How did you initially become involved in swimming?
My mother was the first person to teach me to swim when I was about 2 years old. She taught me how to get to the side of the pool and to have fun in the water.
I was 8 years old when I joined my first swim squad at the Padstow Pool. My squad was called the Tug Boats and we trained for 30 minutes a week and my first coach was Jenni Ashpole. My older sister Christina was training too and competing every weekend and I had to go and watch her.
I used to get so bored sitting in the stands with nothing to do, so I decided it would be better if I joined in - so I joined the Swim Club and began to participate in the races. Back then I wasn't very good, I would bellyflop into the water because I couldn't dive very well and I wore a nose peg because I was allergic to the chlorine, I held my head out of the water when I swam! It's funny, when I look back on it!
What was your favourite swimming event?
My favourite event isn't one you would expect; it's the 50 metres freestyle. I love it! You have to try as hard as you possibly can. I would usually have a very strategic race plan in the 200 metres event but in the 50 metres there is no strategy for me but to just go as hard and as fast as I can - at the end of the race I wasn't tired but I had worked as hard as I could! Of course everyone else is so much better at racing the 50 metres than me. My best events are the 100, 200 & 400 metres Freestyle.
What are your career highlights?
My career highlight would have to be becoming an Olympic Champion! My goal when I was young was to become an 'Olympian' but my dream was to become an 'Olympic Champion'. I didn't share that dream with anyone because I thought I would never be that good, to be able to win an Olympic Medal was something I thought would be out of my reach. It was for those athletes that I always looked up too.
When I was young it's what I aspired to be but I wasn't sure I should share those thoughts with everyone, maybe they would laugh at me for thinking I could be that good...or maybe I was afraid to think I could be like them and that I could believe in myself and actually live my dream. As I matured and kept training hard and competing, my belief in myself grew strong and I kept setting new goals to work towards. I made the Australian swim team at 14 years of age and competed at my first Olympics in my home town, the Sydney Olympics in 2000; I was 17 years old and achieved my dream of becoming an Olympic Champion!
When competing, how did you stay motivated and focused?
I was swimming competitively from about 10 years old and loved swimming and training; I loved the hard work and the challenges presented to me. The competition was the easy part; this was the time to 'show off' in a way. To show that the months and months of hard work were worthwhile.
As an athlete and a team member you work hard to achieve your goals. That takes up most of your year training and preparing for big events.
Each day at training you set your targets to achieve, it's the motivation to keep you moving towards your final preparation and race days. If you do everything right and know that you couldn't have done anymore in your preparation you feel fantastic - it is that sense of knowing and feeling - that's your motivation. I'm not saying each and every day goes smoothly; some days you feel it's all a struggle. You have to push through those days, you may start out with good intentions and that session may not have felt how you wanted to be or it didn't go to plan. There's nothing you can do but accept these days and keep your perspective and focus. I focus on the beauty of what I can do in the pool, on the technical side of the sport and mastering my technique, feeling the water - it's what I value most.
How do you deal with such intense media interest?
I would say that I handle the media interest really well on most occasions but there have been times when it has been painful. It can feel like such an intrusion into my life, which has been hard on me and my family at times.
I show as much as I choose too as I am a very private person so I have had to teach myself to feel at ease in situations in front of the media. I would say I am an introvert that has had to learn to be an extrovert, to enable me to be able to deliver on things I believe in. The media has a job to do and I understand that.
Please tell us about your charity Ian Thorpe's Fountain for Youth
I established Fountain for Youth after the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Our major focus is on Indigenous education and health programs for children and their families in many remote communities within Australia. I am a very proud Australian but through the work I do with my charity I have learned that there is one true emergency we all need to address and take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians. When poor living conditions, illness and disease, lack of education and opportunity for Indigenous Australians still rival that of many developing nations, it is time for us all to take action. I visited remote communities in the Northern Territory in 2003 and this is what I found to be true! It changed me and I made the decision then to focus my charity work on Indigenous children and lend a hand in providing opportunities for the children and their families.
I love Australia but I can't help feeling shamed and saddened at the treatment of the first people of this country in the inequality, discrimination and racism experienced. It will be our ability to address these issues and close the space between us that will make Australia a stronger, greater nation.
I work in partnership with Aboriginal families, teachers, health workers and children, I'm proud of what we have been able to achieve through Fountain for Youth and have committed to this work for the long term.
Please tell us about your involvement in the Close the Gap Campaign
Catherine Freeman and I have been Ambassadors of the Close the Gap Campaign since its launch in 2007. The campaign focuses on closing the gap between Indigenous and Non Indigenous Australians on life expectancy, educational achievement and employment opportunities. The partnership on closing the gap will continue to set concrete targets for the future: within a decade to halve the literacy and numeracy gaps and employment outcomes and opportunities for Indigenous children, within a decade to halve the appalling gap in infant mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and, within a generation to close the equally appalling 17 year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous when it comes to overall life expectancy.
This is a collective partnership between health and education bodies working together to reach the set targets with the bipartisan support of the federal governments committing to the campaign. Catherine and I are good friends and both share in the belief that as Australians we should all be treated equally. As ambassadors of this campaign we have the ability to speak out and bring awareness to the inequality Indigenous Australians are facing. This is very important and we are passionate about our roles as ambassadors to Close the Gap Campaign. Catherine and I are taking a stand to deliver a strong message to fellow Australians that we can achieve closing the space that exists by working together.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
When I am home in Sydney I love spending time with my dogs, I really miss them when I'm away. I catch up with family and friends and love cooking for everyone. I love gardening and being out in the sun reading a book, just relaxing!
Where are you favourite holiday destinations and why?
Bali is my favourite holiday destination! For years I had taken no notice of Bali and travelling there held no interest for me. I had the wrong image of it and I was so wrong. I was invited to stay at a friend's house a few years ago, it was in one of the most beautiful locations that I have seen. The Balinese are so welcoming and gentle, everyone is smiling and it just makes you smile - we should all smile more. And then there is Brazil - a lot like Australia in many ways but not!
Why do you think it is important for kids to learn to swim?
All children should know how to swim for the fundamental issue of safety! We are surrounded by water; beaches, lakes, pools, water holes, so it is an important issue for all children to know the basic safety issues for swimming. There is also the pure enjoyment that comes from swimming, the fun and the healthy side.
What are your top 5 motivational tips for aspiring competitive swimmers?
- Love & enjoy what you are doing
- Set long term goals & break them down into smaller steps so they don't become to overwhelming
- Make sure you are setting your own goals & no one else's & that you are truly doing what you want to do
- Have a healthy balanced diet, look after your body & get plenty of rest, develop variety in your training program that you enjoy & it will help you to bring the best out in yourself
- Find a balance in your life between the sport, the training and outside interests. Don't let the sport consume you. It is really important to spend time with family & friends & outside interests away from the pool
About Ian Thorpe
At the peak of his career, Ian Thorpe won five Olympic gold medals and 11 world titles. In 2006 at just 24 years old, he announced his retirement from swimming after 10 years on the Australian team. After a significant amount of time out of the water, Ian announced his return to swimming in 2011, seeking to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games, however missed out on a place in the team. Ian is also acknowledged for his public speaking, his children's charity Ian Thorpe's Fountain for Youth and his autobiography "This is Me".
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Get Ahead Kids® July/Aug 2013