Hello everybody and welcome to all the special guests, dignitaries and business owners out there. Thank you for coming today and sorry I can’t be there in person, but hopefully, this is just as effective.
My name is Lakeisha Patterson, otherwise known as Lucky, and I’m very fortunate to have studied here at St Columban’s College graduating last year.
Today, I’m going to share with you a little bit about my story and how I went from starting swimming as therapy to racing at the Paralympic Games and winning gold medals for Australia.
You see life has never really been easy for me, but then again, life isn’t. It always has its challenges and just when you think something’s going right, it has its funny way of throwing a curve ball at you when you’re least expecting it, but I think it’s how you overcome those situations and reshape yourself and gather your thoughts to do something out of the ordinary and overcome whatever obstacle is in your way. And for me, that’s been quite a numerous amount of challenges.
You see, when I was born, I was born breach and blue, which meant that I was around the wrong way and I wasn’t breathing, and that lack of oxygen towards my brain quite early on in the initial stages of my birth meant that a little bit down the track, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, left hemiplegia. Now that sounds quite scientific and complicated, but essentially that just means that I have Cerebral Palsy down the left side of my body, which is basically a movement and neurological disorder so that means that my muscles get quite tight and stiff, and I guess it’s hard to walk long distances most of the time, and that also means that because it impacts my arm and my left leg, when I get really tired, I kind of, I limp a bit and walk a little bit lopsided as well as my arm is quite hard to open my fingers and gripping and those kind of day-to-day tasks are just a little bit more challenging.
I started swimming when I was around 5 years old as a form of hydrotherapy in the water as well as Mum thought it would be a great idea to get us water-safe, providing that we’re constantly surrounded by water in this country and it’s quite vital to know how to swim. And for me, learning to swim was I guess a way out of my day-to-day life, just a moment where it was just myself and the water and that’s it. I didn’t worry about anyone else behind me. I could just focus on myself. All of my worries just went away with the water and for me, that was just an amazing feeling and for me in the water, it was a challenge to start with. It was definitely very hard to try and engage my core to stay afloat as well as trying to coordinate my arms and legs just splashing everywhere trying to figure out how to actually do a stroke. I spent quite a lot of time in learn-to-swim with my two sisters who were always there pushing me along.
And I just loved the magical feeling that the water gave me. It felt like I could just move through with ease and so much easier in the water than I could on land, which was definitely, definitely, very empowering for me being able to have this one little niche where I could do something that I loved and being there with my sisters made it that much better. We would do learn-to-swim everyday and then eventually, my sisters would move up the squads and then, it was just me in learn-to-swim.
Then that kind of became my next motivation was to get better so I could join them again in the outdoor, bigger pool ’cause at the moment, I was just kind of swimming in a little 25 indoor heated pool. And I remember trying really hard and training and training, and it just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere and then my sisters would say to me, “Lucky, you got to keep pushing. You got to keep trying and then, you’ll be able to join us.”
My motivation also came from my learn-to-swim teacher at the time who promised me that if I worked really hard and got the time to move up, she would buy me an ice cream. For me, that was a massive motivation at the time. I mean what 5-year-old doesn’t want ice cream? We didn’t get it much at home so that became my next focus and I trained more. Then it came to the next trial day where we all lined up and I pushed off as hard as I could, moved my arms and legs. I probably looked like a windmill outside, but I didn’t care. I was empowered, going through that wall and then, I finally touched the end and did it in the time required to move up the squads.
I finally got to join my sisters in the outdoor pool as well as getting a bonus ice cream of my choice, which was very exciting. It was definitely a lovely reward. Yeah, then being able to move through with my sisters was fun. I loved going to school during the day and then, just having an outlet to expend all of my energy in the pool and I was getting a little bit better, a little bit better.
Then I think it was around 2012, the London 2012 Paralympics were on television. And for me, I had never witnessed Paralympic sport before and it was absolutely incredible. I was watching all of these Australians and other competitors all across the world competing for their respective countries, winning gold medals, doing personal best times and absolutely smashing it and overcoming all these barriers that had been set before them to redefine their limitations and set the records straight that you can do anything and for me, that was incredibly inspirational. It gave me a sense of hope that I could, you know, compete one day alongside people just like myself and for me, that was incredible. I never realised that up until this point I could compete with other people with similar abilities to myself. At this stage, I was just racing my sisters and always coming last.
So, that became my next focus, to become classified. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do it, but my learn-to-swim teacher at the time did a lot of research and provided all this information to me. I went to a talent ID camp ’cause I didn’t really know if swimming was for me, but I would want to try all these other sports at the same time. While I was swimming, I was doing dancing and karate, and lots of little different things, trying to find my niche and be active. I think I was always growing up in an active lifestyle, in an active household trying to keep up with my two sisters.
Going to this camp, it kind of shone the light on my ability in the pool. I remember doing little athletics and it wasn’t quite that much fun. It wasn’t a lot harder to run and keep up with everyone else. Karate, I would lose my balance and fall over, but it was a great discipline and sense of coordination. Whereas in the pool, that was my home and being at this camp and them finding potential within me reignited that I think. To become classified, we had to go through all these tests and forms to get through the process to class you with other people who have similar challenges to yourself.
So, fast forward being classified, I am now competing in the S8 classification in swimming, which means that in the water when I compete and train and swim, essentially, most of the right side of my body is doing the work and so with limited function in my left arm and my left leg as my left leg drags and I can’t quite get that propulsion and that kick and same with my arm, I can’t get quite as much range of movement. So my right time [00:08:54] is working majorly overtime. I compete against other people who may have cerebral palsy in their legs so affecting two legs or again, one side of their body or perhaps a double leg amputee or some other form of disability like that.
And, I remember getting to the stage where I’d watch the Paralympics and this was my new goal, and I remember telling Mum that, “Okay, you’re going to see me at the next Paralympic Games in four years’ time and I’m going to win a gold medal.” I think looking back now, most people thought that was a joke. I myself had no idea at that stage how I was going to get there, but I’ve always been quite ambitious and I knew that I was going to get there, and I would do everything in my power to make sure that that dream would become a reality.
I started stepping up my training, putting all those little processes in place. I would go to bed earlier. Sometimes I would go to bed in my swimsuit, in my tracksuit so I could get that little bit extra sleep and just ready to go into the pool as well as focusing on my eating and little bits like that.
Then it got to the stage where it was time for my first competition at the states, the school state championships, and I remember my very first state meet and the first race was 50 metres butterfly and I absolutely hated butterfly. At the time, I was still trying to figure out how to get my arms to move in the right direction, but I gave it a go and we got up to the starting blocks. I wobbled a bit on the block and as the gun went, everybody else was already in the water and I’m just kind of flopping in.
By the time we started and by the time I was in the water, I got up, tried to move as fast as I could, moving my arms, kicking my legs as quickly as I could and then, I finally got to the end, but everybody else had already gotten to the end a little bit quicker than me and I came last in my very first race.
I was a little bit disappointed, but I remember the whole crowd cheering for me as soon as I finished and after the race, a lot of the girls that I was competing against came up to me and they told me how well I had swum and to keep going and we became good friends competing at many other competitions after that.
I think after that, there was no stopping me. I wanted to drive forward and get better so that I wasn’t the one coming last. I was the one touching the wall first. To do that meant that I needed to go to a different training environment with a coach who had a little bit more experience in elite sport so that was the next goal, changing coaches.
As I changed coaches and got into the feel of things, I also made my first school national team representing Queensland, which was really quite exciting and this was the first year that I started at St. Columban’s College in 2013 I think. Seems like such a long time ago now. This was hard. It was a big step up to what I was used to. I was only used to the primary school work load and then going to big, the high school world and a much bigger school with more people, it was quite a challenge. I was used to being a small kid in a small area, but I absolutely loved it. Everybody was so welcoming and being able to perform in the classroom and in the sporting arena was a challenge and something that I was getting used to and something that I would definitely have to be used to for quite a long time after that.
The St. Columban’s College was absolutely incredible in allowing me to do both of my passions. Starting out at the first national meet, I did quite well and then that year, I was also named on the Australian Junior Development Squad for my potential in future years to come in being a Paralympian and hopefully, being able to podium. That was I guess the driving force to keep going.
One year after my initial goal of competing and becoming classified and watching those 2012 Paralympic Games, within a year of competing at my first state meet and national Queensland school meet, I’d been announced on the Australian Junior Development Squad for my potential to podium in a couple of years’ time and become a future Paralympian and compete for Australia, which is quite exciting and it was definitely reinforcing that what I was doing was working.
And a couple of coach changes along the way and trying to work out school was definitely challenging, but I entered the Australian National Championships in 2014 for the first time where I would compete alongside Australia’s best athletes as well as some of the world’s best, most of the time competing against competitors twice my age. These championships also doubled as the Commonwealth Games trials and the Para Pan Pacific selection trials as well.
At the meet, I did more personal best times and later that meet, I was announced on the Para Pan Pacific team to compete at the championships in Pasadena, California later in the year, which was absolutely incredible and reinforcing that that hard work and that training was worth it and I was doing something right along the way.
While we were training, prepping for that, I got a call while I was in training one day from the head coach of the Australian team saying that they would like to select me to be Australia’s wild card to compete at the Commonwealth Games, and this was two weeks before they were supposed to start. And it was so incredible. Everything happened so quickly. I was gobsmacked. I was 15 years old and I’d never even left the country before, let alone represent it, so I got all my gear and my uniform really quickly and it was all miles too big because it was all they had left.
Then next thing I knew, I was on the plane over to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, which was an absolutely incredible experience. I was the youngest swimmer on the Australian team at the time and I wasn’t really going into the meet with big expectations. I just wanted to do my best, do more personal best times and that’s what I did. I came away from the meet, I had one event, the 100 metre freestyle S8 and I came third. I won the bronze medal for Australia as well as smashing my personal best time and it was absolutely incredible. It was beyond anything I had ever experienced and then, straight from those championships, we flew straight to California for the Para Pan Pacific Championships where I came away with another six medals, one gold, a silver and four bronze.
To finish my international debut year a medalist and representing Australia and cementing myself on the world stage and showing that I can improve and I do deserve to be here was absolutely incredible. It was just being able to experience so much at such a young age and coming back to school straight after that massive high was absolutely incredible. The whole school was crazy and definitely very proud of me, which was absolutely amazing. The support I gained from them was absolutely incredible in assignment extensions and exams being moved to different times to allow me to study when I came back and then, this was all leading up to my major goal of competing at the Paralympic Games in 2016, two years away.
The following year was the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships where I came away with another five medals, a gold, a silver and a couple of bronze as well, gold being part of a relay, which was absolutely incredible, another awesome experience racing for Australia. Then the following year, it came to the big year, the goal of my life, the major thing that was driving me forward, to become a Paralympian.
The start of the year, it was quite rocky. It was definitely not an easy road to get there, but as I’ve learned in life, nothing is. Along the way, I was starting grade 12, which was quite crazy I think. By my age, people who were in grade 12 were just out partying or solely focusing on school, and I was trying to balance two separate worlds of being an elite athlete on the world stage and also, you know, trying to be a normal teenager and get through high school, which is quite challenging.
My coach at the time wanted me to quit school so I could purely focus on swimming so I could do amazing, so she was saying. For me, that wasn’t an option. I knew that swimming and sport in general isn’t going to last forever and I really value education. I think it’s definitely something that not many people get to experience and are fortunate enough to have, so for me, that was really quite important and I made sure that I wasn’t going to just give up.
I made the decision to do my senior study over two years, which meant that I would be able to study pretty much part-time and do half of my subjects one year and the other half the next, and that meant that I could focus on swimming as well as school. While I was at school, I would have study lines to make sure I could catch up on my homework and assignments, and talk to my teachers with over anything I’d missed and also if I’d went away for competitions, that really eased the work load so I could only focus on a couple of things at a time. Then that was also starting to show in my swimming, my getting better results. I was a lot happier, meaning that I could just focus on swimming while I was at the pool and focus at school while I was there as well.
I thought that had kind of resolved the problem with my coach, but then I guess we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on a couple of different things and nine weeks before the Australian trials for the Commonwealth Games, I moved squads. She essentially kicked me out. She said that I wasn’t going anywhere, that I would never achieve what I had in my mind and for me, that wasn’t an option. I know from a young age, I’d been learned to never give up and I think I’ve always kind of had that athlete mindset from a young age to really follow my dreams and not let anyone get in my way, and this was just another obstacle and a roadblock in the way.
I remember I was distraught for a couple of days. I had no idea what to do. I’d spoke to my mum and she’s been a massive, massive role model in my life. She used to say this thing when in the younger years when I’d first start swimming and I wanted to take it to that next level after watching the Paralympic Games, when I would not want to go to swimming sometimes or be really tired and upset, she would say to me, “Lucky, it’s your dream, not mine.” That just made me drive forward and realise, yes, this is my dream and this is what I want to do. To get to that stage, I’ve got to be the one taking control and do things on my own and take it to that next level.
It was quite hard also coming from a single parent household with my mum trying to raise three girls, managing my massage appointments, taking us to sport, taking us to school as well as overcoming cancer in the middle of that. She’s just been absolutely incredible and she would do anything for us three girls to watch us succeed. She said to me, “Lucky, you’ve been thrown so many obstacles in your life and you’ve already overcome so much. This little tiny hurdle, this rock in the road isn’t going to stop you. If you want to get to Rio, if you want to achieve anything, it’s up to you. We’re here along the way to help support you, but we just need to find a new way to do things.”
That was, that was, a massive, massive help for me. It just goes to show she reinforced there’s just a different way of doing things, which I guess I’d been used to growing up, being, having a disability. I don’t really like to call it a disability. I like to call myself uniquely abled. I’ve got a different way of getting around and doing things and just being able to adapt is something that I think is definitely a strength of mine.
I did a couple of Google searches, to see who coached in the area and I came across Harley Connelly at the Lawnton Aquatic Centre who also coached paralympic world champion and world record holder Brenden Hall. So I got in contact with him to see if he would take me on and I did a trial week there and that trial week was the hardest week of my life. He’s normally a distance coach and that goes to show with Brenden being a 400-meter world record holder and it was definitely beyond anything I had done in my life, but I knew that the training environment and the workload was for me. I worked so hard and he was willing to invest in me and work with me to help me achieve my goals.
We weren’t together for a whole lot of time before the national championships, but that didn’t really matter. I had done more work load than I’d ever done in my life behind me and I was in good shape leading into the trials, and I came away from the championships with more personal best times and top three rankings in the world, and I was announced on the Australian team to compete at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro later that year and that was just absolutely incredible.
My goal of becoming a Paralympian was becoming a reality. I could see it sight, which was really quite exciting and then with more hard work and training along the way, I made sure that I’d given everything I could and by the time I would step up on the blocks, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do anything else and I couldn’t have prepared any better and that was definitely what drove me.
So, coming to the Paralympic Games, fast-forward a couple of months, competing on the very first day of competition at my first Paralympic Games, my first event was the 400 freestyle and that was my main event at this stage. I knew I’d done all the hard work behind me and I was up against the Paralympic Champion and world record holder from America and this lady had been my idol growing up ever since I had watched Paralympic sport. I became invested in watching her journey and she’s the American, had competed at four Paralympic Games prior to that. I think her debut was only at 12 years old. She’d been around for quite a long time and is definitely one of the most renowned Paralympic swimmers in history and she was definitely someone that I definitely aspire and looked up to. To be able to compete alongside her as well as all these other incredible athletes all around the world was incredibly exciting.
I think going into the event being my first Paralympic Games and still finding my feet on the world stage, I didn’t really have a lot of expectations upon myself. I just wanted to go out there and give it my best shot and I don’t think many people really knew who I was either. Hadn’t had [00:25:55] any expectations, but I knew that I could do it.
Stepping up on the block, it was finally time to race, I remember saying in my head, “Lucky, you didn’t come here to come second. You give this everything you have and nothing left.” So, the gun went. We got into the water. I remember getting up nice and fast, trying to not spend as much time under water because that’s not where my strengths lie. So I just got up, start racing and after the 100 metres, I was just trailing the world record holder. Then, I found my feet, was just remember telling myself long and strong, long and strong strokes, and I was edging a little bit further and further in front of her with every turn.
Until it got to the last 50 of the eight laps in the 400 metres and I couldn’t really see where anyone else was at this stage. I tried to look at the pool as a frame and then, they’re the curtains. You got to block everyone else off, just focusing on myself, powering through the last 50 until I touched that wall as hard and as fast as I could. Then I had a bit of a moment of breath, take my breath. It was 400 metres. Then I remember turning around, looking at the wall and seeing that number 1 next to my name and it was absolutely incredible.
I was so shocked, I didn’t really know what to do. Then also not only looking at that, but I had broken my personal best time by 5 seconds and then, I’d also broken the world record set by the competitor in the next lane next to me by 0.11 of a second, just a fingernail, a fraction off the world record and it was absolutely incredible.
That moment, it just seems like yes, the whole world was watching, but it was just me in that moment knowing that I had achieved that and regardless of everything along the way, trying to learn how to walk and getting back up after I’d fallen, and going through problems with my coach, trying to put my body back in place, the problems with our family and becoming a single family household and battles with my mum, it just signified so much more than that gold medal.
That gold medal wasn’t just a medal of colour. It was a sign of all the hard work put in to get to that stage from not only myself, but my coach for investing his time and his energy in me to making sure I was all right to compete and taking me on in such short, short notice and making sure I was up to world class standard, which I now was. Also, from my family to help me and support me along my way and my journey, and all of our family and friends out there and the rest of Australia for tuning in to watching me. It was just an incredible experience.
It was definitely everything I could’ve dreamt for and more and then, that was only the very first day. I was on a high for the rest of the week and I think in total at the Paralympic Games, I had about 16 races for heats and finals, and I came away from the meet from 8 events, 6 medals, so gold and world record in the 400 freestyle as well as a gold and world record in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, silver in the 15 metre, 100 metre freestyle S8 and the 4 x 100 medley relay and then, a bronze in the 200 individual medley SM8, and fourth in the 100 backstroke and 8th in the 100 metre butterfly. So, not a bad games debut.
From there, it definitely ignited that fire and that spark to continue and striving to go on and do more, but after that, that was my first year of studying grade 12 so I had to come back to reality and everyone was really quite excited when I came back to school, which was absolutely awesome to have that support. Everybody watching on TV while I was away and the whole school rallying behind me was absolutely incredible.
To be able to be a world-class athlete and be on the world stage swimming may seem like an individual sport, but you definitely need that team work behind you and I think that’s with anything. You need a great team in order to succeed and it’s exactly like in a business. To have that support was absolutely, you know, played a major part in my success in my career. To also come back to school and get me right, was hard, but yeah, it made it a lot easier with good friends and good teachers and the school network behind me as well as my friends and family.
Then it was definitely hard that year with all of my initial friends graduating from high school at the end of the year and then, I still had to go on and complete the other year, which was really, really challenging. I think the start of 2017, trying to meet and mingle with new people as well as actually finishing high school and all the subjects I didn’t do the year before, but again, St. Columban’s was absolutely incredible. They helped me along it all. Then it finally got time to graduate, which was really quite exciting. It felt like what was, you know, a five-, six-year process finally coming to an end, which I guess is a little bit sad, but really exciting to see what new opportunities were in store for the future.
For me, my goal as well as keeping swimming was to commence study at university and study a Bachelor of Architecture, which is quite different and for me, it was another massive challenge having not only Cerebral Palsy, but also along the way of my journey, having early onset Parkinson’s disease, which is normally found in the elderly generation, but it was kind of the first symptom started for me when I was around 12 years old. It hasn’t been officially diagnosed, but I have a lot of the early signs and symptoms, which is why it’s the early onset.
A part of that is having micrographia, which means that my writing is negative 280%. It looks like dots joined together on a page essentially when I write. My whole world is technology based outside of the pool, which meant that throughout my whole study, I had to use a laptop or iPads and Surface Pros to help me achieve what I needed throughout school and Columban’s was absolutely incredible in finding those new ways of doing things and adapting to myself and my circumstances, and finding a different way to do things, which is what I’ve literally had to do all of my life and they made it so much easier in finding that support financially and emotionally.
So when I said that I wanted to study architecture, it’s definitely a degree where you need to be able to write and draw and sketch, and what I loved about it was the challenge I think. Going through school was definitely very challenging, but something that I got used to. I loved that creative and that design aspect and for me, being able to experience swimming and travelling all around the world, I’ve been exposed to all these incredible buildings and stadiums and pools and hotels and athlete villages.
I knew that one day, I would love to be able to draw on my experience and create future stadiums and pools, hotels, athlete villages all around the world for other people as well to experience and also, living with a disability, I know how challenging it can be at times navigating through daily life and I’ve quite a lot of friends in wheelchairs and amputees and things like that so, I know the challenges that the broader community face in life. I would love to be able create a more accessible world for them, so that was, and for myself and for everybody within our built environment so that was another driving force and factor to why I wanted to study architecture.
Going through school, I loved the subject graphics and my teacher throughout grade 9 to grade 12 and grade 12.2 was Mr. Tasker and he is absolutely incredible, one of the best teachers I have definitely come across. He was willing, again, to invest in me and he’d never had a student before who couldn’t write or draw or sketch. I can write and draw. It’s just extremely tiny. To be able to find a way where I could communicate my thoughts and my ideas on a larger scale was challenging, but he had all these incredible ideas.
I would start off with an iPad and then, a lightbox with a tracer trying to trace things and then, I came across a Surface Pro, which enabled me to do all my study on that as well as sketch and the programmes I was able to download how to vector format, which meant that I could blow it up and it wouldn’t lose resolution so it wouldn’t be all blurry and you could see my ideas on a large scale. That became possible for me.
It showed me that I could, I could, do, do it and my dream could become a reality. It was just a little … Yes, it was different, but different is good. There’s no normal I don’t think. Everybody has their own challenges in life that they have to overcome. I think it just goes to show with hard work and determination, and being willing to find a different route or a different way of doing things, you can achieve the same result if not better.
Fast-forward 2018, I’ve embarked on university studying at UQ, the University of Queensland in Brisbane studying a Bachelor of Architectural Design. I’m in my first year and it’s definitely beyond anything I’ve experienced. I thought high school was hard. It’s definitely another challenge, but yet again, it’s just another step in the road and it was definitely hard trying to again balance that elite athlete and school lifestyle, but the staff there are also incredibly assisting.
Instead of doing a full time workload at the start, I was getting super stressed and the Commonwealth Games trials were coming up and I was trying to balance three subjects with extracurricular activities outside with speaking engagements, functions and then, trying to finish my designs and things before the next day while training full-time 10 days a week, 2 hours each, three days in the gym. It was all getting too much and I was getting to the point where I was having a mental breakdown.
My coach was talking to me. He’s like, “Lucky, you need to just stop stressing. You can’t do everything. You can’t be in everywhere and every place at once.” We sat down. We had a chat to try and eliminate these stresses that were absolutely unnecessary and we focused on my goals and my goals at the time were to start university, which I was embarking, but make the Commonwealth Games team being on home soil on the Gold Coast in a couple weeks’ time.
For me, I had to realise that swimming is a major part of my life, but so is school and I want to have a life after as well, which is quite important, but for me, sport can’t be around forever. You can’t do it forever and you’ve got to make the most of the opportunity while you have it. I decided to study part-time going to one subject, which allowed me to focus on school at a minimal workload, again, like high school in St. Columban’s, but then it also meant that I could focus on swimming, which was the major goal at this stage with the Commonwealth Games coming up in a couple of weeks.
I noticed that my whole emotional state was so much better. I was a lot happier, a lot less stressed, which is awesome. I tend to be a perfectionist so I get stressed really easy. My coach has this saying that he always has to instill in me because I get a bit [rowdied 00:39:38] up when little things change or it can get a big overwhelming. He says, “Don’t stress about stress before there is stress to stress about.” It’s a bit of a tongue twister, but I have to just keep reminding myself that. Once I did and focusing on those little aspects, and it all helps and we got to the Commonwealth Games trials. I was announced on the Commonwealth Games team, which was exciting and a couple of months later, it would time to compete in front of the world.
Fast-forward to that, only a couple of weeks ago now, the Commonwealth Games, I’m so fortunate to be able to compete for my country in front of my country, which really doesn’t happen often and to be able to experience that I think is a once in a lifetime opportunity. To make the most of that and also, have my family watch at the games, it’s the first time they could watch me compete at a major international meet, which was awesome to have my family there and, hopefully, I would be able to make them proud and show them in person that all their hard work and their sacrifices for my choices and my dream would become worth it.
Going to the games, I had two events, the 50 metre freestyle S8 for my classification and then, the S9 100 metre freestyle. The S9 100 metre freestyle, I was swimming up a class because at the Games, not every body, not every sport or class or event is on offer yet. So essentially, I was swimming up with people with more physical function than me, but I guess that was just another challenge, which was quite exciting. Coming to the Games, I worked super hard to be able to be, if not worked harder than anyone else than those people to make sure that I had a chance. At the end of the day, I had to just focus on myself and that’s all I could do and not worry about what anyone else was doing, who the other people are, yes, they are the world record holders and the world champions and the Australian champions for that event that I would have to race.
Coming to the games, I just had to focus on myself and I knew that it was definitely going to be a challenge, but at the end of the day, nobody’s unbeatable and nothing’s impossible, and that was the mentality I had heading into the race. I had to wait until day four to compete in the 100 metre freestyle S9. In the morning, I did a pretty good time, a solid time to post me as third in the final and I remember just looking up at the crowd when I first went out to the blocks and it was absolutely incredible. The seats at the aquatic stadium filled 10,000 people and those 10,000 seats were filled every heat session and every final session for the six days of competition. It was quite incredible and quite daunting I think that I had to make sure that I didn’t get lost in the moment. I acknowledged that the crowd was there and used that to spur me on, but I didn’t get caught up in the pressure, which I think was key and essential to making sure I was able to perform.
Heading into the finals, I guess I didn’t really, I didn’t really worry about what everyone else was going to do. I knew that everyone was going to go in hard for that final and give it everything they had, but at the same time, so was I. I was going to give it everything that I had and not leave anything in the tank. Heading into the final, I had the Australian champion next to me in lane 4 as well as another Australian in lane 5 and an English swimmer in lane 6 who was also a world-class swimmer and record holder and things like that. This was all racing as people upper class so it was challenging, but heading into the race, I was focused and I’d spoken to my coach beforehand and again, he reinstated to me, “Look, don’t focus on them. Just focus on yourself. You can only can control what you can control and that’s your own swim and your own race.”
I got up on the blocks and I knew that they’re all, the other swimmers, aving more physical ability to myself, they were able to get out in the first 50 quicker than I can, so I had to make sure that once I dove in, I know that my weakness is in my kick so I don’t spend too much time underwater. Got up straight away stroking and I knew that if I could turn with them in that first 50 metres, get as close to them as I could, I could beat them coming home. That’s what I did. I got in the water, got up as fast as I could, turned right next to them and powered home in that last 50 metres. I know that being a 400-meter swimmer, that’s my strength so I just kind of kept powering and building and building as the 50 went on and it was such a tight finish.
I got my hand on the wall and I looked up and I was in absolute shock. I could not believe what had just happened. I’d won the race competing against all those other incredible athletes. I’d smashed my PB again and broken the world record for my class, and it was just incredible being able to be in that moment realising, again, just like Rio all that hard work was worth it and all the new challenges and all the obstacles in the past just didn’t matter anymore. It did not matter and it was just me in that moment with all that hard work and being able to look into the crowds in the stands and see the rest of Australia celebrate that victory with me was absolutely incredible, and being able to stand on the podium as well singing the national anthem for my country in front of my country is definitely something I’m not sure if I’ll be able to experience again.
I definitely took it all in and almost had a little tear in my eye, but I made sure I didn’t cry on camera, but yeah, the whole atmosphere and experience was euphoric. It really was, but I had to kind of refocus ’cause the next day, I had a day off and then I was in for my last event, the 50 metre freestyle S8, which was for my own classification, which I was really excited about. Again, both of the events that I was competing in were sprint events and I’m not used to sprinting per se as I normally do longer distance, but yeah, it was fun. I got out in the morning, had a solid heat swim and was qualified fastest for the final and then in the final race, I gave it absolutely everything I could, smashed the wall, and looked up and saw that I had just won another gold medal for Australia with two Canadian competitors behind me.
It’s absolutely incredible I think from where I started as a small 15 year old four years ago in Glasgow, I would never have imagined that my life and my career would evolve like this so rapidly so quickly and it was incredible. I think I’ve definitely had to learn to grow up while being on the Australian swim team and learning to mature. I think by the Gold Coast Games came around I definitely matured as an athlete and as an individual, and learning more about myself and my own body and overcoming those strengths, and being able to portray that to the rest of Australia and for everyone else to witness the power of sport and all of our incredible athletes achieving incredible things was definitely inspiring.
I know myself, I’m improving everyday and I love to be able to hope that I played a small part in motivating somebody else to get off the couch and go for a run, go for a walk and whatever it is, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s in music, whether it’s in your business, just giving it absolutely everything you can and yes, there will be challenges thrown at you along the way. I mean, it wouldn’t be life if there wasn’t, but it’s being able to adapt to those challenges and come out the other side and see that rainbow and that pot of gold at the other side, and really not give up essentially, just never give up. There’s always a different way of doing things and being able to work with others and communicate with others in a team to make sure that happens and I think that’s really quite vital, the team work really does make the dream work and is a vital key to that success.
If I could leave you guys with any words of wisdom today, I’d hope you’d enjoyed a little bit of my story and how I overcame my challenges and I hope that whatever challenges you guys face in the future, you’re able to overcome them and see past that hard rock and that hard place at the time, and see the light in the future and just gather your thoughts. Talk to people around you. Get a different opinion. Find a different solution and I’m sure, I have no doubt you will be able to succeed. Thank you very much for having me and listening to me today. I hope you enjoy the morning. Thank you so much.