Gillian O’Mara – Swimmer Profile
Gillian O’Mara from River City Masters was named ‘Female Swimmer of the Meet’ at the MSQ State Championships held in Cairns in May 2022. Here she broke a number of state and national records in butterfly and freestyle, and collected 4030 Fina points from 5 swims. Thanks very much to Gill for sharing her story. We hope you enjoy the read!
How did you first become involved with swimming?
I learned to swim as a kid living on the Sunshine Coast, but Little Athletics was my thing back in the day. My Dad worked in the Queensland Ambulance Service so we were transferred to small towns on the Darling Downs when I was half-way through primary school until I finished year 12. My sister, who is 4 years older than me, had bad asthma so she started training with the Millmerran swimming club when we moved there. I mucked around in the pool but didn’t start training until I was 13-14 years old, when we move to Pittsworth. I qualified for National Age Championships when I was 17, which was in my first year of university (1993). I competed in the National Uni Games later that year and stopped formal training after that. The pathway to Masters was rubbish back then; from memory you had to be 25 years old to join a Masters squad. I pretty much hung up my togs for well over a decade.
What do you love about swimming?
First and foremost, I love the community that swimming offers and the life-long friendships I have formed through the sport. I love the banter that goes on in a training session and at a meet, and the sense of achievement I get from working through a tough set or achieving goal times in competition. I love the discipline of preparing for key meets, and I love the indulgence of going completely off the rails when the hard work is done! Ultimately, I love that swimming offers you a place where you can strive to be your best. I’m surrounded by inspirational and amazing people who rarely see me at my best but put up with me regardless!
When did you first join Masters Swimming?
I joined North Sydney Masters in 2006, within a year of moving back to Sydney from 3 years in New York and Toronto. I found repatriating a bit difficult so I decided to start doing things that I used to love doing. Swimming was one of those things. North Sydney was – and still is – a terrific squad: A great blend of social people and competitive spirit. I joined thinking I would train for ocean swims, which I’d never done before and I thought they would be such a wonderful, relaxing, communing-with-nature type of experience. As it happens, I find ocean / open water swimming really bloody frustrating so I ditched that plan and fortunately fell back in love with pool swimming!
Most memorable swimming moment?
So many to choose from … completely dying in the last 15m of the 100 fly at Gwangju Worlds is the first that comes to mind! But a less traumatising moment would probably be competing in Adelaide in April 2012 at both the Olympic Trials and Masters Nationals. I had moved to Melbourne the year prior and – at that point in time – had undertaken the most challenging period of training I’d ever experienced. I qualified for my first Open Nationals at the age of 36 and swam big PBs at Masters Nationals. I think that was the first time I felt really proud of the hard work both my coaches and I had invested in my training and how that translated into my results. The atmosphere at both meets was fantastic and racing with my team mates was a huge amount of fun. That feeling of comradery and accomplishment still propels me today.
Sprint freestyle and butterfly. I am loving the challenge of the 100 fly more than anything these days.
How often do you swim, and where?
6 mornings a week at The Valley Pool with my coach, Michael Bromley. I’ve been swimming with Michael since I moved to Brisbane in 2016. Michael formerly coached State and National level swimmers at Commercial Swimming Club at the Valley and it’s fantastic that he and his team are now offering Adult Squads 6 mornings a week.
What motivates and inspires you?
With regards to my own swimming, I just want to be the best version of me I can be. I’ve accepted the fact that as I age, lifetime PBs may not happen again … but I always have a mindset of what might be possible! I enjoy the discipline of training and preparing for competitions, and I have mellowed a bit so it doesn’t become all-consuming. I set goals every year so that is always a source of motivation. The people I train with and have formed close friendships with are also inspirational. Swimmers are tough people and I’m in awe of anyone who is willing to share the story of themselves: The character-defining moments and adversities they have faced, and how these have shaped them. I think these stories draw us to and propel us in the water, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We’re all at the pool for a reason. I find inspiration in what someone’s “Why I Do This” is.
Have you had setbacks to overcome?
Yep! The main physical setback was being diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2015 and then going through the ups and downs of years of hormone imbalances from surgical menopause and Hashimoto’s disease, which I’m finally on top of. I’m currently grappling with an osteochondroma in my left knee which probably means breaststroke is a thing of the past. I’m not too sad about that, but I do enjoy the occasional 50 breast and 100 IM (short course).
Favourite things? Likes and dislikes?
Faves: Good food, good friends and utterly silly conversations. Saturday afternoon naps. Overseas travel (though must remember what that is; it’s been a while!). Butterfly with fins.
Dislikes: Pandemics. People with massive egos (warranted or unwarranted). Seafood. Kick sets without fins.
What upcoming events are you swimming in?
The main meets for the next 12 months or so will be Pan Pacs, QLD State Champs, Nationals and World Masters in Japan – assuming it happens!
I studied Art History and Curatorship, thinking I’d like to be the next Betty Churcher (who was, as at the time I was studying) the Head Curator of the Australian National Gallery. Somewhere along the line, I morphed into the world of corporate learning and development and I’ve largely worked in that space for over 20 years.
Other interesting/little-known facts about you?
I did have a “career break” from learning and development in 2015 / 2016 and I served Swimming Victoria as its CEO for about 18 months.
What would you say to someone who is thinking of becoming a Masters swimmer?
Do it! Whether you want to try Masters swimming purely for fitness or you’re keen to compete, what you gain from this community will absolutely enrich your life. You’ve got everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose! Hope to see you at a pool sometime soon. 😊