Realisation has come to me slowly, via a series of sparks, each one brighter than the one that preceded it. Everyone has an ‘aha!’ moment, when they come to an understanding that had previously been buried somewhere in their unconscious mind. If you’re ready, and receptive to it, it will come. The question then is whether you do anything about it; whether you allow it to take you anywhere. We are confronted with ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’ at least twice a week.
But are we always in the right ‘state’ to recognise them?
After my Atlanta experience, I wasn’t entirely happy, but I wasn’t totally deflated either. I was more unhappy before the bronze-medal match than I was after it, and I was determined to revel in the success once we had achieved our Olympic medal. But I was immediately seeking more. I wanted to learn from the experience, so that next time I’d have more tools in my toolbox; more weapons in my armory.
I clearly remember the night the penny dropped for me. The night before our bronze medal match—that is, the night of our loss—everything in my body ached. I was so depressed: I knew we had come so close, yet something was missing—some important piece of information that prevented us achieving
Something was keeping my performance out of my control. That something turned out to be me. I truly believed it was my destiny to win gold.What I didn’t know at the time was that Destiny agreed. It had already said ‘yes’. But it had added ‘not yet’. I was destined to wait another four years for another opportunity. All we can be sure of in life is that we’ll receive opportunities. Once we’re in the same position again (if it ever presents itself again), it’s up to us to take the plane off autopilot and take the controls.
After our loss, Steve seemed to have tuned out, and only Kerri seemed her normal, chirpy self. We tried to have a team meeting, but I wasn’t really interested. Kerri said to me “You’re no good to us like this. Go down and get some physio”. At 9 p.m. I raced down to the physiotherapist to get some work done on my painful right knee. When I arrived, no one was there. Kieren Perkins was swimming his famous 1500 metre final, and everyone was gathered around to watch it on the television. All I needed was some attention, and I couldn’t get it! So I thought I might as well watch the race as well. Surely you all know the story by now: he’d just scraped in to the final, qualifying eighth, by 0.08 seconds! The whole world had written him off. Except Kieren himself—the only person that mattered.
“To succeed, you need something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.” -Tony Dorsett
I clearly remember the sight of him getting out of the pool, veins protruding like the veins of a racehorse. He said to the interviewer that he didn’t feel comfortable at all in the water, but was determined to push through it and win, even if his arm fell off. And there I was, thinking “No one believed he could do it. But it didn’t matter. All he needed to do was believe in himself”. If he’d listened to the press, and everyone else who was amplifying that little voice he probably had in his own head, he would have lost. From that moment I realised “I’m the only one who decides! It’s up to me to paint the picture”. Funnily enough, I’d already done it before, all those years ago when I decided that girl would never beat me again in the pool. At that moment I made the decision that I would win a bronze medal the next day, and walked back up the stairs.
I’d got just the attention I needed! I didn’t need physio.
Somewhere in my mind, a seed that might have been planted a long time ago finally found fertile soil. Looking back on that event, I know now that I was seeking inspiration when I went down to watch Perkins swim to that unlikely gold medal. In that respect, it wasn’t a chance event. My mind was prepared to be inspired, but only on a subconscious level. And there’s the difference. If there’s anything to learn from that little incident in retrospect, it’s this: knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have left it to chance. I would not have hoped for inspiration—I would have deliberately sought it much earlier! Today, this is one of the most valuable pieces of advice I could possibly give: deliberately seek to be inspired, and it will happen! The rest will take care of itself. Have the radar out, and look to be stimulated, stirred and moved by the successes you see around you all the time. Then find out how they do it.
That event was the beginning of a search that, I know, will never end. I believe the point of it all is the quality of the journey, not the destination – otherwise, a gold medal would have been the end to all my aspirations. It sounds contradictory, but it’s not. I can still focus on outcomes. It’s the outcome that determines the steps I take—that is, the journey. I’ve always had inspiring and encouraging friends and family, but today I deliberately try to surround myself with nothing but positive people who are all inspirational in their own way. Iron sharpens iron, the old adage says, and this has a dramatic effect on your thinking and, eventually, on the way you act.
After I went back upstairs, we had our team meeting. This time, I’d decided that tomorrow, we were going to get that bronze medal. I hadn’t come here to Atlanta just to swap pins!
“The more I talk to athletes, the more convinced I become that the method of training is relatively unimportant. There are many ways to the top, and the training method you choose is just the one that suits you best. No, the important thing is the attitude of the athlete, the desire to get to the top.” – Herb Elliott