This autobiography by Leisel Jones was a fantastic read! It was so interesting to learn about Leisel’s story. She begins with her development as a young swimmer from an Australian outback country town, through her journey to be the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympic Games. Her first Olympics was at the very young age of 15. Leisel is also currently one of two Australian athletes who has won the most Olympic medals. She has won 9 in total, equal with Ian Thorpe.
Leisel’s candid recall of significant obstacles throughout her sporting career provided alarming insight into the pressures of young elite athletes. This included the crucial impact of coaches on not only athletic performance but overall wellbeing. Also highlighted was the bitter taste of drugs and bullying in sport. The struggles of weight and body image were amplified by some staff and the unwavering and critical press. These were monumental additional stresses for female athletes at that time. Many of these issues we do not see or even appreciate when an athlete steps up to the start line to compete.
Leisel talks about her depression. This developed as a result of all these pressures and the inability to cope with them. I was saddened to read about this, as it may have been preventable with the proper support and early guidance. I guess this is why she is sharing her story. The book highlights the importance of sports psychology. There is clearly a need for the management of overall health and wellbeing in young athletes at the elite level. But there was obviously a stigma surrounding mental support during Leisel’s time. It triggers the thought as to whether this has changed for elite athletes of today?
Unfortunately, Leisel’s relationship with her dad was severed. However, she talks about her mum in the book with much fondness and appreciation. The importance of her mother’s unwavering support (and not pushiness) was key to Leisel’s overall swimming development. Her mum always encouraged her just to focus on doing her best.
The book was written in an easy to read style (co-authored by Felicity McLean). This makes you feel that Leisel is freely expressing her thoughts. It also offers a great sense of personal connection, sincerity, and engagement that generates a warm feeling of empathy from the reader. She clearly was a determined athlete with a will to achieve, excel and beat any challenge put to her. With the detail of her training and competition schedule, you can appreciate the dedication, hard work and extraordinary commitment Leisel made to her sport.
I really enjoyed reading this book! I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in sport, athletes themselves, parents of athletes, and even coaches too. You don’t need to be a swimmer to appreciate this top read!
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