Swimming with Susie O’Neill

50 Sports took to the Yeronga Park Swimming Complex in Brisbane for sport #2 and of all the champions in the world they couldn’t have picked a better mentor for swimming than the amazing Susie O’Neill. Susie is a dual Olympic Gold Medallist, dual world record holder, four times World Champion and five times Commonwealth Gold Medallist.  Even today she still has the same fiery competitive edge and rates triathlon among her favourite pursuits. She has several media engagements, helps run the family business with husband Cliff and is a wonderful mother to two children Alix and William.

Here the Brown’s share their experiences with Susie and a few tips that might just help you and your family get off the couch and into the water.

“Swimming week was always going to be a bit more of a challenge for Jacqui and I. Swimming has never been our favourite form of exercise. You could blame the fact we are both quite lean and not very buoyant, you could blame our technique but the reality is it’s just something neither of us did a lot of as we were growing up.  So when we lined-up with one of Australia’s swimming legends, Susie O’Neill we knew they were in for an interesting and challenging experience.

Of course there are many forms of swimming, mostly defined by the distance and/or the 4 main strokes. Susie was famous as Madame Butterfly and yet her second Olympic Gold Medal was for the 200 metre freestyle. Personally I have never understood why anyone would bother to learn backstroke, I mean, if we’re our at sea and the boat sinks, nobody’s butterflying to shore! Kudos however to those who can swim butterfly and the same for all the other strokes of freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke.

Swimming is a fantastic way to get and keep fit. There are few sports that can match it for Cardio Vascular conditioning at the same time as toning and strengthening the muscles. Even a few short fast laps can do wonders for your fitness and shape while longer distances can bring amazing stamina with minimal risk of overuse injury due to the low impact and controlled movements. we do hear of the occasional shoulder problem, mostly again in those crazy backstroke-rs but by and large aside the obvious risks associated with being in the water swimming is safe, simple and generally affordable, especially if you have a local pool or beach handy.

If there is a downside it is the infamous black line fever. The repetitiveness of doing lap after lap and seeing nothing but that cursed black line on the bottom that is blamed for high attrition rates in the sport, especially among those in their early teens when life’s distractions call louder than the water ever could. When someone invents a 25 meter waterproof video screen that problem may go away but in the meantime swimming for swimming’s sake needs a few more attractions and on closer reflection (…you like that one?) there are actually some very compelling reasons to get your kids into swimming and keep them there for a number of years.

  1. Being a confident swimmer opens up so many other sporting opportunities such as Water Polo, Surf Lifesaving, Scuba Diving, High Diving, Ocean Racing, Surfing, Kite Surfing, Water skiing and more.
  2. There is a wonderful social fabric that links swimmers, their clubs and community involvement are renowned and especially in movements such as nippers there is a real sense that all kids are part of their flock, to watch over, nurture and help develop.
  3. As mentioned above the cost to participate is negligible. Getting started can require an investment in some learn to swim lessons but after maybe one or two seasons the level of water confidence can be sufficient that training can be done alone or move into squad training where again the costs are quite modest against many other sports.
  4. Despite perhaps an outsider’s expectation that body image and shape are important factors for swimming, the reality is you see all shapes and sizes at the local pool doing laps and while all will agree it helps keep the excess weight off a bit, body shape is not measure of success or failure. To swim and keep healthy is its own reward for many.
  5. For the serious and successful swimmer there is of course the lure of competition, perhaps the greatest reason a swimmer will do lap after lap, regardless the hour of day. Swimming as a sport have done very well in creating a strong competitive culture and of you can keep getting your kids to training it seems a tremendous way to keep them on the straight and narrow. A wonderful outlet for their youthful energy and a tremendous confidence and character builder. For champs like Susie, having 10,000 fans scream your name at the end of a major race has immense appeal and some greats do see a successful life after the sport, but for many it seems the best use of their swimming prowess is when they enter other water sports

So how did Jacqui, Ben and I do with Susie O’Neill? I have to say we had an amazing time. Susie is such a warm and fun person to be around, she was very generous with her time and it was a real treat to also swim with her tow beautiful children Alix and Will. Ben received top marks from Susie and Coach Shelley for his technique and believe it or not I can actually claim to have now learned to swim the Butterfly. It isn’t pretty, but that box is ticked

A big thank you to Susie O’Neill and a special mention swim coach and the lessee of the Yeronga Park Swimming Complex, Shelley Douyere. She is the mother hen of the park and with 300,000 visitors coming in every year she has her hands full, but handles the task with resilience and an unwavering commitment to keeping kids and grown-ups active, healthy and off the couch.” PB.


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