I love my Mum. She is kind, thoughtful, beautiful, respectful, and selfless. I wrote this blog for Mum, leading into Mother's Day, to remind her how much she rocks.
Growing up as a kid in competitive sport, you see the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to ‘sport parents’. Let me tell you, I struck gold with my Mum.
My Mum valued participation, hard work, and enjoyment when it came to her kids playing sport. She always encouraged me to try any sport I wanted, and never forced me to commit to one just because I was good at it. I remember trying gymnastics for a very brief stint in primary school, and after a few sessions, the coach told my Mum I had the talent to become an elite gymnast and could start training in the elite squad every day. My Mum gracefully told the coach thanks but no thanks, because she knew I wasn’t ready to give up all my activities and just do gymnastics so early on.
My siblings and I loved going to Little Athletics every Saturday morning. We’d head down to the track in our yellow t-shirts, and bike shorts and have the best time hanging out with friends, participating in all the events, and buying sherbet bombs from the canteen. Both my parents only ever cared that we were running around with a smile on our face, and I think they were just glad we were expending energy! From my earliest memories Mum only ever told me “I don’t care if you come last, just have fun’. This gave me confidence as a kid knowing I had absolutely no external pressure to 'win' and always felt supported by my parents.
My Mum was my netball coach right from ‘Netta’ until grade 6. Having a parent as your coach had its positives and negatives… It was great because I could beg Mum to put me in the positions I wanted to play (center and goal-attack), but it was bad because I couldn’t get mad when she put me on the bench to ‘keep it fair’. At that age all I wanted to do was be on the court, but if I rolled my eyes when she took me off I wouldn’t get a hot jam donut after the game! She instilled in me sportsmanship and how to be a team player, and at the grassroots level – that is absolutely key for a kid to learn.
I also look back fondly on the times I got to play soccer for an all-girls team. This time Mum wasn’t my coach, but she drove me to every training and was on the sidelines at every game. She would pack her fold-out chair, snacks, and a magazine, and set herself up for the morning. I think other parents found it odd that she wasn’t screaming at me running up and down the field like the rest of them were. That just wasn't in her character. After every game, win or lose, she’d wrap me up in a blanket, take off my dirty boots and give me a hug- purely happy that I was happy. She would ignore the whispers from other parents who would bicker about the coach giving me praise or whether or not I’d be trying out for the state team, and just let me do my thing.
Along came diving
When I began diving, I was still playing soccer, netball, and little aths, but I vividly remember the car ride that Mum had to have a tough conversation with me. I’d just been accepted into the first junior elite high-performance program in Melbourne, and the training was going to increase to 10 sessions a week. Mum told me, ‘It’s time you have to choose between diving and everything else.’ I cried the whole way home because I wanted to do it all, and I know she found it tough too, knowing how much I loved playing the other sports. But she explained to me that I could try this new program out, and if I didn’t like it, I could always go back to my other activities. She always encouraged me to try my best and embrace an opportunity and then decide for myself what I really wanted to do.
Turns out that diving stuck! My teenage years consisted of a lot of sacrifice and commitment from my whole family. In the early years we lived over 30 minutes from the pool, began training at 6 am every morning, and finished training at 7 pm every night. My Mum changed her work hours around my training schedule and spent many hours driving me to the pool, sitting in the stands, and driving me home. Mum would always have food ready for me in the car with a smile on her face, and never complained about being tired or stressed from work.
As with most elite sport, there were sometimes arguments between parents and coaches, but my Mum never got involved. She knew she didn’t have to fight for me, because she had raised me to fight for myself, and let my diving do the talking. I am forever grateful that she taught me to be resilient, hard-working and gracious. She always encouraged me to be a fierce competitor and a loyal friend to my teammates. If I ever had a headache or felt sick at training, Mum would happily take me home early and be excited for an early dinner. I never got in trouble or felt pressure from her to continue training if I was in pain.
Mum certainly wasn't a 'push-over' though. My parents raised me to work hard for opportunities and earn my success. Whether it was school or diving, I was taught that whatever I put into it, I would get out of it. From the beginning, I was responsible for packing my many bags every day, setting a 5 am alarm, communicating with my school teachers (if I was going to miss school for a competition), making my lunch, and having the hard conversations with my coach. Mum taught me to be organised, manage my time, and be independent. I knew she was always there to help me, but she wanted me to be able to manage my commitments, problem-solve, and excel on my own – which have all developed into invaluable skills in my adult years.
Another favourite memory goes back to my diving competitions as a junior. Mum knew I was always nervous because I wanted to do well and I think she was equally nervous for me (mainly because her daughter was hurling backward off a 10m platform). Every competition, I would look for Mum in the stands as I was hiding behind the wall before my turn, and I’d make eye contact with her. She would always be waiting and ready to give me a little fist pump and mime ‘You’ve got this' or 'C’mon Belle’. It gave me the confidence to just focus on myself and be aggressive in my dives, and she always knew when I needed it.
When I finally turned 18, I think it was the happiest moment for my parents because I could get my license and drive myself to training! But my 18th birthday also coincided with me moving interstate to train at the Australian Institute of Sport diving program (in Brisbane). That move proved really challenging for everyone, because it was the first time I had to do it all alone. Mum went from 6 years sitting in the stands watching me train, to never entering a diving pool. Obviously this had many benefits, but it took some time for her to get used to not having me around. I struggled really badly being away from home, but I knew I was working towards qualifying for my first Olympics. And Mum tried to be strong for me too, and never told me she was sad. It was only after I made the London Olympics in 2012 and moved back home, that my Dad told me Mum had cried herself to sleep for the first month without one of her kids within her reach.
Having my Mum in the crowd as I competed at my first Olympics in London was the most special thing. She was a dot amongst the sea of people, but I felt her presence. Competing in the green and gold and living my dream was equally as important to her as it was for me, so sharing that moment was so memorable. My aunty and my cousin also came over to London, and I was able to bring them all into the village one day and show them around. It was so special. Following the Olympics, we went on a Mother-Daughter Euro trip and spent time in Paris, Venice, and Santorini. Memories I cherish with my Mum who had given so much of herself to help me achieve my dreams.
Love you, Mum
I will always be grateful for the opportunities you and Dad afforded me, and the lessons I continue to learn from you. Sometimes I tease you for morphing into Grandma (obviously a good thing), and then I realise I’m slowing morphing into you! I hope you never stop asking me to text you when I get home safely, even if I manage to forget every time.
Happy Mother's Day to all the Mums out there doing their best and loving on their kids. We may not tell you enough, but we appreciate you!
Til next week, Belle.