Shelley Taylor-Smith

Tailor-made for the water

CHAMPION marathon swimmer Shelley Taylor-Smith is not one to dwell on her misfortunes.

"Get up, get over it and get on with it," Ms Taylor-Smith says. "At the moment there is a lot of doom and gloom around, but there's also a lot of opportunity."

She's certainly qualified to advise on surviving through hardship.

The world's top female marathon swimmer for seven consecutive years and still holder of 11 world records, Ms Taylor-Smith has overcome enormous challenges to achieve her dreams, inspired by idol and Olympic gold medal winning swimmer, Shane Gould.

That dream might have been shattered when, at 12, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and placed in a back brace.

But she refused to give up and when the brace came off, was back in the water as one of the state's top swimmers.

But a few years later, aged of 23, following complications resulting from the childhood condition, a car accident and physically stressful training sessions, Ms Taylor-Smith was put in traction and told she would never walk again.

It was the single most demoralising moment of her life.

"I was gutted. To be told I would never walk again, let alone swim again," she told WA Business News.

But, she reflects, the lowest lows can often also lead to the highest highs.

"It's when you find out who you really are," Ms Taylor-Smith says.

"I heard the voice of my father. He died when I was 15, and he was a very powerful influence in my life. I heard him very clearly, saying, 'Get up, Shelley. You're a digger and you're not going to let this beat you'.

"So I went in baby steps. Literally, I had to learn to walk again."

Back on her feet and an established world champion, it was her time spent in the water than brought on her next major health challenge.

In 1998 Ms Taylor-Smith was told she had six months to live after swimming in water contaminated with deadly parasites and giardia.

Despite the dangers, she says there was a powerful yearning to finish one more marathon swim.

"I thought, I just want one more swim. I spoke to my spirit and said, 'Please give me one more swim ... and I promise I'll never abuse you again'," she laughs.

Six months later she swam the New York-Manhattan Island marathon and won, for a record fifth consecutive time.

Ms Taylor-Smith acknowledges she has a special relationship with, and respect for, her "inner champion".

"What she did for me. She came through for me again."

Success, she says, is about confidence, trusting your instinct, and the biggest cause of failure is self-doubt.

"Listen to your spirit. Respect it," Ms Taylor-Smith says.

"When you put your faith in your inner champion, you will achieve what I believe is your birthright."

Having honoured her vow to herself and retired from competitive swimming, it was a natural step to set up a motivational consultancy to help others.

Ms Taylor-Smith applies the same approach to running a business as she used in the pool, emphasising mental toughness and resilience as the best tools for success, whether that be to survive a real storm during a marathon swim, or a metaphorical economic storm.

"It's about elements and conditions and it's the same with business elements and conditions. Are you being tossed around, like a statistic, or are you holding yourself firm, focussed, in the zone?" she asks.

"You may adjust your approach, you may slow down a little, but you just keep going."

Ms Taylor-Smith has recently returned to Perth to establish the consultancy in WA and become involved in business and the community.

"People ask me why I get involved in events ... for me it's all about community spirit," she says.

"I want people to ask me to events because of who I am, not what I've done. Not the fact that I've won but how I went about winning. How I approach a perspective."

An idol to many herself, Ms Taylor-Smith says she has met hers many times.

"Once I was in Margaret River and I knew Shane was also there, so I picked up the phone and said, 'Shane, I'd love to train with you'.

"She said, 'Okay, meet me at the beach tomorrow morning'.

"It was so exciting; I couldn't believe it was happening. I kept pinching her. I was saying, 'I'm training with Shane Gould, I can't believe it.'

"In the end, she had to say, 'shut up, Shelley.'"


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