sense of loss from leaving the sport was overshadowed by the fact that I was going to be having a baby. However, unlike the first transition into pregnancy, my second one into motherhood was very difficult.

Enduring a very long labour and birthing phase, the whole experience was rather traumatic. It was November 2009 and in the weeks following the birth I was having nightmares, suffering from severe cramping and at times unable to walk. It was put down to post-traumatic stress disorder, but luckily it eventually settled down. My new role as a mother was so different to anything I had done before and took all my energy and time. Going from a world in sport where the focus is completely on you and your needs as an athlete, to a world where your life revolves around this little human being who is completely dependent on you was a shock. Not that I didn’t know what I was getting into, I went in with my eyes wide open to the fact that this is the way it was, but I don’t think anyone can really prepare you for what it is truly like. It takes some time to get used to, but I think it’s the overwhelming unconditional love you have for another human when you have a child that helps you get through the tough moments that come along with it. While it was challenging and I struggled at times, I did enjoy it, and I certainly didn’t miss swimming at all.

Things took a dramatic turn when just seven months later I fell pregnant once again. Having gone through life with goals, plans, and always knowing what was coming next, falling pregnant unexpectedly threw me for six. I was struggling to cope with just one child and the thought of having two under the age of two took it to a whole other level. I was very nervous as it got closer to my due date with the experience of my first labour still very fresh in my mind. I was so scared it was going to be the same, and I didn’t believe I had the strength to go through it again, but luckily my second labour was much quicker.

Even though I was a competent mother and I loved them both unconditionally, I felt like I was drowning. I had no sport, no goals to focus on and drive toward. Having put on nearly 40kg from my racing weight in each pregnancy, I was tired, overweight and had completely lost who I was as a person. I was suffering from postnatal depression, but once again I kept it to myself. I had a lot of support around me but felt very much alone and had no idea where to go and what to do so I turned to what I knew best - training - and decided to attempt a comeback to competitive swimming.


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