Cate Campbell brings us national pride – and a hearty dose of perspective

Cate Campbell – and her sister Bronte – give us an invaluable example of perspective, Madonna King writes.

Cate Campbell – and her sister Bronte – give us an invaluable example of perspective, Madonna King writes. Photo: Getty/TND

Perspective. A three-syllable word we all need at times.

And swimmer Cate Campbell has it in spades.

The 29-year-old is off to her fourth Olympics, and that means she has earned a place in our sporting history books.

But it shouldn’t only be for her performance inside the pool.

Away from the pool deck, this Australian sports star should be lauded for the lessons she’s delivered in life.

Over time, as we’ve got to know her, she’s explained many of them.

How her younger brother, who needs 24-hour care with cerebral palsy, is her inspiration.

She often thought of him when she was behind the blocks before a swim to remind herself that it was “only’’ a race.

How she returned to Australia from the Rio Olympics heartbroken; the weight of expectation meant she suffered, in her words, “the greatest choke in history’’.

She turned her back on swimming, in the same way Ash Barty at one point turned her back on tennis. Both went on a journey of self-discovery.

“I knew Cate Campbell the swimmer, but I didn’t know Cate Campbell the person,’’ Campbell said in 2018.

She found herself. She also found out she had melanoma – and turned that into an opportunity to warn others about the importance of skin checks.

She became more resilient. She found her passion for swimming again. And she found the speed needed to clinch a spot in Tokyo.

Her younger sister Bronte uses the same down-to-earth playbook; once explaining that she was the third-fastest swimmer in the world, and only the second-fastest in her family.

Cate Campbell and sister Bronte

Bronte, right, gives Cate a kiss at the world championships in Russia in 2015. Bronte won gold, Cate snared bronze. Photo: Getty

The sisters come from a family of five siblings, and both have been taught that neither swimming nor winning defines them.

Their mother Jenny, a midwife, emphasises that.

She’s not at the swimming trials; work and mother duties call – but she had her fingers crossed she could sneak away and watch Bronte’s race on Thursday night.

She and her husband send their daughters texts, but they are not screaming from the sideline, or calling them. Swimming doesn’t define them. It’s just what they do. Very well.


“I was watching two girls in that pool last night. And obviously I’m very thrilled for Cate … but it’s very hard to feel happier than your saddest emotion,’’ Jenny told ABC radio of her daughters’ race on Wednesday night.

Bronte missed selection for individual events for Tokyo, but was selected on Thursday night for the relay. Perspective again.

It’s not just the Campbell sisters, though. This week has seen the highs and heartbreaks of international sport.

Teenagers who have juggled full-time school with full-time training; missing selection by hundredths of a second. They’ve climbed out of the pool, understanding it was someone else’s night.

Others going for their final attempt to represent their country, and despite almost a decade of training daily, failing to gain a spot.

Any tears were short lived. And sportsmanship was the national winner.

Those gaining second place hugged the competitor who beat them. Those who missed a spot congratulated those who took it.

If only we could bottle it, and use it as a potent to pour on other sports, particularly rugby league where the off-field headlines, in recent times, has been more about rape than role modelling.

A dash of Ash Bartyism couldn’t go astray either, when we need a dose of perspective.

“Perspective is a beautiful thing,’’ she said last year, minutes after losing in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

She walked into the post-match press conference, with her face beaming and her 11-week-old niece Olivia in her arms.

“(Olivia) brought a smile to my face as soon as I came off the court. I got to give her a hug. Life’s good. It’s all good.”

No racquet throwing. No after-match drunken assaults. No naked selfies. No excuses.

And yet both Cate Campbell and Ash Barty have been dealt more personal challenges than most.

They’ve just learnt to deal with it. It’s a lesson for all our teenagers. And perhaps all of us.


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