WHEN Pagewood Olympic water polo player Lea Yanitsas returned from the Rio games, she brought home a lesson: it’s not all about the gold.
Now the Aussie Stingers goalie is working to spread that message to local kids, as she shares what was “the greatest experience” of her life.
“The whole thing was a whirlwind — I can’t believe it was three months ago,” Yanitsas said.
“After 14 years of sitting there watching the opening ceremony on TV looking for someone I knew, for it to be my turn to scream and wave at the camera was surreal, like nothing I could have imagined in my wildest dreams.
“Every day was so full and I don’t know that I’ve ever had that many emotions from anything else in my life.”
The flood of nerves and excitement continued throughout the games, with the Stingers’ opening match against Russia something Yanitsas will never forget.
“I walked out there with an incredible sense of pride and humbled by the fact that I was wearing that number one cap for Australia, and so many people were there to watch me play a game.”
While the Stingers won that match 14-4, the rest of the competition didn’t go the way they’d hoped, with their Olympic journey ending in a penalty shootout to Hungary in the quarterfinal.
“I guess being an athlete I’m already self-critical, and I rewound everything, running through the video in my head about how I could have done things differently to change the result,” Yanitsas said.
“If it was something I didn’t love or had worked as hard for I wouldn’t have run the gamut of emotions I felt, so that tells me I put everything on the line for my dream.”
“I took so much more away from the Olympics than just a result.”
After being inspired to try water polo by her high school PE teacher and Olympic gold medallist Debbie Watson, Yanitsas is now putting her efforts into inspiring the next generation.
She’s busy speaking to kids from preschool to high school to tell them all about her Rio experience, and to encourage them to chase their dreams.
“A little boy at Tigger’s Honey Pot asked me if I won a gold medal, and I told him no but I had tried my very best, and if you’ve done that you can always be proud,” Yanitsas said.
“I could see his little head nodding and the message getting through after a while, but he didn’t believe me at the start!”
“I also get little ones who put their hands up at question time to tell me things like they’ve seen a dolphin at the zoo, it’s very cute!”
“I encourage the older ones to keep believing in themselves no matter what they want to do … as we get older there are always more and more people who tell us no and I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count.”
After giving up her day job as a physiotherapist to train for Rio, Yanitsas is working casually in her field while hunting her “dream job” in the local area.
She’a also back training at the NSW Institute of Sport, and preparing for next year’s national league competition with the Sydney Uni team after a complete physical and mental break post-Olympics.
“I really want to compete in the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary in 2017 — I want redemption after losing to them in Rio,” Yanitsas said.
“I want to smash them in their home town.”