Birthday boost for Ipswich's Olympic medal hope
IPSWICH'S international swimmer Leah Neale has already celebrated at the Olympic Games in Rio.
This time next week, she hopes to enjoy another high with her first Olympic medal around her neck.
Neale is in the Games city preparing to represent Australia in the 4x200m freestyle relay on August 10.
Her arrival in Rio was a memorable one after a strenous team lead-up camp in the US.
The Ipswich achiever celebrated her 21st birthday, receiving a Rio souvenir toy in the Athletes Village before more congratulations on the Olympic Games pool deck.
She looked relaxed and content before focusing on representing her country.
However, as she stands on the blocks in a matter of days, she expects to feel a tingle in the stomach.
"It will be the pinnacle of the sport so I'll probably be so nervous,'' the Newtown- based competitor said.
"I'll realise I'm finally here. All the work that I've put in has finally come to this point.
"But as soon as I hit the water, I'm fine.
"You get out there and you know what you are doing.''
Having trained and swum in Brazil last year, Neale arrived having an idea what her first Olympic Games experience might be like.
While that trip wasn't in Rio, it gave her a valuable insight into the conditions expected this month.
"It was a great experience,'' she said.
"We got over there about the same time we're going over now.
"It's sort of like our winter but not as cold.''
As for the dreaded Zika virus and security issues, Neale expected the Athletes Village would provide a safe haven.
"There's not much we can really do about it other than we don't have skin exposed and use the mossie Rid stuff,'' she said.
As she prepares for her swimming opportunity of a lifetime, Neale recalls a time at Silkstone State School when basketball was important.
"I just loved it. It was such a great sport,'' she said.
She attended Silkstone State School from year 1-7 before graduating at St Mary's College in 2012.
It was at Silkstone she made representative basketball teams before swimming became her major sport.
After starting at the McMahon's Swim Factory, she gained a new purpose when watching the Queensland championships in 2005.
Swimmers like Susie O'Neill and Brooke Hanson inspired her to take the next step.
"I've pretty much been swimming my whole life and that really triggered me and what I wanted do,'' she said.
"And I wanted to be a part of that.''
She joined the CYMS club at the end of 2004 after learning to swim at the McMahon's Swim Factory.
Her first coach was Alex Jordan before an extended time working with the ever-protective Peter Carswell at CYs.
"He was good,'' Neale said of Carswell. "He coached me for like 10 years and got me to some of the best times of the my life.''
Carswell oversaw her preparation and successes at major international events like Trans Tasman meets, Junior Pan Pacs, Commonwealth Youth Games, in addition to several state and national championships.
She made her first national team in 2009.
While working with Carswell, Neale set an Australian junior record for 200m freestyle in 2011. She was the first 15 year old to go under two minutes in that event.
In 2010, she won all her events at the age nationals.
Her current coach is Chris Mooney, based at the Sunshine Coast University.
Snapshot: Leah Neale
Born: August 1, 1995.
Highlights: Making my first Olympic team; being the first 15 year swimmer in Australia to go under two minutes in the 200m freestyle (at the national age championships in Adelaide in 2011); winning a medal in the Australian relay team at the 2014 world shortcourse titles in Doha.
Favourite music: Mainstream, top 100.
Favourite food: Nachos, mum's great cooking including lasagne.
Countries competed in: Russia, US, New Zealand, Isle of Man, Hawaii, China, Brazil.
Major influences: Parents Karen and Ian, sister Sarah and brother Ashley; former Silkstone State School teacher Calvin Hegvold; former CYMS coach Peter Carswell.
How relax: Time with family, going to the beach.
Most rewarding part of swimming: Competing; fulfilling your dreams and your goals; the social aspect of it.
Toughest part of swimming: The training.
Superstitions: A habit of getting up on the left side of the blocks.
Olympic achievement: "I'm just really excited to see what it's like and to be part of it all.''