In an effort to not only motivate its 2016 Olympic Swimming Team, but also further cultivate the connection between past and present, the Australian Swimmers’ Association devised a homegrown, unique initiative. Daniel Kowalski, General Manager of the Australian Swimmers’ Association, worked with his leadership team in recruiting past Australian Olympic swimming stars to write personalized, motivational letters to the 2016 squad set to compete in Rio.
Hand-written letters were devised by such greats as Leisel Jones, Ian Thorpe, Susan O’Neill and Kieren Perkins to provide inspiration, insight and encouragement to the swimmers currently training away at their pre-Rio staging camp in Auburn, Alabama. Each swimmer received his/her personalized letter over the weekend, with Kowalski communicating the idea behind the coordinated gesture via Facetime.
Kowalski recently spoke with SwimSwam about the special event, including how the Australian athletes reacted to the unique experience.
Retta: Can you please tell me more about how the letter-writing initiative came about and who initiated it?
Kowalski: Having been in the role as GM of the Australian Swimmers’ Association since 2010, along with my Executive, we have experienced the rollercoaster our sport has endured, particularly post London. As a sport, collectively we have discussed in detail the importance of culture, history and tradition and as the body that are here for retired swimmers we wanted to do all we can to better connect the history with the current and future. So, post trials I engaged with our retired swimmers, pairing up today’s team with past Dolphins as best I could and the rest is history.
Retta: Were the past athletes all receptive to the idea and eager to jump on board?
Kowalski: I said the other day, in these situations I am a total fanboy, it is such an honour to get to engage with our past and they were ALL SO receptive, excited, honoured and even nervous. I thought it was awesome how engaged they were, comments like- what if it isn’t long enough, I don’t know what to say, what if they don’t even know who I am. All of this was ironic to me because they have been in this very position As the letters came in I thought we need to do more to make it even more special. ASA President Marieke D’Cruz wrote a welcome to the ‘club’ letter and Alice Tait (Mills) wrote an amazing poem, all of this went along with the swimmers letter and presented in a special keepsake binder which was adorned with the swimmer’s name and Dolphin number.
Retta: Tell us about the process of giving the letters to the 2016 Olympians. What were the athletes’ reactions/comments/initial responses?
Kowalski: Team psychologist Georgia Ridler, who has worked very closely with the Team leadership group and the ASA in this space organised for me to FaceTime and explain to the team the premise & intent behind the letters. Hand on my heart, it was one of the most precious things from a professional and personal point of view to be able to do on behalf of my Executive and members. These swimmers are so inspiring, such great role models, I am so proud of them. I heard from Team Management how well the letters were received, and from the ASA point of view, we couldn’t be happier or prouder.
Retta: What was your goal with the letters? Do you think this ‘mission’ was accomplished?
Kowalski: As we have a few members on our Executive on the team this year we had to secretly do this and I think all would agree it was a success. In this country, swimming is a sport steeped in history and tradition, the past are who drive and inspire the future generations, so to be able to engage them, on behalf of all those who have come before this team is huge. So based on that it’s definitely a success.
Below is a list of the current Olympian paired with the corresponding athlete of Aussie swimming past who wrote their specific letter:
Jessica Ashwood – Jenny Wetton
Bronte Barratt – Michelle Ford
Georgia Bohl – Samantha Riley
Bronte Campbell – Sarah Ryan
Cate Campbell – Jodie Henry
Tamsin Cook – Hayley Lewis
Alicia Coutts -Tracey Stockwell
Brittany Elmslie – Susan O’Neill
Blair Evans – Dill Macky
Madeline Groves – Felicity Lemke
Belinda Hocking – Leigh Habler
Emma McKeon – Giaan Rooney
Taylor McKeown – Leisel Jones
Keryn McMaster – Lara Carroll
Leah Neale – Jacinta van Lint
Kotuku Ngawati – Alice Tait
Emily Seebohm – Nicole Livingstone
Brianna Throssell – Petria Thomas
Madison Wilson – Lisa Forrest
Matthew Abood – Brett Hawke
Joshua Beaver – Matt Welsh
Kyle Chalmers – Ian Thorpe
Thomas Fraser-Holmes – Robert Bruce
Jacob Hansford – Bill Kirby
Mack Horton – Jodi Rose
Grant Irvine – Martin Roberts
Mitch Larkin – David Theile
Travis Mahoney – Matthew Dunn
Cameron McEvoy – Mark Stockwell
David McKeon – Michael Wenden
Jack McLoughlin – Kieren Perkins
David Morgan – Jon Sieben
Jake Packard – Ryan Mitchell
Joshua Palmer – Brenton Rickard
Daniel Smith – Deane Pieters
James Magnussen – John Devitt
James Roberts – Michael Klim