Emma McKeon made her debut splash at the 2016 Rio Olympics. We spoke exclusively to the Wollongong-born swimmer about her preparation, patience and family pride.
Emma McKeon comes from impeccable swimming pedigree. Her dad, Ron, swam in the 1980 and 1984 Olympic games, while her mother, Susie, swam in the Commonwealth Games. To top it off, Emma will represent Australia in the pool alongside her brother, David, making them the first Australian siblings to compete in the same Olympics in over a half century!
Here, the remarkably talented and focused 22-year-old talks with LifeStyle.com.au about getting ‘lost in the laps', and working towards the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
What was your dream as a child?
I had many dreams and aspirations as a child, one of which was definitely to be an Olympian. Since watching the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and watching Australia's great athletes compete, I knew that I wanted to go to the Olympics.
What has being an athlete taught you about yourself?
I have learned so much about myself as a result of swimming. The level of hard work that it takes to get to a high level in swimming forces you to learn discipline and self-awareness. These are things I'm still learning every day.
Sometimes I do just want to pack everything up and head back home but regardless of how hard it seems at the time you just have to keep going. [This philosophy] has made me both the person and the athlete I am today. I also know there are so many more things to learn and experience – there's always something you can improve on, and I think that's exciting.
What would you tell your younger self?
Sometimes when I was younger, I just wanted to be at a different standard than I was – which isn't a bad thing because it gives you something to work towards – but I was always disappointed if I didn't reach a particular goal. So I would tell my younger self to be patient and keep doing what I was doing because eventually it will pay off, and it will work out when it's supposed to work out when I'm ready for it.
What is your greatest indulgence outside of sport?
Outside of sport I love going to the beach. I find it so relaxing and even just for a day it gives me a bit of a mental reset to recharge for the rest of the week of training.
Do you have something you always think about when you swim?
I'm always thinking about my goals that I have set for myself in swimming because that's why I'm in the pool twice a day every day, working towards those goals.
How do you get lost in the laps, but still remain focused?
Instead of thinking about how many laps I have to go, I am thinking about the small things like my technique, my turns, my underwater, etcetera. I think that's when I do get lost in the laps - when I am fully focused.
What has gotten you out of bed every morning to train for the last decade or so?
There are many things I want to achieve in swimming and many of them I already have achieved throughout the last decade, but every time I do meet one of my goals, I set another even bigger goal and work hard towards until I get it.
What is your greatest passion in life?
Spending time with my family and friends would be my number one passion in life. There is nothing more special than having quality time with the people I love.
Do you have a bond with your brother you may not have had if it weren’t for swimming?
My brother and I would be close whether we were swimming or not because my family is a very close family who all support each other no matter what we are doing.
Where in the world do you most want to do laps?
I love the coast of Italy, although I don't think I would like to swim laps there, I'd prefer just to float in the ocean instead of doing laps!
Do you remember your first swim?
My first swim would have been when I was about three months old, so I don't remember that, but I have been swimming ever since!
How do you keep your hair and skin in condition with all that chlorine?
Being in the chlorine for four hours every day makes my skin and hair very dry! So I try to do the best job I can at cleaning and restoring hydration to my skin and hair. I use Olay Moisturizer on my face every day after training and before bed. I also ensure I cleanse my face after a swim and again before bed to remove any excess chlorine.
What healthy food would you eat even if you weren’t an athlete?
Even if I weren't an athlete, I would still eat healthy because I like those food options, and they make me feel more energized and happier when I give my body good foods.
Greatest piece of advice you've been given?
My parents always told me from day one to enjoy whatever it is that I’m doing. For a while I wasn’t enjoying swimming and they told me that if it didn’t make me happy and didn’t enjoy it I should do something else that I am passionate about. I did give swimming up for a bit, but I think that is one of the best things I have done for my swimming because it made me realize that I did love the sport and what aspects of it I loved most.
What is the best advice you can pass on to other hopefuls?
I would pass on the same advice my parents gave to me because it helped me in getting to where I am today, and will help me in the years to come. If you don't enjoy what you are doing, it becomes very hard to work hard at it. If you are enjoying it, you will always be successful whether you win or lose.
Before my event, I am looking forward to seeing the pool for the first time with the stadium packed full of people! I can't wait to see the atmosphere of the Olympics from the pool deck.
What’s the next life goal for Emma McKeon?
Regarding swimming I haven't thought too much past the Olympics this year because that's what I have been working towards for a long time. I'm sure I will just be relaxing and chilling out for a while before anymore swimming. But my next life goal that I will work towards I think will be something outside of swimming.
Emma is an ambassador for the Coca-Cola #ThatsGold campaign, aimed at inspiring the nation to come together and celebrate those everyday 'gold' moments that go beyond the podium in support of the Australian Olympic Team as they prepare to create their own unforgettable experiences on the world sporting stage.