Friday, August 5, 2016

The Country Road To Rio


Taliqua Clancy. Image: Australian Olympics Team Media


Dreams do come true.
Just ask Kingaroy’s own Taliqua Clancy, who will join her on-court partner and mentor, Olympics veteran Louise Bawden, at her first Games in Rio on Sunday.
Taliqua, 24, is Australia’s first indigenous beach volleyball competitor in an Olympic competition.
And, as with many Olympians, her story is one of luck, determination, hard work, and great financial, family, and personal sacrifice.
Taliqua laughs when I ask how a Kingaroy girl made it to famous Copacabana Beach as one of Australia’s trending athletes on social media at this year’s games.
“We hardly even went to the beach when I was a kid,” she admits. “You know what it’s like growing up in Kingaroy. The beach is a few hours’ drive away, and we didn’t have a lot of money. What we had usually went on sport. Occasionally we went to the Sunny Coast or Hervey Bay, and that was nice, but I wasn't a beach bum. I never even played beach volleyball until I was 16.”
However, her Olympic dream started much earlier.
“I had always been this lanky, crazy kid; running around and in love with sport,” she recalls. “But it wasn’t until the Sydney Olympics that I realized how far I could take it.
 “I remember sitting in the lounge room at home in Kingaroy and watching Cathy Freeman carrying the torch in the Sydney Olympics. At the time, I didn’t realise the significance. But from that moment, there was never a doubt in my mind that one day I would be at the Olympics too.”
And although Taliqua is proud to be the first Indigenous Australian to represent her country in beach volleyball on the world stage, it’s more about that for her.
“I’m proud for sure, but I want to show Aussie kids that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what colour you are. If you have a dream and you work hard, you can make anything happen.
"I’m proud to be an Aboriginal athlete, but I’m also proud to be representing the South Burnett, and single parent families and rural Australia. It’s about so many things for me.”
One of the most important elements is teamwork, and Taliqua pays tribute to her partner Lou and their coaches.

Lou Bawden and Taliqua are perfectly in sync. Image: Australian Olympic Team Media

“I was lucky that someone with Lou’s experience took an interest in me and saw some talent and strength in me,” she says. “She never made me feel like I was the young one or had lots to learn.”
Without giving away secrets, Taliqua says the pair can read each other’s body language, an integral part of their sporting success. As an added bonus, they ‘balance each other out’, and like any good partnership, the 11-year age difference, is not a problem.
“We travel with each other, train with each other, there are no secrets,” Taliqua laughs. “It’s not to say everything is always perfect, but we are there for each other. I wouldn't be here without her.”

Two women: One goal. Image: Lou Bawden

When Taliqua and Lou compete in their first Rio Olympics competition at 1 am on August 7 AEST time, the former Kingaroy girl will be playing, not just for her country, but for her family, particularly Mum Shannon,  and grandparents Joceyln and Robert.
Shannon was a single Mum, who had Taliqua when she was still a teenager. Jocelyn and Robert moved to the South Burnett to support their daughter and grand-daughter, and the family lived together. Taliqua thinks of her grandparents as ‘second parents’, and her auntie Kathleen, who grew up with her, like a sister. She feels the same way about her auntie/sister Roberta. 
All of them are in Rio, cheering her on, except for Robert, who was struck down by illness a few weeks ago, Joceyln telling me: "We've been saving for years for this. We all knew she would make it."
Taliqua was running, jumping, kicking and throwing balls from the moment she could walk.
“I played a lot of sport from as long as I can remember,” Taliqua says. “Financially it was a drain. Mum struggled for sure, and I wouldn’t even know the extent of what she sacrificed for me.
“She worked several jobs, and never complained. We were always in the car on the weekends, driving to competitions, and my grandparents helped too.
“Mum is really strong and she never showed me her struggles. There were times when people told her I wouldn’t go far, because I wasn’t very good at schoolwork. But she shook it off and never told me. Some people looked down on us because she was a single mum and we didn’t have our own home.
“I never felt disadvantaged though.  I felt lucky to have a family who supported me, to live with my wise grandparents and an auntie who is like my sister. The one trait I got from my family was to keep working hard to get what you want. You never stop. You never quit.
"I had no doubt that one day I would show the people who picked on us what the Clancy family could do."
She hastens to add that she loves the South Burnett, and that the critics were always in the minority.
“If I can be a role model to my people and the country kids from there, that makes me so proud,” she says. “People don’t know how much harder it is to play sport and succeed when you live outside of the cities.”
One of Taliqua’s earliest memories is Shannon telling her they couldn’t afford to pay for soccer anymore.
“Soccer was the first sport I got into. Mum was upset, but even though I was little, I understood. Soccer was expensive, and as long as I could still play some kind of sport, I was okay.”
Perhaps it was fate, because Taliqua was an all-rounder, playing any and excelling at any sport she was offered a chance at trying. Funnily enough, she was a natural at netball and volleyball, and was able to play the sports through school, which made them more affordable.

It's a long way from the South Burnett to Rio. Photo: Bronwyn Marquardt, at The Bunya Mountains 

As her star rose, her teachers at Kingaroy State High School were supportive, accommodating her heavy training and competition schedule. But it meant long drives to the city or other areas every weekend, usually with Shannon behind the wheel. A return trip to Brisbane from Kingaroy is around five-seven hours, give or take the traffic, and which part of the city you have to get to. And then the exhausted teen would have to front up to school the next day, and her Mum to work.
“Kingaroy High was a very sporty school and I had every opportunity to represent the South Burnett at a regional level and develop my skills,” she says.
It was at a high school sporting competition that Taliqua’s talent was spotted by a now Australian Institute of Sport scout, and she was invited to participate at training camps in Brisbane. A scholarship in Brisbane at 16 quickly followed, which was when Taliqua played her first beach volleyball game.
“I had to decide between netball and beach volleyball, and beach volleyball won,” she says. “It was fun, I could travel with it, and the best thing was, it was an Olympic sport!”
The teen moved to Brisbane and then to Adelaide, a year later, which is still her training base. While Shannon moved to both cities to support her, the cold temperatures of the latter city eventually got to her mum, and she was forced to move to a warmer climate.
It must have been a big ask for a 17-year-old to leave her family and friends behind I suggest, especially when Shannon moved, and she shyly agrees. Despite her international success, the unassuming country girl is still a part of her. She doesn't like to talk herself up, or make a fuss. 
“I think people think beach volleyball is all partying and sunshine,” she says. “But it’s training and having a good diet, being healthy, and playing in ice, rain, sleet and snow as well. We don't just play beach volleyball on beaches, we play it in the Swiss Alps. It’s still hard work.”
Asked if her father was ever in the picture, Taliqua answers shortly: ‘No,' and we move on.
 “Money and travel was always an issue growing up, and I think that’s something  Australians who live in cities don’t realise,” says Taliqua.
“Even if you have talent, when you live in regional or rural Australia, you often have to travel for hours to compete. If you don’t have a supportive family, or some kind of funding, you just can’t do it. It's even harder for disadvantaged families like many Indigenous Australians or kids with single parents who are doing it tough. For me, it was a family effort.
“It makes me sad when I hear of kids who live in the bush who don’t play sport because their parents can’t afford it, or who don’t get to compete in competitions on the weekends because their parents are too busy. Who knows what they could do if they were given a chance?”

Could your child be a future Olympian? Source: Australian Olympic Team Media

If Taliqua has one message for Aussie kids, watching the Olympics this year, as she did when she was a youngster, it’s this: 
“If you enjoy sport and you love it, just keep doing it. Ask your parents to take you to training and to competitions.”
And for parents? "Get out of bed and take them to sport on the weekends. Tell them they can do it. My Mum and grandparents told me I could do anything as long as I worked hard and I never doubted them."
After all, who would have thought a kid from Kingaroy, who lived hours from the beach, would grow up to represent Australia in beach volleyball at the Olympics?
Hmm. I'm thinking maybe Taliqua Clancy. And her family. 

Dreams do come true! Image: Australian Olympic Team Media


Taliqua Clancy and Louise Bawden play their preliminary round of competition  at 1 AM AEST on August 7. To send Taliqua a message of support, go to http://rio2016.olympics.com.au/team/fan-messages
To find a full schedule of events (beach volleyball strangely seems to have been left off some Queensland guides) go straight to the official site. As you follow the events, this will also keep you up to date with results as well.



8 comments:

Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid said...

I love the Olympics. I got all warm and fuzzy watching the opening ceremony today and again when I read this story. It's not just the magic of the games themselves, it's the stories of the athletes that make sets the Olympics apart and Taliqua's story is one such fine example!

Denyse Whelan. said...

What a great story of a local young person! That was a wonderful read and I look forward to following her progress!

Bronnie Marquardt said...

Thanks. Taliqua is a really inspiring person who really epitomises the Olympic spirit. She and Lou have already won their first round and I hope their success continues!

Karin @ Calm to Conniption said...

I was watching the beach volleyball this morning (not 1am though it was a replay). I now can't remember who I was watching but it must have been these two!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What an inspiring story! I've read that a lot of athletes have great back stories so it's really nice to read about a home grown one :)

Adam Barnett said...

A really inspiring story! Well done, girl!

Bronnie Marquardt said...

Thanks everyone. They didn't quite get a medal, but they really did us proud!

Alicia - OneMotherHen said...

So proud of all of the athletes in Rio, even if they didn't get a medal.They've already won getting over there to represent their country amongst the est in the world. Great reading Taliqua's story.