Hi, I’m Leisel Jones.
Before I go any further, I should probably clear up a rumour that’s been circulating for years.
Yes, I did take contraband into Sydney’s Olympic Village.
But in my defence, I was only 15 and McDonald’s cookies remain a particularly underrated menu item.
It was the year 2000; Brad and Jen had just got hitched, NSYNC were dancing their way into our hearts with their smooth boy band moves and I was about to compete in my first Olympics.
At just 15, I was the youngest member of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Swimming Team — painting my nails yellow and green in my room to keep myself calm.
I won two silver medals in the 100m breaststroke and 4x100m Medley Relay, making me one of the youngest Olympic medallists in Australia’s history.
By the age of 18, I was competing in my second Olympic Games in Athens, winning gold in world record time in the 4x100m medley relay, silver in the 200m breaststroke and a bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke.
As a teenager growing up in Queensland, I never dreamed of standing at the end of an aisle in a big white wedding dress; instead, all I ever wanted was to stand on a podium, in a green and gold nylon tracksuit.
After facing many adversities and setbacks, I finally fulfilled my dream of winning individual Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 in the 100m breaststroke. I also won gold in the 4x100m medley relay and silver in the 200m breaststroke.
Before farewelling my swimming career (and swimsuit wedgies) forever, I competed in my fourth Olympic Games in London in 2012, finishing on a high by winning a silver medal in the 4x100m medley relay and becoming the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympics.
The world can be a pretty noisy place (even when your head is under water a lot of the time) and being thrust into the spotlight at such a young age had an overwhelming impact on me.
The constant pressure to be perfect — from coaches, from the media and from myself — was at times, relentless.
Despite the glory and shiny medals, I’ve also had to overcome serious matters that played out far beyond the pool lines including personal battles with depression, media controversy including criticism about my weight, bullying and team dissention.
It took quite a few laps around the sun (and even more in the pool) before I realised that a ‘personal best’ — whether it’s in life, swimming or a hotdog eating competition — cannot be measured by numbers. Your personal best comes when you are able to find the freedom to dive into your authentic life — and then swim like nobody is watching.
I admit, I took a little while to adjust to life after swimming — well, apart from not having to wake to a 4am alarm, that is. But it was a strange and disorientating new world I found myself in — my life felt completely off-kilter out of the water.
So I set myself new goals.
In 2017, I released my memoir, Body Lengths; a raw account of my time in the pool — and post-pool — including my mental health battles and body image issues.
In 2018 I started studying psychology at university which I am hugely passionate about. I have also completed a Master Training course in Personal Training, become a qualified Pilates instructor and I’ve trekked the Kokoda Trail.
I’ve dipped my toe in the media pool, with roles hosting Network Ten’s coverage of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, hosting the 2014 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships and pool deck interviews for the 2015 Hancock Prospecting Australian Swimming Championships. In 2021, I also added special commentary to Channel Seven’s Tokyo Olympics swimming coverage.
I’ve dived into new experiences, such as getting showered in cockroaches on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here and even stripping off for The All New Monty.
I’ve been a guest quizmaster on Have You Been Paying Attention?, a guest host on Studio 10 and even travelled to Africa to film the documentary, Changing Views of Africa, for the World Society for Protection of Animals.
If you think this gal is happy to rest, think again. While my medals and world records definitely fulfilled the dreams I once had, these days I’m driven by a different pursuit as a professional speaker.
Channelling the drive I had in the pool into public speaking, I want to help people to quieten the ‘noise’ and listen to their true self; to reconnect with their purpose, values and authentic goals, to create a life they absolutely love and deserve.
On stage, I share a very personal journey of what it is to be an Olympian —the joys, as well as the pain, including the pressures to be thin and to act a certain way, from such a young age and under the harsh glare of public scrutiny and perception.
With a humorous, holds-no-punches delivery, I draw parallels between lessons in the pool and lessons in life to underscore the values of truth, integrity and authenticity in life and business.
Copyright 2021 © Leisel Jones