Photography credit to Daniel Linnet
My story begins before my ideal birthdate. I was born 15 weeks early, only the size of an average palm. I have had 52 operations since I was born. I am legally blind and have cerebral palsy but this has not stopped me from living an incredible life in the public arena.
Upon my premature arrival I was immediately rushed into intensive care with a multitude of problems. At three days old I had a massive bleed on my brain that required surgery. My lungs were far too immature to let me breathe by myself and I also had to have a lung and heart operation. All this within the first few days of life!
At this stage I weighed only 600-grams (just over a pound) which, for the wonderful doctors who operated on me was a huge headache. I, as you can tell, survived these early operations – a clear sign of my determined personality.
After many more operations in my first five years of life, my family were eventually able to take me home from hospital where I took up the mantle of the oldest child. My parents were both into sports so very quickly I was introduced to water, where they would spend hours trying to help me move my arms and legs. My grandfather was a doctor and gave my parents plenty of advice on how they should support me in the best possible way.
Due to the bleed on my brain in my early years I was challenged with delays with all my gross and fine motor skills so learning to swim was extremely hard. Eventually I got it!
A turning point in my sporting aspirations came when Australia hosted the Paralympics in 2000. I saw many swimmers competing in events with far worse disabilities than my own and I developed a burning desire to join them at the next Paralympics! With a lot of very hard training and dedication from my family I was selected for the Athens Paralympics in 2004 whilst still in high school, which for me was, as for any disabled athlete, a major and exciting achievement.
I have now represented Australia in four Paralympics, four World Championships and am now training very hard to be selected for the next Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020. I still want to do better than I already have. So far I have won 8 Paralympic medals and 10 World Championship medals. Three years ago, I was presented with an OAM (Order of Australia) for my services to swimming and for winning Gold Medals!
A lot of people have asked me over the years how I have managed to stay at the top for such a long time. I get up at 4am every morning to train for my sport, doing upwards of six kilometres each session then go to work afterwards. I train morning and afternoon, for two hours each time. Accumulating around 40 hours of training commitment each week, on top of 32 hours of my day job in the finance industry covering locations all over Sydney. This all on top of regular massage, physiotherapy and sports physiology sessions to keep me in tip top shape. Not to forget all the inter state and overseas trips for various sporting and work commitments throughout the year. My work gives me the flexibility to continue competing as an elite athlete- for this I am most grateful.
Along with my swimming and work, I am able to achieve a balance in life and a future after swimming, but as you an see with both, there is little spare time!
I am also involved with a number of charities. Giving back to others is really important and satisfying to me. I realize how important it is for others to see that with support, determination and hard work you can do anything you set your mind to especially if you love what you do.
Since 2013, I have been involved as an Ambassador for Life's Little Treasures Foundation, an organisation that supports families with premature babies and this is extremely rewarding for me. I look back on my life and realize how hard it must have been for my family when I was young. I also support the Waterline Challenge, an Australian wide event that raises funds for another 12 charities focused on supporting people who are facing hardship and adversity.
Representing your country on the world stage is very exciting. I have travelled with my swimming to approximately 25 countries over the last 12 years and intend to continue travelling with swimmers whenever I am selected.
Sure my life can be difficult at times and things in and out of the water do go wrong. But I am resilient and know that challenges and limitations can be overcome with hard work and determination. I have bucket-loads of both of these!
To be able to improve on a daily basis it is important to remember to be the best version of yourself you can be. To challenge yourself to be a better version of yourself than you were yesterday. Sometimes life puts limitations on you but just because there are limits it doesn’t mean you can’t have goals, work towards them and succeed. These are the very clear lessons I have taken from my life as I am sure many of you have too! This is what has made me who I am.
If I think I can’t do something I am reminded by those around me that I’ve always found a way before, so there is nothing stopping me from finding a way now!