Chatting to Australian swimmer Libby Trickett, it’s easy to forget that a life of training, commitment and competition existed in the intervening years of her star Olympic performances. Skipping from 2000, when she was inspired watching Inge de Bruijn’s success at Sydney from home, to 2004 when she picked up bronze against her in the 50m freestyle in Athens. Fast forward to Beijing in 2008 and it’s individual gold in the 100m butterfly and then an inspiring comeback to make the Australian team for the 2012 London Olympics. While our discussion jumps in four-year bursts, 12 years of absolute dedication were the underlying constant throughout this incredible journey and Libby acknowledges that she felt both young and old at the same time.
“At 19, I reckon I felt about 26. It’s interesting, swimming and competing at an elite level make you grow up really really quickly. You have a lot of responsibilities and expectations at a really young age, not just external, but internally, that you place on yourself. I do feel like I’ve had a lifetime of experiences in the last ten years of my life and it’s something that I’m really grateful for.”
Looking back on her evolution since Athens, Libby believes she was “fresh faced and very green” at her Olympic debut, where she rode both the very high and very low waves of elite sport. First Olympics, first day, first swim, the Australian relay team broke the world record and Libby came away with an Olympic gold medal. A couple of days later she missed making the final in her 100m freestyle event, a crashing reminder of what a rollercoaster ride the Olympic journey is.
Four years on in Beijing, with several World Championship and Commonwealth Games medals and world records behind her, Libby saw herself as a veteran of the games. “I was very sure of myself but at the same time I was acutely aware of what the Olympics meant and what it was going to bring. To come away with another couple of medals and an Olympic individual medal was just crazy.”
The hard lessons faced in Athens stuck with Libby and reminded her that even after experiencing the highest of highs that you can get in sport, things are still the same. “Much like with disappointment, the sun still rises, the family loves you just as much, that’s what life is about and I think that was a big learning curve for me,” shares Libby.
In 2009, Libby announced her retirement from swimming, a decision that induced a period of depression and anxiety in her life for about six months in 2010.
“It’s not a nice feeling, it’s quite an overwhelming experience and you feel completely snowed under with life. You can’t see a way out, you can’t see a way forward. To be honest, it mostly stemmed from retiring. With that I lost a lot of my identity because I’d swum my whole adult life and that’s how I valued myself.”
Dealing with her depression through talking, to both her family and to health professionals, was a vital way to get through that difficult period in her life. Libby is now an ambassador for the Black Dog Institute, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by mood disorders.
While her retirement was short-lived, with Libby making a career comeback to swim the heats of the 4x100m freestyle relay in London, her experience was bittersweet when she wasn’t picked to swim in the final. Still, sometimes the journey is far more important than the destination and for Libby it represented a challenge that she wasn’t entirely sure she was up for.
“The London journey was probably the most rewarding in that I didn’t actually think I could make the Olympic team again and to achieve that was such a reward of a really long and really exhausting journey.”
Having just announced her retirement in July this year, due to a persistent wrist injury, Libby’s exit from the pool signals the near end of an era of global swimming domination by Australia.
Passionate about maintaining her connection to the sport, it’s likely we’ll see Libby’s continued involvement in manager or coaching roles. “I’ve always wanted to be part of the Australian team but not actually swimming. Not swim and focus on everyone else’s races and support everyone else in what they do.”
For more information about Libby’s involvement with the Black Dog Institute and the work they do, visit blackdoginstitute.org.au