When I was seven years old, I was sitting on the floor watching the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games on the television when I saw Lisa Curry standing on a podium, receiving a gold medal around her neck for winning the 100 metres freestyle. I said “I want to do that!” At about the same age, I was watching the football on the television with my dad and a physiotherapist ran onto the field to help someone who was hurt. I said “I want to do that!” Believe it or not, those two simple realisations helped shape my life. They were my first real dreams. They are one of the reasons I won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics; why I did two years of physiotherapy at the University of Queensland, before beach volleyball came along; and why I’m writing this book. I’ve come to know these things about myself: I like to win, and I like to help.
“Restlessness is discontent—and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man—and I will show you a failure.” Thomas Edison
I also understand that I’m the sort of person who has to ‘see’ things before I decide I want to do them. Just as well there was such a thing as television back then! For a long time, I wanted to be like Lisa Curry, and like that physiotherapist. Having people such as these as heroes and role models acts as a kind of magnetism. You begin to attract things to yourself that those people have; things that help you to realise your dreams. Dreams are visions. We ‘see’ themand ‘feel’ them and think “Wow—that would be awesome. I wish I could have that!” Well, you can. It’s only a matter of really wanting it.
“The best and fastest way to learn…is to watch and imitate a champion.” Jean-Claude Killy
From the ages of seven to fourteen, I’d plough up and down pools, singing and reciting television commercials as I blew the bubbles out of my mouth and nose. I used to love competing in the carnivals. I reached the state level and represented Queensland at the National Titles. At the age of fourteen, I realised that swimming wasn’t for me, for many reasons. I would wake up at crazy hours of the morning to get to training, in the quest to be like Lisa. Mum had to make sure I didn’t just throw the alarm through the window, roll over and go back to sleep. Basically, I got sick of that black line. Swimming up and down a pool didn’t really satisfy my competitive urge, or give me the surge of adrenalin that I needed to be at my very best. But the vision of Lisa Curry has stayed with me forever. It was a vision of success, of being number one. So I tried my hand at just about everything. I did martial arts, golf, tennis, even skateboarding. But they were all individual sports and, when I hit high school, I felt the need to be in a team sport for a change. The idea of being part of a team appealed to me.
I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. One ordinary day, when I was fourteen and in year nine at Corinda High, I saw a notice on the board at school that said “volleyball trip to America and Canada”. I walked upstairs and said to the teacher, “I’d love to go to America and Canada. What’s volleyball?” The teacher took me down the hall to where the boys were playing and he said “that’s volleyball”. I said “Great! How do I play?” I still knew what I wanted to be—a champion—and the travel sounded exciting, so I learned to play volleyball.
I played at first with the boys because there wasn’t a girl’s team. Games were played on a ‘rotation’ system. Whenever you made a mistake, you were off! Often, I was ordered off even when I hadn’t touched the ball! The boys always agreed it was my fault! At first, I’d say “Yeah, whatever.” and go off. But as my skills began to improve, I’d stand my ground and say “No! I was nowhere near the ball. It was your fault. You get off”. I stayed on the court, and I continued to develop as a volleyball player.
To fund our trip we all had to work hard to raise money, car washing and selling raffle tickets. It was so gratifying to take all the right steps, see the improvement, and have the added bonus of fulfilling my dream to travel. I felt a little more like a volleyballer after my trip, and not long after my return I was dragged along to Ipswich in Queensland by Carmen, a friend of mine, to try out for the regional schools volleyball team. And that’s when I developed my first positive conception of what I could be as a volleyballer. I really hadn’t played enough of the sport to believe I was good at it. But, because of my height, I caught the attention of the coach, Brian Van Der Weide. He simply said “I want you to jump up and hit the ball as hard as you can. I don’t care where it goes. I don’t care if it hits the back wall on the full. Just hit the thing as hard as you can”. To this day, I can honestly say that that was the best hit I’ve ever done!
Thanks to Brian, I developed a potent weapon that has stayed with me. He could have worried about all sorts of technical details, but he encouraged me to start with my strength. More than that, he helped me to identify it. Many of us with low self-esteem do not hear encouraging words for what they are. But sometimes there are clues in there as to what our strengths are, so we should be all ears. It’s not a lack of humility to take on board someone’s praise.
Thanks to Brian I developed a vision of myself as being big and powerful. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. He held up a particular mirror to me. I looked in that mirror and saw someone who could win volleyball games. I needed that, and Brian was the right person at the right time, but only because I chose to believe him. And, deep down, most of us like to believe an encouraging word.
I fell in love with volleyball and went on to state and national junior sides, all the while doing something else I love to do: travel.
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.” Jean-Napoleon Hill