Cate Campbell was known as “the swimmer” at school. She was the kid who was good at sports.
“In a way you become addicted to the praise and recognition,” the Australian champion says.
Despite the diligence of her parents in trying to preserve her sense of self, her identity became inextricably fused to her performance in the pool.
“It was hard to keep my self-worth and self-confidence separate from swimming,” she says.
Campbell was the favourite to win the 100 metres freestyle gold at the Rio Olympic games.
She stopped hiking so her legs wouldn’t be tired for training, going to live music gigs that might finish late and passing over the occasional pancake in favour of a healthier breakfast.
“I was doing all these things not to be my best but to live up to all these expectations,” she says.
“I was the number one in the world, the record holder, the sure bet. But we’re not not robots, we’re people.”
When she didn’t win, it was as if the world stopped, she says.
“I have this clear memory of hitting the wall and knowing I hadn’t won. It was like the aftermath of an explosion. Everything was fuzzy and I couldn’t hear anything.
“I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like Australia had put its trust and hopes in me. I had people tell me they had lost money on me.
“Every time someone would congratulate me for how I handled myself after the race it was like nails on a chalkboard.”