La Trobe speech pathology student Hannah Cross is the first La Trobe student selected for the 2016 Olympic Games, making her Olympic debut as part of the Australian synchronised swimming team.
Ahead of her departure for Rio, we spoke with Hannah about her sport, her study, and her goals for the future.
What’s your favourite moment in synchronised swimming?
It’s the feeling we get when we know we’ve done a great routine – the team cohesion. Even before you get the scores, you’re thinking, ‘Yes! That was really awesome.’ The whole team can feel it – we’re all standing there smiling at each other and we just know.
Outside of the pool, I love coaching the girls in the Recreation Program when I’m back home. It’s so rewarding knowing that I’m helping them to maybe become the next generation of Olympians or elite athletes.
At what point did you realise you could become a professional athlete?
I guess it was when I made my first national team in 2013. At that point, I was thinking, ‘Yes I can do this, I can get to the Olympics’, but I had the 2020 Games in mind. Once I became part of that national team, working hard with them, I could see where my potential could be, and saw it so close in front of me. I started pushing myself even harder, and am now going to these Olympics.
With the phenomenal success you’re having in your sports career, why was it important to you to also gain a tertiary education?
As an elite athlete, sport takes up a lot of your world, but in a sport like mine, you definitely can’t make a career out of it. I also needed something else to focus on, something I could use to take my mind off sport.
I think it’s really important to have that balance between sport and education, because ultimately education is what’s going to lead you into the future. Sport can’t get you all the way, especially mine.
You’re currently studying a Bachelor of Applied Science and Master of Speech Pathology1 at La Trobe. Why were you drawn to this area of study?
I’ve always been interested in health sciences, and I wanted to do something where I could help people of all ages in the community. I also wanted a career that would allow me to work in different environments, such as schools, hospitals, community health centres, and even overseas. I wanted to do something that would be really diverse and allow me to interact with a lot of different people.
How do you balance studying with professional sports training and competition?
I can only study part-time, because I’m away a lot. I do a lot of my subjects online to make it easier. Whenever I have little breaks in training, I try and fit some study in. Long flights are great for this – I’ll download lectures and watch them on the plane.
The Elite Athlete Program coordinators at La Trobe are fantastic! They help me with my timetable, and help me reschedule assignments and exams if necessary. Their support is a major reason I’m able to balance it all – they’ve been so great.
What does an average day look like for you?
We start at 8.15am with 1.5 hours of land training, then a 3 hour water session. After lunch, it’s another 1.5 hours of land training, and working on the routine on land. Then another 3 hour water session, followed by recovery in a hot tub and cold pool. We finish our days at 8pm, and get one day off a week.
How has your study helped, complemented or given you an advantage in your sports career – if at all?
Combining studying with sport has definitely helped my time management and organisation skills. It helps with stressful situations like competitions – if I’m organised and have good time management in comps, it’s easier to deal with the pressure and nerves.
Studying also gives me a bit of a break – it’s something I enjoy outside of the pool. It gives me another focus, something I can feed off and use to help my performance in the pool.
How do you stay focused and not let nerves get the better of you?
If I think about it too much, the magnitude of the situation, I get way too nervous. To control the butterflies in my stomach, I think of them as organised nervous energy. If I think of the butterflies in formation, I’m in control of them, which means I’m in control of the nerves.
What’s the biggest misconception about what it takes to be an Olympian?
People comment on how fantastic our lives must be, but I don’t think they realise there’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. We’re away from our families and friends A LOT. I haven’t been home in 3 months, and being only 19 that’s quite hard for me. Then there’s work, and uni – I’m only able to study part-time, and have deferred this semester for the Olympics.
It’s really difficult to have to put the rest of your life on hold to be an Olympian. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but there are a lot of sacrifices that people don’t always realise are there.
What are your career aspirations?
I’d like to try to go to the 2020 Olympic Games as well, so I’d like to stay a part of the national team for the next 4-year cycle, and go wherever that takes me.
I also want to keep studying. It’ll take me a little while as a part-time student, but I want to continue with my speech pathology studies.
In the future, I’d like to work with athletes, perhaps helping them to develop their speech skills for media conferences. Combining the athlete world with the speech pathology world would be my ultimate career.
1. Now the Bachelor of Speech Pathology (Honours) after Federal Government changes to the sector.