THE YEAR THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
Olympian Brittany Elmslie.
IN 2017, I FOUND MYVOICE and my independence as a woman. I bought my first house, I was fresh out of a toxic relationship and I just had a really big year of personal development.you might think ‘the year that changed my life’ would revolve around a swimming achievement, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Last year was the year I was proudest of myself as a human being.what I’m trying to achieve with swimming is quite rare: to peak at the pinnacle of the sport with a gold medal at the Olympic Games. Previously, I’ve achieved two Olympic gold medals in the relay, and other international swimming medals over my 15-year-plus career in elite sport, but looking back on it last year, I realised I almost resented some of my achievements because I wasn’t proud of some of the sacrifices I made for them.
As an athlete, you have to sacrifice a lot, but mainly I’ve always struggled with body image. Last year, I apologised to myself about how I’d mistreated and disrespected my body, because I had an eating disorder from the age of 17 that took me five years to fully recover from, but I never acknowledged it as an obstacle I overcame. I was originally ashamed of it and felt like I couldn’t talk to people about it, but last year I promised myself I’d no longer find Band-aids or quick fixes for recurring health issues, physically and mentally. I have found ways to deal with them and cope with them, and through that I have learnt how strong my willpower is — the force of it, and the power of using it to achieve self-acceptance rather than to please others. In today’s society, everyone is trying to be somebody else, but I thought, Why don’t I just be me?
I now want to mentor younger women who aspire to be elite athletes through being the best version of myself and a role model for others.when I was young, I was talented and swimming came easily, but I soon learnt that talent can only get you so far.when everyone started to catch up to me performance-wise and it wasn’t coming so easily, I thought, What do I have to do to keep
winning? So I learnt to gain satisfaction out of pushing my body on a daily basis, which has been my grounding point, and something I’ve returned to when I’ve experienced adversity outside of the pool. In 2015, I withdrew from Australia’s world titles team following a breast cancer scare and the removal of a benign lump.
It wasn’t really public knowledge, but at the time that the whole breast lump was happening, my parents were separating, so my whole world was falling apart. I took time outside of the water, which was a difficult decision because I realised swimming was the only thing that was a constant in my life — it wasn’t going to leave me or let me down — but I knew I needed a break emotionally. I thought standing behind the blocks at the Olympics was scary, but sitting in the waiting room to find out if the lump in your breast is cancerous is really scary.
When I took that time away from swimming, I reset mentally and got my head around my new family situation. Realising that my Olympic dream for Rio the following year was still very much alive, I just had to narrow my focus and get the work done.after we won in Rio — as soon as I touched the wall — I just broke down. It was a sign I was extremely proud of the way I got to [that point] … picking myself back up and dusting myself off and getting to be a presence in a world-class Australian freestyle team.
The way you choose to conduct yourself during setbacks displays more about your character than when things are going to plan. We’ve just had the trials for the [Gold Coast 2018] Commonwealth Games and, sadly, I didn’t make the [Australian] Dolphins swim team.this will be the first time for seven years I sit in the stands and not be a part of it.that’s incredibly hard, but, at the same time, incredibly motivating.
If you don’t meet our team’s world-class standards, you won’t be selected. It’s brutally cut-throat, but that’s what I love about it. My focus now has to switch.to find ways I can improve to ensure I’m back in the team at my next opportunity, in July at the Pan Pacs [Pan Pacific Championship] selection trials.this way of thinking is how I want to live my life. Both in and out of the water.
Brittany Elmslie wears Michael Lo Sordo jacket, $640, from theundone.com; her own Speedo swimsuit (also worn on opposite page).