ON BEING HAPPY IN YOUR OWN SKIN…
I love racing and winning but, whether it’s sport or anything else in life, my biggest motivation has always been to be the best version of myself I can be. Sometimes it’s in the swimming pool, sometimes it’s in the kitchen – it’s not very often but occasionally I do stretch myself! haha. Being a good friend, a good daughter or sister, or doing things that make me happy and make the people around me happy. I love that.
Everybody focuses on success and achievement but, actually, the biggest marker of success is happiness. I want to enjoy life, love what I do and be happy, knowing that the people around me are happy too. If you have that, you can build any life you want to. That’s something I’ve realized more and more over the past few years because, at some point, I’ll have to hang up the swimming togs for good and find something that I’m passionate about and that I want to give as much time, energy and effort to as I have done for swimming, so having that grounding and balance is so important. When swimming ends, I need to know who I am and what makes me happy outside of the sport - hopefully that won’t be for a few years yet though.
‘Know who you are; do what you love; and look after the people around you. That’s all that matters in life and, when it comes down to it, what will make you happy.’
ON TAKING A BREAK FROM SWIMMING…
It was a big shock for some people when I decided to stop swimming – especially straight after breaking a record – but I never stopped loving swimming or intended to retire. I’ve been swimming for a long time. Having made my first National Team aged 15, I’ve been competing at the highest level for over a decade so I desperately needed a break to revitalize myself and to give my body a break. I’d had some niggling injuries for a while too and had kept training but the pain was increasing. I didn’t want the damage to be irreparable so taking a break gave me the time to sort them. If I hadn’t, my body would never have let me continue pushing it to the same levels that I had been so, if I wanted to keep winning, getting stronger and faster, I had to take control. It was a very natural decision and has been great for me. It also gave me a chance to start enjoying the sport again, physically and mentally, and to discover new things – to see what life looks like outside of swimming.
Coming back into swimming, I feel more passionate than ever… more drive, motivation, energy… and, knowing that my body is in good shape again and pain-free makes training so much more enjoyable. I can really push myself to get better and better.
‘Knowing I could take a break from- and have a life after- swimming really took the pressure out of competing… It gave me so much more psychological freedom and flexibility, even empowerment… When I came back, I chose to come back to swimming, rather than feeling like I had to’
ON THE POWER OF SPORT…
It still surprises me just how many people sport affects indirectly and how passionately they feel about it – and you. When you’re training and competing, you operate inside your own little bubble so it’s easy to forget that so many other people worldwide are invested in you and how you’re doing, especially young swimmers across the country - they need someone to look up to, someone who’s achieving what they’re aiming to and showing them that it’s possible; that they can too. That was an eye opener for me. I had role models growing up but stepping into the role of being one is quite surreal.
‘Growing up, Susie O’Neill was a big inspiration for me. She’s a sporting icon in Australia and her career was finishing just as I was getting into swimming. It’s weird because now I know her, we catch up for coffee and it’s one of those real pinch yourself moments.’
MAKING MEMORIES: BUMPS, BRUISES & LAUGHTER
Some of the best memories I’ve made travelling are connected to the people I’ve been with and swam with rather than the places. I’m lucky to have friends all around the world through swimming. It’s what I cherish the most.
Just before the FINA World Cup in Singapore, a group of us snuck into the pool at night and jumped off one of the 10m diving towers. It was hilarious but I landed a little bit funny and bruised my tailbone so badly that I could barely tumble-turn the next day. I had to race the next day (I couldn’t let that stop me!) but it was so uncomfortable that I had to take lots of anti-inflammatories so that I could even move. OMG! I still remember the pain - it was sore for about 2 weeks. It’s funny because, even with that, I actually won but I don’t recommend it haha - and let’s just say that I haven’t jumped off a 10m diving tail since but, if I did, I’m sure next time I’d have better technique *smiles*
I LOVE COMPETING AGAINST… MY SISTER BRONTE
I really enjoy racing Bronte. We’ve been competing professionally against each other for sometime now. No one likes to be beaten (especially not athletes!) but if I’m going to be beaten by someone, I’d rather it be her than anyone else.
Growing up, I’m sure it was a bit of a juggling act for my parents but, at home, everyone’s treated exactly the same whether you win or lose so you just have to get on with it but, in some ways, I think it’s definitely helped us. We’re in the unique position where we can understand how the other person is feeling, win or lose, so you can sympathise with the person who’s lost but you can also celebrate. You don’t have to say anything because you both know exactly how the other person is feeling so it’s really comforting. In some ways, it’s probably helped us not to take the sport to seriously and you take a more relaxed approach to how you see your competitors too, which is nice.
‘It’s really important to have role models – not celebs or reality stars, but people who have worked hard and achieved things that you’re trying to do too. There’s something magical about having that tangible link and connecting with it. It makes you see what it takes, work harder and, most of all, believe.’
THE BEST WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR SWIMMING
1. REDUCE HIP MOVEMENT. So many people move their hips a lot when swimming, thinking it makes them more powerful or faster, but it really slows you down. Water is 900-times denser than air and the more you move, the more friction and drag you create in the water. Try to remain as still as possible, whilst cutting through it. These drills will help:
2. WORK ON YOUR HAND PLACEMENTS. This sounds simple but the positioning of your hands can make a huge different to your stroke, manipulation of the water and speed. Play around with your hand positioning (making minor changes to your finger positioning and hand angles) until you discover what works best for you.
3. DESIGN YOUR TRAINING TO SUIT YOUR RACE DICIPLINE. Essentially we all swim, but to be a great swimmer and win races, every stroke and discipline requires different training and cardiovascular techniques, skills and fitness ranges so being able to adapt your body accordingly is vital. For example, marathon swimmers need to pace themselves before pulling through with a burst of energy at the end, whereas sprinters need a full-on intense burst of continuous energy for a shorter period.
If you want to sprint… The best sprinters are very strong in the water but fast. Focusing your gym training on building strength will improve your speed for the short, intense bursts of movements required. The key is to adapt your training for the speeds and distances that you need to swim at.
#BellyflopBlunder : THE STRANGEST ADVICE
The weakest point of my swim is that I rarely have a very good start. I’m quite slow off the block. It’s something I’m working on but, one day, an old man came up to me and said ‘I notice that you’re a little slow off the start and that you tend to come up a little bit behind everyone. Do you think that if you just belly flopped into the water, that would be better? Then you wouldn’t have to swim underwater and could just start swimming on top of it.’ Ohh the pain… I just said ‘Nooo… No I don’t think that would be better but thank you for the advice’ haha and carried on but I think he still thinks he was right.
MY FAVOURITE PLACES TO SWIM
THE WATERCUBE, BEIJING is my favourite swimming pool. I wouldn’t say it’s my ideal holiday destination but, for competing, it must be the most spectacular swimming pool in the world. It’s just beautiful.
NEW ZEALAND is spectacular. It’s a really undiscovered part of the world and the one place I would definitely go and explore again and again. They have these incredible tiny islands where the entire population is 4million people and the whole environment is so pristine - almost untouched - because the New Zealand citizens take such good care of it. It’s so nice to see and there’s so much to do. Whether you want to relax and look at the scenery or go hiking, skiing, skydiving… it has everything. I went on holiday there last year after the Olympics and did all of those things. I’m a massive fan. Everyone should go there.
AUSTRALIA. If you love swimming and beaches, Australia has it all (and the best!) The whole country is surrounded by water and hundreds of stunningly clean beaches so, wherever you go, you can enjoy water-based activities… swimming, sailing, fishing, watersports… It’s easy to take for granted living here but when I go to other beaches I think ‘Ahhh this is terrible. I should have just stayed at home.’ We’re really lucky.
Did you know… If you visited a new beach in Australia every day, it would take you 13 years to visit all of our beaches? Definitely worth visiting.