Ipswich's Olympic silver medallist Leah Neale with her proud mum Karen.
Ipswich's Olympic silver medallist Leah Neale with her proud mum Karen. Rob Williams

Life in the fast lane returning to normal

LEAH Neale's mother Karen summed it up best when asked about her family's future after the Rio Olympics.

"We don't expect our lives to change,'' Karen said.

"It was an honour to share and represent Ipswich this way.''

Such sentiments highlight why Ipswich's first Olympic swimming medallist Leah is so down-to-earth and humble. Being part of the Ipswich community remains important for the Newtown-based achiever and her family.

However, while Leah waits to see what lies ahead when she returns home from Brazil, she has joined elite company.

Winning an Olympic medal of any colour is a massive feat, even for a sports-mad city like Ipswich.

Previous medals have been won by other homegrown talents including hockey duo Arthur Busch and Barry Dancer (silver in 1968 and 1976 respectively) and baseball pitcher Chris Oxspring (also silver in 2004).

Sharing medal glory in swimming is one of the most satisfying achievements because the sport is so competitive.

A major positive from Leah's success is the way it will inspire more Ipswich kids to chase their dreams.

Sydney 2000 Olympian Heath Ramsay is confident more young swimmers will benefit from seeing what Leah overcame to win a medal on the world's biggest sporting stage.

"She was on the cusp of making it four years ago and missed out,'' the West Moreton Anglican College and Western Aquatics head coach said.

"If anything, kids can take persevering out of that, and there's always something around the corner if you keep trying.''

Ramsay gained his inspiration in a similar way.

"The same thing happened when I was eight or nine years old. I watched the Olympics and decided that's what I wanted to do,'' Ramsay said.

Leah's success also comes at a time when leading regional swimming coaches are working hard to bolster the sport.

They have been organising specialist sessions and building stronger ties between clubs.

"We've been doing development clinics through winter,'' Ramsay said, also holding swim meets with other major clubs "to generate some competition in Ipswich so you don't have to travel externally''.

"On the back of that, all working together should generate some interest, which it generally does after the Olympics,'' he said.

CYMS-St Edmund's head coach Stephen Critoph has also been actively involved in the swimming resurgence, along with Western Aquatics, Waterworx, Goodna, Ipswich Grammar, Ipswich Vikings and Woogaroo.

"Anything that can excite people is going to be good for us,'' Critoph said.

"The most important thing is to get as many kids as we can involved in the sport and that means at the lowest level of sport. Get kids having fun, enjoying races and enjoying doing the training.''

He said over time, the better kids can strive to reach the top, like Leah did.

And that's why it's so important Ipswich has dedicated and grounded people like the Neale family.

Asked how she described the emotion being in Rio with husband Ian when Leah won silver, Karen answered in typical low-key style.

"We were just lost for words,'' Karen said. "Leah has always been self-driven in her swimming career.

"We support her on her desire to represent Australia.

"This is a very hard emotion to describe. We just support our children in their goals.''

Well said Karen.

May the next generation of Ipswich kids gain heart from your family's richly-deserved success.

Welcome support from home

WHILE in Rio when Leah won silver, Karen Neale and her family appreciated the messages from home.

"We are here in a country where the media will cover Brazil and we have no idea what has gone on at home,'' Karen wrote in an email before heading back to Ipswich this week.

"We have heard from wonderful family and friends via Facebook, which has kept us well informed.''

Karen, husband Ian and children Ashley and Sarah watched Leah swim from seats at the opposite end of the starting blocks. "We couldn't see the result board or the finish line so we were not sure how it ended,'' Karen said.

"We knew the Americans had won and we were somewhere in the mix then we saw the girls hugging and the coach gave us thumbs up.

"We met with Leah after she had completed some commitments at 1am in the morning to hug her for her birthday and to see the medal.''

Leah had earlier swam a personal best time in leading off the Aussie 4x200m freestyle relay team in the heats.

"We were relieved she had a good first swim to help calm the nerves,'' Karen said. "Winning a medal was not in our minds. It was doing your best for your team.''