Posted on Tuesday 21st May, 2024

MSQ Swimmer of the Meet – Nola

Congratulations to Nola Macaulay of TSA Masters, for being awarded the ‘Female Swimmer of the Meet’ trophy at the recent MSQ State Short Course Championships held at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre in April 2024. Nola earned a total of 4120 World Aquatics points from her five best swims at the State Championships, and broke state and national records across seven events. 

Thank you to Nola for sharing this swimmer profile for you to enjoy.

How did you first become involved with swimming?

My early childhood was in PNG, where a hot climate meant you were always splashing around in water. Around the age of two my mother taught me how to swim. Later on our family moved to Northern NSW, Australia and when I was 9, I joined the local swimming club. For six months of the year, I’d train after school, Friday evening was race night. During winter I played netball. One year I came third at States in breaststroke and because of my swimming times was accepted into a Brisbane boarding school for grade 11 and 12. However, I quit swimming at the end of grade 11 as the pressure from the coach overwhelmed me. For the following 30 years I didn’t swim and rarely entered the water which seems totally crazy now.

What do you love about swimming?

I just feel at home in the water. Training can be quite meditative and I love when you feel strong and swimming is effortless.

In regard to Masters, to borrow a phrase from Zac Stubblety-Cook, it’s the continual pursuit of perfection I love. (Though I feel a bit silly saying this as I know I can be a slacker at training.) I think about my technique a lot and it’s exciting when you notice small changes, and there’s a new awareness around how your body is moving in the water. Sometimes change is quick, sometimes it takes a year of practice for change to come about. Sometimes it happens as result of becoming stronger. For a while I lost my timing in breaststroke and then one day I felt my hips tip and that woosh as you lunge forward and it’s such a magic feeling that woosh ….. and you don’t get it in other strokes. For my backstroke a recent coaching cue, lats and legs, was key for me in feeling higher and stronger in the water, instead of floundering around with arms flailing. The challenge is to continue that focus and there’s so many things we can work on.

When did you first join Masters Swimming?

I joined towards the end of 2017.

My plan was to do triathlons but two weeks after joining a tri club I suffered a chronic shin injury which meant I couldn’t run or ride. So I checked out the swim squads at The University of Queensland and found a fantastic squad there.

UQ Masters were holding their first ever swim meet in October 2017 and our coach Jae Marr encouraged us to join Masters and race. At some stage Christina Scolaro also suggested Masters to me.

Around that time, I completed my University degree which I’d been doing part-time while working for a couple of years. With more time going into 2018, when I was 49 years, I started training five or six days a week including a fortnightly swim at Redcliff in the ocean.

We had two English Channel swimmers in our squad and they inspired me to enter the 10 km red carpet swim from Burleigh to Surfers. I was heading down the marathon swimming path but then swam a few good times at the Yeronga swim meet. At the same time we had a new coach, so that was the end of my loose ideas around the Rottnest Channel Swim. I started focusing more on Masters swim meets.

Most memorable swimming moment?

The most memorable for me is in 2022 when I swam a PB and set an Australian record for 100m fly in 1.09. It still makes me emotional thinking about it. Partly because, I didn’t expect it and because that day was exactly 12 months to the day that I had abdominal surgery to remove cancer. So it was a good way to bounce back from a traumatising diagnosis.

I also remember my first swim meet at University of Queensland – not using goggles and then not being able to see the wall. The big smiles and friendliness of Suzanne M and Elise B stick with me as does being seated next to Cate and Bronte Campbell’s mum in the marshalling area!

Favourite events?

I like the shorter events and like all strokes. No favourite event though.

How often do you swim, and where?

I moved to The Swim Academy (TSA) at Stuartholme pool at the start of the year. Pete Rosengren runs a great program and it’s a wonderful change to be in a positive environment where Masters are respected and supported.

I have been swimming five to six one hour sessions a week but a couple are rubbish sessions. I might cut back a little and try to focus on quality. I also do gym and try to keep it varied with a matt pilates class or an occasional spin class.

What motivates and inspires you?

My kind of “soft” motivation has always been to reach the times I swam as a kid. I’ve reached some, a couple I’m not far off – and hope to still reach them.

I found George Corones totally inspiring. At 99 years, I saw him dive off the blocks and swim at Albany Creek carnival and later at the Commonwealth Games Trials at Southport. It was awesome to see him smash the world record for 50m free for the 100 plus age group. I loved his whole story – at 60 giving up smoking, starting swimming at 80, his weekly schedule of swimming, gym and balance exercises and the support of his family.

Have you had setbacks to overcome?

Similar to many other Masters swimmers – too many! Since joining, it feels like half that time I’ve been out of action. Towards the end of my first year in 2018, I had a rotator cuff injury a week before the Pan Pacific Masters Games. I was keen and stupid and thought having difficulty getting my T-shirt off was a sign of training hard rather than a great need to stretch and have a day off. 2019, I had knee problems and 2020 was Covid lockdown. Covid was actually a blessing for my knees as I was religious about doing exercises to strengthen the muscles around them. 2021, I had a cancer diagnosis and surgery. Then October 2022 I was told to stop exercising as a muscle wasting disease was suspected. It was an extremely stressful time but ended up being nothing more than burnout. However the three to four months of inactivity then led to problems when I tried to return to training in 2023. The increased load led to tendon damage in my forearms (golfers elbow) which took a long time to heal and I still manage it today. So now I have all my fingers crossed and try to listen to my body. On the positive side, each setback has helped me become a better swimmer, by taking me out of my normal routine and sharpening my focus. My current challenge is my headspace and learning how to enjoy race day and the leadup to it.

Favourite things? Likes and dislikes?

Likes: Holidays ….. I have long service leave coming up next year and it’s time for an adventure, maybe some cycle touring.

Dislikes: Ageing (though I realise the other option is not ideal) as I’m wondering how I will cope with my times getting slower and no longer experiencing the buzz that comes with a PB. We swimmers have a big reality check with our pool times whereas in other sports like surf, results are based purely on placings.

What upcoming events are you swimming in?

TSA are planning to have a good size team at Southside and Nationals next year in Melbourne. I haven’t swum at the Pan Pacific Masters Games before and maybe I’ll register if the rules change so that our times can be recognised for World Aquatics World Top 10s. 🙂

Can you share a little about your family?

My mum and sister live in Byron and Ballina. They swim for fitness. Ballina and Alstonville have great pools. Maybe one day a Masters club will develop down that way and we can head there for a swim meet.

Your Career?

Currently work at University of Queensland in prospect research. In the past have worked for a few charities in fundraising, also in remedial massage at health retreats and other odd jobs.

Other interesting/little-known facts about you?

  • Lived in New Zealand for five years.
  • Spent a year backpacking around South America in 2010.
  • Been arrested a couple of times while participating in Greenpeace actions. One for running into the Sydney Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site dressed as a barrel of nuclear waste. The protest was against plans to build a new reactor at the site.

Philosophy on life? Favourite saying?

I don’t have a favourite saying but I’m increasingly aware that life is short ….. Maybe my new saying will be … Time for an adventure.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of becoming a Masters swimmer?

TSA is a good club! 🙂

While you are training at the pool or at the gym, Masters will give you a sense of purpose, a reason to work a little harder and you’ll find specific things to focus on making your exercise interesting. Things like developing a stronger kick, mastering your weakest stroke, strengthening your core or working on your mindset. There’s so much we can work on around strength, mobility, skills and technique to improve our times… and swimmers are pretty cool people too!