This is Madison Wilson. We think she’ll restore your faith in swimming, Olympism, youth and pretty much everything. Here’s why.
At the recent Australian Swimming Championships, which doubled as the selection trials trial for the Rio Olympics, Wilson came second in the 100m backstroke. That was good. But it’s what happened next that grabbed our attention.
In an interview with Channel Seven, Wilson spoke about how she volunteers at a children’s hospital because she just wants to “give something back”.
Give something back?
That’s a phrase athletes trot out at the end of their sporting careers when they’re rich, over-loved and over-indulged. Madison Wilson is none of that. She is 21. Almost no one outside of swimming has heard of her. What’s to give back? What has she even taken?
We asked Madison exactly that when The Huffington Post Australia caught up with her during the week.
“It’s knowing, when you’re competing with Australia on your cap, that Australians are going to be behind you,” she said.
That’s it? That’s why you already feel indebted to the sport of swimming? Because people cheer for you even if they know nothing about you? It’s not the money or anything like that?
“No, no, no. It’s the general vibe and support.”
Here’s what a typical Madison Wilson week looks like. There are ten gut-busting swim sessions, three gym sessions, two yoga sessions, sports massage, physio, visits to the nutritionist, dietician and more. There’s also the social work course she’s studying at Griffith Uni.
But because her agenda’s clearly not full enough, Madison is an ambassador for MS Queensland and volunteers at the children’s hospital. She’s so dedicated to her volunteering that coach Michael Bohl had to urge her to back off recently.
I told her ‘you don’t want to be going to hospitals two or three weeks before Olympic trials’, Bohl told The Huffington Post Australia.
So she eased off. But only because the coach said so.
Wilson grew up in Yeppoon, a middle-sized town on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast, about 700 km north of Brisbane.
“She wouldn’t say boo to a goose. She was very quiet and in the background for a bit,” Bohl said of the time when the teenage Wilson when first came down to Brisbane to join his elite squad at the St Peters Western Swim Club.
Bohl is a big fish in Australian swimming. He’s been handling topline swimmers for years, but really cracked the public consciousness when Stephanie Rice became a triple Olympic gold medallist in Beijing. Dual backstroke world champ Mitch Larkin currently headlines his stable. But Wilson is a rising star.
“In 2015 year she broke one minute for the first time at the NSW Championships,” Bohl said. Four weeks later she went 58.9. It was just an incredible rise, and she took another two tenths off that at the 2015 World Championships to win her first major international medal."
Wilson swam 58.75 at those championships in Kazan, Russia. She took silver behind Emily Seebohm, who swam 58.26. She was again half a second off Seebohm in Adelaide at the trials last week. But Bohl is a believer.
“I still think she’s capable of going a lot faster. We didn’t really see the best of her at the trials,” he said. “I don’t think Maddie swam as well as expected but luckily enough she got on the team and I’m very confident she can swim faster in Rio.”
In person, Wilson is taller than you think, thinner than you think, and a whole lot more cheekily confident than you expect. She got the chance to to model the official Australian Olympic team Adidas “podium wear” this week.
“Yeah, I think a medal would go really nicely with this, actually,” she quipped. “I think gold might be my favourite colour. Not that I’m really expecting anything. I went into the world championships last year as an underdog and I’m keeping that mindset.”
That’s our Maddie. Always keepin’ it real.
“She’s such a nice natured kid,” Bohl said. “She’s just brings that country mentality. She feels good going back into the commmunity and helping out any way she can. If I asked Maddie tomorrow to do a fundraiser with five hours notice, she’d put her hand up. Maybe some of the other kids, you wouldn’t see them.”
And maybe some of those other kids, you won’t see them on the podium in Rio.