Floods can’t keep swimmers from their Olympic moment

Students from across the State are competing in the Combined High Schools diving and swimming championships at Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre.

Image: Following in the footsteps: Champion effort: Paige Parker on the deck at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre.

After a two-year wait and two days travel through flood-affected northern NSW, Paige Parker finally had her two minutes in the spotlight at the NSW Combined High Schools Sports Association swimming championships.

Around 1600 students and 3000 spectators are part of the three-day diving and swimming championships that started yesterday at Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre.

Paige, a Year 9 student from Tenterfield High School, was part of her school’s relay team that competed today.

Mother Olivia Parker said they had started on their trip around 10am Tuesday to beat the expected flooding of Lismore only to find themselves stranded in at Ballina when the airport was closed.

Roads south and west were cut and it was only when council workers cleared a back coastal road heading north that they were able to drive to Brisbane to catch a flight down to Sydney.

“There was an opportunity that opened up and we thought, ‘let’s give it a shot’,” Mrs Parker said.

In 2020 Paige was ready to travel to the State titles when they were cancelled due to COVID. Last year her school team missed out on selection.

Paige, who was also visiting Sydney for the first time, said she was extremely excited to be at the championships and to swim where the 2000 Olympics were held.

“I just didn’t want to miss out again,” she said. “I’m very excited that I’m here where they actually held the Olympics and that I’ll swim in there where [the Olympians] swam.”

Image: Team Ballina: Fern Kelly, Isla Gillan, Erin Green and Sophie Gaskell take in the atmosphere at the championships.

Ballina High School’s 16-year-old relay team also had to work its way around the floodwaters that swamped the northern NSW town’s airport.

“There was so much water we could have swum at the airport,” said Year 9 student Fern Kelly.

Her team mate Isla Gillan said the team was uncertain it would make the swim meet as flights began to get cancelled from Wednesday.

“We got in touch with the rest of our team mates and we decided we would get to the Gold Coast and fly from there,” she said.

That also proved difficult with the students relying on parents’ local knowledge to find a way past closed and flooded roads.

Having left at 5am today and due to fly back after their swim, Isla said it was still worth it to compete.

From the other end of the State, parent Travis Irvin drove six-plus hours so his daughter Madeline could compete in the 50 metres freestyle event – a 29-second race if she nailed it.

Mr Irvin, who is also principal at Parkview Public School, was at the Aquatic Centre watching Madeline in Year 11, and his other daughter Amelia, Year 9, compete for Leeton High School.

Mr Irvin said across the three days around 100 students from the Riverina would be competing at the championships.

He said it was a fantastic opportunity for rural students who did not normally get to utilise the types of facilities the Olympic Park offered.

“There is a lot of folklore around the feats of the 2000 Olympics,” he said. “To come to the Olympic stadium, even though it was two decades ago, and to swim in the pool where Ian Thorpe swam is a big moment for these kids.”

As a principal and parent Mr Irvin said activities such as sports and the arts were incredibly important to students.

“There is no question the extracurricular activities provided by the department are massive for engaging students with education, motivating kids in their learning and promoting a healthy lifestyle.”

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