AUSTRALIAN life

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My Australian Life: Leisel Jones

As told to Ros Reines

Leisel Jones, OAM, who was selected for the Australian Olympic team at just 14, is one of our most illustrious `water babies’. She is still one of the best breaststroke champions ever and the first swimmer to compete in four Olympic Games. Her Olympic medal talley includes three gold, five silver and one bronze.

Unexpectedly in 2011, the darkness seeped into her life when she found herself in the bathroom of her Spanish hotel with a box of sleeping tablets and a plan to kill herself. A coach intervened before she could go any further.

Leisel Jones, 35, is now married to Damon Martin. She’s a Beyond Blue Ambassador, who’s always ready to share her story, especially in the lead up to World Mental Health Day on October 10.

I felt overwhelmed in Spain and I put it down to a lack of balance in my life.

I had only ever swum and I was contemplating the end of my swimming career. My biggest fear was not knowing what to do next. You see, my identity was so wrapped up in swimming but that’s just what I did and not who I was. So, I started having to unpack the part of my identity that came along with it.

My earliest memories as a child are around being excited to go to school.

I grew up in Wamuran - a pretty little town in the foothills of the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland. It’s well known for its delicious strawberry and pineapple crops. I loved school and I loved learning. My days were also filled with playing with dogs and horses, just running around with the other kids in the street. I feel very lucky to have grown up in the country.

I’ve always been around water since I was a baby.

I started learning to swim at 6 months old just to be water safe but it soon became a regular past-time. For me, the most important aspect of training was socialising with the same group of kids. I loved it. So it wasn’t such a bad thing when the training became more intense because I didn’t really know any different. I just naturally progressed one stroke at a time to the next level.


The Sydney Olympics in 2000 seem like such a long time ago.

I was only 15 then and I was a completely different person, so nothing stands out to me from that time. I was limited as to what I could do because of my age, so I couldn’t exactly go out and party. That’s why I don’t have those great stories that so many people have.


I lead a very full life now.

I’m a health coach and I’m also doing a degree in Psychology, which I enjoy. My passion is helping young athletes to be better. So I work with the Australian Institute of Sport’sGold Medal Ready Program. We mentor elite athletes to prepare for Tokyo 2021 and beyond. It’s about helping them develop the skills they need to be mentally fit and physically on top of their game. This gives me so much pride. Hopefully, I can share some of my lessons in life with them and they can learn from my experiences.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Ros Reines is a Sydney journalist and the author of four books. She is currently penning her fifth - a memoir of a life in the media.

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