The washing line is full and it’s all green and gold!
Published 2 September 2016 (AEDT) | Author Aislin Jones
After a week of daily trips to different events and the excitement of the closing ceremony Aislin caught up on sleep – for most of the charter flight back and looked very happy to be home.
Picking her up from the airport is something I do on my own for a lot of her trips, but not this one. Lynne, Renae & I made the four and a half hour journey up to Tullamarine to meet the Victorians from the Australian shooting team. It was a nice moment for Lynne & Renae after her longest trip away thus far to give her a hug, tell her again how proud we were of her and start to catch up on what she’d been up to.
The last week had been busy for her and the text messages were less frequent and much later at night as she made the most of village life. We had a lot to catch up on.
Given that Aislin was having a break after Rio you’d think it would be a little less hectic but we stopped in at Gippsland 1242 for a quick radio interview on the way home and our host & Aislin’s interviewer, Greg Allen, waved the press release in front of us and asked if Aislin was going to the Premier’s Reception & the Welcome Home Parade?
The blank look on my face was probably priceless. Aislin’s response was one I’d heard a few times before, “Oh yeah Dad, there are a couple of emails I have to talk to you about…”
Home Thursday, with remarkably little jet lag to speak of, Aislin returned to school Friday to catch up with her mates. She was apparently the centre of attention. It’s either an advantage of being young or sleeping most of the way home is the way to go!
After just two days of school and a bit of a welcome home BBQ with a few family and friends, on Tuesday we headed back to Melbourne. VIS appointments and the Premier’s Reception beckoned.
Tuesday night – the Premier’s Reception @ Eureka 89
The Premier’s Reception was just an amazing night for me personally. Over the previous fortnight, and partly due to a newfound interest coming from Aislin’s involvement I had followed Australian Olympians like never before.
Accompanying Aislin to the reception and mixing with the team that Aislin had been a part of was very special.
The evening started chatting to Aislin’s teammate, Catherine Skinner. With a few friends from the clay target community we asked about the whirlwind ride she’s been on since making history in women’s trap in the first days of The Games. The topic turned to the gold medal. In Catherine’s usual unassuming manner, a congratulatory conversation changed in a moment when she asked a friend & I, “Would you like to see it?”
Producing a smooth wooden presentation case from her bag, she slipped it open in a stylish sideways movement to reveal the medal and a simple gold pin with the Olympic Rings and 2016 on it. It was quite surreal to be holding something that so many seek but so few attain. Judith and I were in awe, and despite the poor light several photos were taken.
It didn’t take long and the medal gained magnetic properties, drawing dignitaries from around the room to Catherine’s corner. I’m sure she’s looking forward to a few days time when the hullabaloo settles and she can retreat to a very excited central Victorian country town, and when the dust settles there relax for a few days and let it all sink in. But maybe not until after she’s read all the mail that’s arrived at Mum & Dad’s simply addressed to Catherine Skinner, gold medallist, Mansfield. Who said Aussie Post have lost their human touch?
As I looked around the room and listened to the Premier and others speak highly of the Olympians and their achievements, inspiration and dedication, it confirmed again just how influential they’d been to us all; to me, and no doubt hundreds of thousands of others.
Early in the Games I watched Kim Brennan battle conditions in early heats that pitted rowers not just against each other, but against the elements as the wind whipped the water and the boats plowed nearly sideways across the lanes toward a distant finish line. We watched her again proudly carrying the flag in the Closing Ceremony. She smiled again now as the Premier acknowledged her result.
Along with the attention paid to the shooters and particularly Catherine Skinner & Laetisha Scanlan’s final, I’d watched sports I’d taken only a passing interest in before.
Jarrod Tallent’s amazing 50km walk was simply sensational to watch – and I told him so that night. Like most Australians I’d never thought much about it other than wonder about the odd stride. But it was amazing to watch them battle pain, heat and mental challenge as they lapped the circuit. I was glued to the TV for the last hour as he fought valiantly out in front before being passed in what could only be described as a sensational display of stamina in the last few kilometres.
After what he missed out on post London, I wanted him to fulfill his dream but the silver was an awesome achievement. It was definitely worth staying up for. He’s a special kind of bloke. Who goes from that grueling event in the morning, and unwinds as support crew for teammate and sister in the afternoon? Unreal.
Another sport I admired was the archery. To repeatedly put an arrow on a target about the size of the clays Aislin breaks at 15-18 metres, something like one & a half times the length of an Olympic pool away is just an amazing feat. (FYI that’s 12.2cm diameter for the 9/10 point rings at 70 metres.)
The strength required to stably aim a bow pulled to full draw is substantial, as is the drop they compensate for as the arrow arcs to the target. They made it look easy. Watching the Aussie boys; Taylor, Alec & Ryan take was another special moment.
For the first days of the Games every time you turned around you saw the beaming smile of Jess Fox. Watching her final run and then the agonizing penalty that was later imposed was a moment or three of mixed emotions. Her response was so incredibly sporting and calmly delivered. I admired her for the bronze, but more for the way she accepted it.
The last smile I remembered from competition and a medals ceremony was the brilliant winning smile of Chloe Esposito after she realized her place in the modern pentathlon history books was secure. What a moment. Knowing that Aislin had been there to see it too made us feel even more connected with it at home.
It was a bit special to be able to chat to several of them at the reception and thank them for allowing us to enjoy the results of their dedication and hard work on the 89th floor of Melbourne’s Eureka Tower.
Wednesday – Melbourne’s Rio Reception
If Tuesday night high above Melbourne was impressive, the following day at ground level in Bourke Street was mind blowing.
I’m not sure what I expected from an Olympian’s Welcome Home Parade, it had merely seemed a good idea that Aislin go when I suggested I’d be happy to undertake another trip to Melbourne. I had no expectations so was a little surprised when I walked out of Royal Arcade into the Bourke St Mall.
Arriving in The Mall half an hour or so before the athletes, I first wondered if the athletes might outnumber the crowd. The scale of the security, fencing, stage and other paraphernalia seemed a bit over the top.
Being early I wandered into the store I share a name with for a few minutes to kill some time, and when I walked out not 15 minutes later the crowd had swelled! Where before there’d been more fence than people, now they were three deep at most of the fence! It was unbelievable.
I somehow found a spot where I’d be up close and able to see when a family foolishly wandered off for a minute. First in best dressed!
By the time one of the best Welcome to Country ceremonies I’ve seen was performed by Aunty Di Kerr, with amazing passion for country but also for the special people who were about to walk upon it, the crowd surely exceeded ten thousand. They were 10 deep behind me and on the opposite side, and all up and down the aisle Australian and green and gold flags were waving.
I’d been joined by one of Aislin’s young fans and her mum, and Aislin’s uncle Rob had joined us also. We waited patiently but expectantly for the athletes to arrive.
The reception they got from the crowd was one of happiness and awe. Melbourne turned it on for their favourite sports people of the moment. After the ceremony the athletes mingled with the crowd. Everyone from school kids who’d made the trip as classes, office workers, tourists, Mums & Dads with kids in tow, to the unusual Olympic diehards next to us with shopping bags full of Olympic newspaper clippings and green & gold clothing head to toe got a chance to get an autograph. They took a ‘selfie’ or 30, touched medals they’d seen on paper and screen over the past month and congratulated these amazing athletes for their hard work, dedication and the achievement of making the team - or better if they’d come home with some bling.
This was the Victorian community – the sporting capital of the country - united by the Olympics, their Olympians, and excited and inspired by their achievement what ever the result. They were overwhelmingly proud, and they’d come out in their thousands to say so.
Being on the other side of the fence it was a funny moment as Aislin worked her way along the line with the others, being photographed and signing #OneTeam postcards. Others just got a signature, Dad got a personalized message! I’m still special to her it seems.
Listening to all those around me congratulate her and the others, thank them and tell them they’d been inspirational I thought of a meeting the day before.
Earlier on the Tuesday of the Premier’s Reception Aislin had met with the Mayor, CEO and managers from East Gippsland Shire. They had told her just some of the impact she’d had as a local school kid who’d been picked for the ultimate sporting team.
They highlighted to her that she had broken barriers for her peers, proving to them that the long ribbons of bitumen between Bairnsdale & Melbourne need not hamper their aspirations and ambitions.
They related conversations they’d had during The Games with their own kids, teachers from schools, colleagues and others in the community. They spoke of schools who’d taken extra interest, far beyond the usual based on her involvement. And of teens who didn’t personally know her who sat up late into the night to watch her scores update on iPads, phones or what ever was handy and connected to the net. Her generation of her community in East Gippsland was inspired by her achievement and genuinely involved in her journey.
The significance was not lost on them as community leaders. All of the conversations had overwhelmingly focused on one common thing. It was the fact that a kid who came from an area, that is so often described as disadvantaged by it’s remoteness and isolation from central Victoria had demonstrated that determination, support and hard work could overcome any hurdle and that success was achievable. Aislin’s effort had made any number of goals more accessible to kids who get a perception that they live too far away from many things to attain them.
The Olympics do that it seems. They fulfil the dreams of some, they inspire the dreams of many more. The community I live in have been telling me the effect it’s had on them for weeks. It’s a lot closer to home than when Bruce Macavaney tells you from Rio. It seemed cliché’d before this, but it is actually undeniably real to me now.
That’s a wrap…
As the washing dries and life returns to something closer to Aislin’s version of normal – far from normal for many teenagers, Aislin will spend some of the next week visiting local primary schools so that others may be inspired to achieve whatever it is that they dream of from this far flung corner of the state. And in coming weeks she’ll go to the try out events for Gippsland Sports Academy’s new Shotgun Junior Development Squad to talk to other kids with aspirations to great things in the great sport of clay target shooting.
Thanks for your interest in the Games and in this perspective of it. Thanks also for your appreciation for all of our athletes, their families, and the friends and businesses that make up their support teams and with whom many will start taking steps along the road to Tokyo in 2020.