Last night I had the great privilege of hearing from 5 inspirational speakers at the ICMI Women in Leadership Showcase. All incredible women, making a difference in their own way.
Amongst them was one of my all time favourites Anna Meares OAM. I was even one of those annoying guests that loitered around until the very end - determined not to miss the chance to meet her (and mumble out some words of thanks) just before she ‘left the building’. And I’m so glad I did.
She said she wanted to share some of the ‘behind the scenes’ people just wouldn’t know about. And that she did. I hope in writing this it shares some of those things a little further
So here goes... but I will preface this by saying if you have the chance to hear part of Anna's story - in her own words, you'll be glad you did.
Described as Australia’s greatest ever female cyclist - 18 Gold, 16 Silver, 10 Bronze, and the first Australian athlete to win medals at 4 successive Olympic Games.
She spoke of learning commitment and dedication from her parents, they would drive her and her sister Kerry some 600km every weekend for 2 years for training... Of how she was no good at track cycling as a kid, but she just had a real passion for it. And it's something she's now been doing for 22 years.
Now retired at 33, it's all she's known for a very long time.
She speaks of how “Success is not about staying undefeated, it’s about how you handle defeat.” And how “You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t appreciate one without the other.”
Of her 11 world championship wins, she lost 29 attempts.
She broke her neck in January 2008 at the World Cup... and with the help of support round her, she made a remarkable and very unexpected achievement of a Silver in Beijing some months later – in fact the only cycling medal for Australia at those Games.
For 10 years she and her sister Kerry - the top 2 female cyclists in Australia, were both competing for 1 spot on the Olympic team, and it wasn’t until after Kerry retired, they changed the rules to 2 spots...
She spoke about the team of 30-40 people behind the scenes helping support her in some way, and how only a handful of them would be able to head to the Olympics. But it was just what they did - incredible loyalty and dedication, their support didn't waver.
The extent of her strength training in the lead up to London was just draw dropping... we saw clips of her doing some of the following moves:
- Box jumps at heights of 110cm
- Dead lifts of 130kg
- Power cleans of 80kg
- Single leg presses of 235kg!!
And we also heard of the 300 hours of video footage her team watched of her English rival to get the best race strategy for the day...
She won gold in London!
But of all of these incredible efforts, achievements and the adversity throughout the last 22 years – the moment that got me, and I'm sure every person sitting in that audience, was when she spoke of her Bronze Medal win in Rio. The one that would be her final medal before retirement. She was bestowed the great honour of Flag Bearer and Team Captain in Rio, which she was immensely proud of...
...But she also faced enormous challenge both emotionally and physically coming into the Games, holding back the tears, then succumbing to them, as she spoke to some of those challenges:
- She was injured, so much so she hadn't been able to do her usual strength training for the 6-month lead up
- Her marriage of 9 years had just come to an end
- And her coach Gary had been diagnosed with the crippling Motor Neurone Disease (MND), she was the only one on the team who knew, and they sometimes had to communicate on paper as Gary wasn't able to speak...
For Gary – she wanted to win Gold. She had a nation of 23 million people who wanted her to win Gold.
But that was one hell of a muster for a Bronze!
Nicole Livingstone was MC last night, and raised the topical question of the challenge of retirement as we're sadly seeing with Grant Hackett right now. Anna acknowledged it was tough, and Nicole assured her of 1) how much love & support she has around her - she just needs to ask, and 2) how 'awesome' she is in her own right - regardless of her cycling achievements.
Anna Meares - you are a World Champ and always will be. But behind the World Champ is a (semi;) regular human, who has demonstrated the most immense passion and dedication to a sport they've loved, and still love, for 22 incredible years.
I hope you can find a similar kind of passion and dedication in the next chapter you create for yourself. And that you realise just what a remarkable impact you've had, and will continue to have, for generations to come.
There certainly is far far more to Gold than meets the eye. Like any level of success - it's almost just a fragment of the effort and heart ache that goes into it.
Anna, thank you for sharing some of yours with us.
You are an inspiration.