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Libby Trickett (nee Lenton) is one of Australia’s favourite swimmers, achieving the honour of winning gold at three consecutive Olympic Games, as well as one silver and two bronze medals.
Libby’s professional swimming career also includes eight world records, eight long course and seven short course World titles, and five Commonwealth Games gold medals.
Her biggest success was at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, when Libby won individual gold in the 100m butterfly, individual silver in the 100m freestyle and relay gold and bronze medals.
Libby received an OAM for her contribution to swimming in 2005 and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2016. She is currently Queensland’s Mental Health Ambassador.
Libby’s career in swimming started young, learning to swim as a one-year-old and joining her first swimming club at four.
“I was competing in local competitions at five and competed in my first state title at eight years old, “she said.
“I was pretty lucky that I found swimming at a young age and I believe that this kept me on the ‘right track’ most of the time.
“Being a professional swimmer was both amazing and incredible and I am so grateful for the opportunity.
“I felt that I had to grow up very fast while being in the spotlight, as there was pressure and responsibility to be a role model, while also still working out who I was as a person.
“As an athlete, you are a perfectionist and put much pressure on yourself to achieve.
“After the World Championships in 2007, I had exceeded my goals but was feeling really flat. It was a numb feeling, and I had no energy, excitement or drive. I lost interest in training and I didn’t want to catch up with friends.
“One of the crucial elements for my recovery at this time was working with a sports psychologist and by seeking that advice and guidance, the biggest lesson I learnt was that it’s OK to ask for help and that help is really valuable.”
Libby said it was an incredible feeling to win an individual gold medal in Beijing.
“That’s what I had always dreamed of as an athlete, what I perceived to be the ultimate achievement in my sport and the first thing that I felt was pure relief. I had done it!
“Somehow, I thought this was going to change my life in some way and the reality was it was an incredible moment in my life, an incredible achievement, but that didn’t make me any better or worse than the moment before when I wasn’t an Olympic champion. It was a hugely humbling realization.”
She retired from swimming in 2009, at the age of 24, decided to return to competition in 2010 and went on to win gold at the London 2012 Olympics.
“I was struggling as I decided to come back from retirement to be in my ‘comfort zone’ again. I really loved the routine, having a goal and purpose again and was exercising every day.
“I had to work really hard to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. I was really proud of achieving fifth in the Nationals as I knew how hard I had worked to get there.
“This was one of the achievements I was most proud of. It wasn’t exactly as I had hoped or planned but I overcame a lot just to make the Australian team and then to have contributed to relay that took away the only gold of swimming at the London Games, it really meant so much.
“During this time I recognised there were a few things I really needed to manage to ensure that I was able to sustain my mental health, to keep me happy and healthy, both physically and mentally.”
Libby and her husband Luke became parents to daughter Poppy in 2015 and she struggled with the transition to motherhood.
“I started experiencing feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. I was listless and could be angry or irritable.
“I wasn’t able to sleep, was eating unhealthily and didn’t have time to exercise or take time out for myself.
“I went to see my GP, who helped me come up with plan that included seeing a psychologist, having some time to myself while putting my child in daycare, using a sleep consultant and following an exercise plan.”
Libby said that going to her mothers’ group and having friends and family asking how she was going that week was really valuable, as it gave her the opportunity to talk about what was happening and also let her know that others were thinking of her.
“Goals are really important and I must exercise regularly. I must meditate and I must try and get as much good quality sleep as I possibly can – which can be difficult when you have a child!
“Mental health, much like physical health, is something that needs to be worked on regularly. I believe that you should take time out daily – in whatever form works for you – to ensure that you can be happy and healthy and in the long run feel valued, purposeful and live with a passion for life.
“It’s so important to take care of yourself and part of that is asking for help if you need it. Whether it be from a loved one or from a professional, asking for help is a huge step on the road to recovery.
“If you are worried about a family member or friend reach out to them and offer your support. Ask them how they are, be patient and kind and remind them that there are always different professional options to try.
“I became a beyondblue Ambassador to help remind people that it’s OK not to be OK. We all struggle from time to time and it doesn’t mean that you are weak or ‘crazy’. You are definitely not alone and there are always steps that can be taken to help overcome mental illness and manage our mental health."