By Rachel Wood
Making my transition from youth to open Australian teams, I was super excited to be selected to compete at the Sanyo Bussan Cup in Fukuoka, Japan for the Australian Pathway team. This was a surf lifesaving team which consisted of Nutri-Grain Iron Men/Women, Open Australian Champions and those debuting in their first ever Australian team. It was such an honour to be named with those talented athletes.
We flew off to Japan overnight for a 10-hour flight. Once we arrived, we headed to our accommodation where all the other 7 teams were staying. The countries competing in this competition were Japan A, Japan B, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa, USA and the Netherlands. The next two days involved training in preparation for our competition, sightseeing the local area and trying all kinds of different food such as sweet potato ice-cream, sashimi, ramen, sukiyaki and tempura. Regardless of how weird the food was, it still tasted great, however, I don’t think I could live off Japanese food, that’s for sure.
This surf lifesaving competition was unlike other surf carnivals I have competed in. There were two days of the exact same racing on both days. Straight out finals, on strict time schedule due to the camera crew filming for television purposes. I was selected to race in the individual swim, the swim team, board rescue, rescue tube rescue and the Taplin relay for both days. I was stoked with my results. Day 1, I finished with a 3rd in my swim, 1st in the swim teams with Naomi Scott, 1st in the board rescue with Maddy Dunn, 4th in the Rescue Tube Rescue with Naomi and 1st in the Taplin with Hannah Minogue, Maddy and Elizabeth Forsyth. Day 2 was even better where I placed 2nd in the swim, 1st in the swim team with Naomi, 1st in the board rescue with Maddy, 3rd in the rescue tube rescue with Naomi and 1st in the Taplin relay with Hannah, Maddy and Naomi. We finished the competition by winning Australia’s 10th consecutive Sanyo Bussan Cup by 143 points ahead of other teams. It was the most Australia has ever won by.
After our competition, all 8 teams came together and attended a function hosted by Sanyo Bussan where we gave out and received gifts. We also did exchanges with other teams with our team uniform. A lot of people wanted the Australian uniform but I couldn’t give mine up so they had to seek out the other Australians.
The next day, all 8 teams participated in an exchange program where we got to teach Japanese primary school students about not only our sport but beach and water safety. I found this so cool to be a part of as beach and water safety is so important and to give some of my knowledge to those kids, showed me that this sport isn’t just about competing and winning but about learning skills that save lives. It teaches us valuable lessons that we will hold onto for the rest of our lives. We are so fortunate to be a part of a lifesaving community.
The next day, we flew off to Tokyo to spend our last few days sightseeing. We visited Tokyo tower, lots of temples and shrines, Japanese markets and even hired a karaoke room one night to boogie and have some fun. The highlight of sightseeing for me though was on our last day, we made a spontaneous trip to Disneyland. It was truly the happiest day of my life. Then that night we boarded for another 10-hour flight to go back home. Those past 9 days went by so quickly but it was an amazing experience. These team trips are what keeps me training hard so I can experience more as it is so much fun and you create friendships that will last forever.
After exactly a week of being home, I was on my break at work when I looked at my phone to see missed calls and messages from the Australian Lifesaving Team Head Coach and Garry Mensforth! After reading the messages and returning the calls, I realised my biggest sporting dream was about to come true. I received the call up for my first ever senior Australian capped team to compete at the World Games in Poland. To say that I was stoked is an understatement. What is so special about these teams is that when you debut, you go down in Australian Lifesaving history by being an Australian Open Representative. You receive an Australian representative blazer and number. Two things that are so rewarding and can never be taken away from you. I could not believe this was coming true for me.
Fast forward a week and a bit, I met up with the team in Brisbane with Garry to receive our team kit, our official numbers and blazers. I got given #448 and I was stoked because they were all even numbers. It’s a number I will never forget. After our team meeting, we got prepared for the next 24 hours of travelling to Europe.
3 planes later, we arrived in Wroclaw, Poland. First few days, we did a few training sessions and a bit of sightseeing the local square. The World Games is a cool event as it is like the Olympic Games but for non-Olympic sports. There was an athlete village, a food hall and an opening ceremony. Unlike my Japan trip, this was a pool lifesaving competition where we competed for two days. I was selected to race in the 200m Obstacle Race, the 4x50m Obstacle Relay and the 4x50m Medley Relay.
It was the first day of competition and I could already tell it was unlike any other competition I’ve competed in. the Olympic channel was there to broadcast the event live on television so there were cameras left, right and centre. The best 10 countries were there to compete, including the dominant European countries who live and breathe pool lifesaving. They are crazy good and hold a lot of the world records to date. I was so excited to be there, racing against the best in the world at an open level.
I was the first event, the first heat to start off the competition. Talk about nerve-racking! But I kept relaxed and maintained my thoughts to keep focused on what it was I had to do to do my best and get into the top 8 to feature in that night’s final. I finished my heat swim with a personal best time and was ranked 5th going into the final. I was over the moon. I then swam my heat swim in the 4x50m Obstacle relay which we comfortably made the final for.
After an afternoon of recovery, we headed back for finals night. Once again, I was the first race of the night. I think I was the most nervous I have ever been as it was my first ever open world final. I finished with coming 5th in my final! It showed me that having a positive mindset can lead you to success regardless of your preparation. Us girls then had our relay final and we ended up winning a silver medal! When we collected our medal, we also received two Hansel and Gretel mascots. On day 2, I swam the third leg of the 4x50m Medley relay and we got second in that as well. To come away with 2 medals at this level was an amazing feeling that I can’t describe. Overall, team Australia did an awesome job to come second overall, only 16 points behind the powerhouse country, Italy!
That night we celebrated with the other countries at the closing ceremony and got the chance to hang out with before we left the next morning for the capital city of Poland, Warsaw. When we were in Warsaw, we shopped and we also visited the Old Town which was unique and really cool to explore. There were heaps of places to look at but one that caught my eye was an ice-cream place where they made ice-cream in front of your eyes, just like the Youtube and Facebook videos I have been watching for months. This was a dream come true for a real ice-cream lover like myself. After the adventures, this trip was starting to come to an end.
Over those 5 weeks, I travelled to 2 countries, to compete not only for Australia but also for Umina SLSC. Thank you for supporting me and thank you for being the best club in the world. Because of this club, I am given the opportunities to compete at my best and go on these trips of a lifetime. I hope you have enjoyed reading an insight on what it’s like to be on an Australian team and that the young members of this club can strive for that too.