Sometimes it’s not about winning, it’s just about getting in the pool.
And Chelsea Hodges’s bronze medal in the women’s 50 meter breaststroke was proof of that.
“The last 12 months have been really hard,” she told ABC Sport.
“Just to come back to do that swim, no words for it. I’m just incredibly proud of myself.”
The Olympics Comedown
At the Tokyo Olympics, the 21-year-old was part of Australia’s successful 4x100m medley relay team, becoming another member of the Dolphins’ gold medal factory.
She was on top of the world, a rising star among an exciting crop of young talent, and everyone told her life was going to change.
Except that it didn’t.
“Normally swimming is what she uses to get rid of the stress, that’s the place she goes to find peace,” mum Catie Hodges told ABC Sport.
“But she said, ‘what do you do when the pool is what’s causing the stress?'”
Chelsea said it got the point where she “questioned why I was in the sport.”
“I went through that bit of a post-Olympic depression and just really struggled and lost my love for the sport,” she said.
She threw herself back into swimming after Tokyo, helping out with swim clinics, and her family thought all was well.
But one day she broke down in tears and told her mum what was really going on.
“From the age of three she said she wanted to swim for Australia,” Catie said.
“And she said: ‘I got there and I won this, you always say it wouldn’t be great if I won a gold medal and you won it and go, now what? It doesn’t feel like you think it would feel .’
“She was worried that she wouldn’t be fast again and so she thought about quitting.”
Hodges’s support system kicked into gear to help get her through and back in the pool.
“My friends and family at home, my squad mates at home are my absolute rock and they really pushed me through,” Chelsea said.
“I had a few days where I just sat beside the pool and had about six of them next to me giving me hugs, so they really did help me, they made me fall in love with the sport again.
“This moment right here is exactly why I’m in it.”
Hodges isn’t the only Dolphin who’s dealt with a difficult Tokyo aftermath.
After winning Commonwealth Games bronze in the men’s 200m freestyle, Elijah Winnington shared similar thoughts.
“Two months after the Games, I wasn’t sure if I’d even swim again, I was really struggling with motivation,” he said.
“What was going through my mind was ‘what’s the point if I’m putting in all this hard work, and I get a result like at the Olympics [7th and 22nd]?’
“So I ended up getting in contact with some really special people and my mind coach now who I talk to every day who’s really built on my mindset to how I can push forward and keep improving mentally, and not just the physical side.”
Looking backwards and forwards to find your way
Jake Templeton has had to rely on resilience too, to remain motivated.
After a four-year hiatus from the international scene, he marked his return with bronze in the men’s 50m freestyle S13, for vision-impaired swimmers.
The Tasmanian missed selection for the 2019 world championships by a tiny margin and wasn’t selected for last year’s Paralympics despite swimming a qualifying time.
He was philosophical about his journey.
“I like to look backwards and forwards,” he said.
“I like to look back at the things that were a bit of heartbreak, and then I like to look forward at moments like tonight where I just want to win a medal.
“I just knew that I wasn’t done yet, so I had a bit of a vengeance and something to prove.”
Katja Dedekind broke the first world record of the meet, in the women’s 50m freestyle S13 final.
“I thought the worlds was my best time that I could do this year and to be honest, if that was my best time this year I would have been happy,” she said.
“But a PB, world record, Commonwealth Games champion, world champion in the same year, stoked.
“I feel like I’m only just knocking on the door of all the knowledge that there is in the swimming world.”