Resilient swimmer

Cate Campbell on how she dealt with devastating injury, and how she doesn’t plan to let gold slip away from her this time

Cate and Bronte Campbell
Sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell

After illness excluded her from the London Olympics, 2016 could be the year Cate Campbell bounces back to win an individual gold medal.

In July she established her status as gold medal favourite for the Rio Olympics by breaking the world record for the 100 metres freestyle.

She clocked in at 52.06 seconds, 0.01 seconds faster than the previous record set my Germany's Britta Steffen in 2009.

"I still can't believe it has happened," the 24-year-old said shortly after her performance.

But she said her focus remains on finally getting a gold medal at Rio.

"You've got to have an Olympic gold medal. I think that any athlete who goes to the Olympics and says they are not after an Olympic gold medal is kidding themselves."

A gold medal this August would be the cherry on top of an already successful career as a competitive swimmer. Cate was just 16 when she won bronze in Beijing in 2008, another bronze at the 2009 World Championships, and four years later she and her team snatched the gold in the 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay.

But that was her only event that year as she was struck down with pancreatitis just two days before her individual event and missed qualifying for the final entirely.

Cate says she literally watched four years of hard work "go down the toilet".

"For the two weeks of my life when I needed to remain healthy, I was the sickest I've ever been," she says. "There were definitely tears afterwards."

The inflammation came after two years of fighting a glandular fever spell which itself had inhibited her from qualifying for the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai.

It's every competitive athlete's worst nightmare.

"Throughout the whole process I have learned that everything happens for a reason," Cate says.

"Even when your direction in life is seemingly taken away from you, it usually means that you have the wrong focus anyway."

Cate had to learn to be patient with herself through her struggles but says she realises now that God had also been patient with her, gently guiding her back to what was most important in life.

Her parents had imparted knowledge about God to her as a young girl growing up in Malawi, but Cate says it took time for her to progress from "acknowledging God to actually wanting to know Him".

She had heard many times that God had come to earth as Jesus to take the death penalty for her sins so that she could be forgiven, but the reality of it was slow to sink in.

"I always knew of God's goodness and love. I think [giving my life to Jesus Christ] happened over several years," she says.

"After understanding all the things He has given me, it felt natural to give my life to God. What else did I have to give in return?"

After migrating with her family to Australia in 2000 with the hopes of seeking better treatment for her handicapped brother, Cate poured all her efforts into competitive swimming.

Her hard work paid off with initial success on the world stage but when disaster struck Cate realised she had become too consumed by her sport.

"During my two years of injury and illness I learned a lot about myself, about God and about our relationship," she explains.

"Up until then I was a Christian, no doubt. I believed in Jesus and that He had the power to take away my sins. But I was a fair-weather Christian.

"I prayed, went to church, but God did not play a very significant role in my day-to-day actions or thoughts.

"I was more concerned with what I wanted, which was a career in swimming, and I was relentless in my pursuit of this goal to the detriment of my spiritual life.

Cate Campbell celebrates
BRISBANE - JULY 2, 2016: All faces beam as Cate Campbell celebrates breaking a World Record in the Women’s 100 Metre Freestyle during the 2016 Australian Swimming Grand Prix. (Photo Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

"Once swimming was taken away from me through injury and illness, I was lost, I felt that my direction and purpose for life had been taken from me and I didn't know how to cope."

It was at this point Cate understood that she could not base her identity and purpose on her swimming career, which will always be uncertain and fickle.

Instead she realised God was the only one that would never change and she needed to rely on His love, purpose and promise of eternal life to get her through the hard times.

"It was a hard lesson to learn, but I have come out of it a much better person with a stronger reliance on God," she says.

"I just know that God is always there; even in my darkest hour I will not be alone.

"He gives me strength when I am in need of it and a shoulder to cry on. He helps me look past the here and now and look toward the future that I will share with Him (in heaven) someday."

Cate will compete alongside sister, Bronte, in Rio, and they will race together in the 100m relay team.

Run for medal in Rio >>