‘Take your mark’.
Three words that might mean absolutely nothing to you or me.
But to Echuca’s Louise Mellington they mean everything.
That’s because Louise is a Swimming Victoria starter.
It might sound like an easy role, but it’s anything but.
“You need to perfect your command,” Louise said.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘how hard can it be to say’ that. But you need to get it right.
“I have a 30-minute drive to Kyabram every day so if I’ve got a meeting coming up, I will say it to myself over and over.
“It might sound crazy to the average person, but it is very important for me to nail it if I want to reach the highest level I can.”
But it isn’t just about getting those three words right, Louise’s eye has to be focused on the smallest body movement.
If someone moves a toe, that can be a black mark against Louise’s name.
“I think that I have a good eye, but you do miss some movement and it makes you want to get better,” she said.
“Watching 10 lanes can be difficult especially with an inspector of turns behind each of them and then you have about 60 coaches on the other side of the pool.
“It’s all about having a strong focus because there are so many distractions around you.”
While Louise will be quick to admit she is no expert, she is certainly no slouch.
After all, she has started races at a national level – becoming one of the first people from Victoria to do so.
“I got my first national meet starting gig last year at the national age and national open short course championships,” Louise explained.
“I realised I wanted to be a national starter when I got the opportunity to go to Canberra as part of the Victorian contingent of technical officials.
“We were officiating at a training meet at the Australian Institute of Sport, but it was still a very competitive environment. I really enjoyed being in it.
“In the past seven years, I’ve been lucky enough to start at the state championships which I’ve nominated for.
“I’m very thankful to Swimming Victoria for that opportunity because they know I had a goal to reach a national level.
But once Louise did arrive on the national stage it was far from what she expected it to be.
The stress almost became far too much.
“I was pumped for the event, but I felt like there was a lot more pressure,” she said.
“We were doing the national age championships and by that time, I was on about day 16 of being on the pool deck and had to put in a 13-hour day as a starter.
“I was pretty close to giving up my officiating. I questioned if it was something that I really wanted to do.
“I took a bit of a break for a while from the state meets and it helped me to come back with a renewed passion for my role.
“I now know what I need to do to start at the national level which is completely different to anything else.”
And you might be shocked to know that this isn’t a paid role.
The Kyabram P-12 College teacher is doing it all out of her love and passion for the sport.
“At a national level, you get your flights paid for but then everything else comes out of your own pocket,” she said.
“Yes, it is expensive, when you include your accommodation and fuel costs, but I do it because I enjoy it.
“Sometimes I call it my happy place because I work in a job where I bring a lot of work home.
“And by going to a swimming pool, I am completely removed from that type of environment.”
Louise never expected to become so heavily involved in the swimming world when her children Brad and Tessa first joined the Echuca Swim Club.
Although she never believed in sitting back and letting other people do the work.
“At first, I joined the committee and then became president and went from there,” Louise said.
“One of the technical officials from the Bendigo region said that Echuca needed a starter and that you could start at Tongala, Rochester or Echuca.
“I said I would jump on board because as president you would put your hand up for a lot of different jobs even if you didn’t know too much about them.
“That year, I started 17 meets in the district and it all went from there.”
Despite her children going in their own direction once they reached their adult years, Louise’s passion for the sport only grew stronger.
“I did wonder if I would still enjoy the role when my kids moved on,” she said.
“But I still get a lot of satisfaction out of it. Their support of what I do is critical because I do spend a lot of time away from home especially weekends.
“I would officiate about 25 meets a year. Nationals took me away for three weeks last year in the middle of house renovations which was challenging.
“My husband works in the football environment, so it keeps him away most weekends, which helps to balance everything out for both of us.”
Earlier in the year, Louise was left heartbroken after the Olympic Games trials were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But she remains determined to be there in 2021.
“That event would have been the pinnacle for me, but unfortunately, they didn’t go ahead because of the situation the world finds itself in,” she said.
“Watching our top swimmers would be an amazing experience. It’s a completely different level compared to the normal national championships.
“Many of the athletes are at their peak in a four-year period so I’m excited by that opportunity still remaining a possibility.”
The short-term future of swim meetings in 2020 still remains unclear.
But it is a guarantee Louise Mellington will be on the starting line when they do resume.
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