Breaststroker Jenna Strauch hopes to make a splash at the Tokyo Olympics. PICTURE: Cavan Flynn
A framed photo of nine-year-old Jenna Strauch standing next to Olympic champion Giaan Rooney had pride of place in the bedroom of the Bendigo youngster.
For years it sat next to a signed swimming cap, foreshadowing a journey that Strauch herself still finds hard to fathom.
Bendigo had only ever had one Olympic swimmer, back in the 1956 Melbourne Games.
Now it has two.
In an amazing moment of happenstance, 15 years after their encounter in the Victorian city two hours north-west of Melbourne, Giaan Rooney presented Strauch onto her first Australian Olympic team.
“There have been people I’ve looked up to my whole life who are Olympians,” Strauch said.
“There is a photo of myself and Giaan Rooney from 2006 when I was in Bendigo and she and (fellow Olympian) Pat Murphy came down for a clinic.
“I got that photo with her when I was nine, mum got it framed and she signed my swimming cap and that sat in my bedroom as a girl forever.
“When she spoke to me and interviewed me after my race and announced me on the Olympic team, it is something that is so special.
“To be this tiny girl standing next to someone and thinking, ‘Wow I’d love to do this one day’ and have that same person present me on the team is pretty special.”
Rooney became teary when Strauch told her of that childhood photo.
“After she announced the team I spoke to her and showed her the photo and she got emotional,” Strauch said.
“It is such a big thing. For me going forward, you just don’t know whose life you are going to touch, and she would never have known that in 2006 this little girl was going to work her backside off to get to the Olympics.
“I’ve always loved swimming and the dream was always there.”
The dream for Strauch never wavered. Not even through two years of a mystery illness that forced her out of the pool and into regular hospital stays.
A move to the Gold Coast and Bond University on a Georgina Hope Rinehart Swimming Excellence Scholarship was life-changing.
It started a five-year journey with coach Richard Scare that culminated in the most emotional of embraces on the pool deck after Strauch recorded a personal best at the Olympic trials.
“That embrace with Richard was everything, it is probably one of my most treasured photos and I’ll keep it forever,” she said.
“We worked together for five years and to share that with him was amazing.”
The breaststroker had risen above everything to book her ticket to the Olympics.
“It is a lifelong journey, picking an individual Olympic sport,” she said.
“It is pretty cutthroat, a one-off opportunity and the stars all have to align.
“It comes down to belief, you need a good support network and back what you are doing.
“Something Richard and I always say is ‘work works’. You have to get in and do the work and back the work you are doing.”
At the Olympics, the little girl from Bendigo is proof that work works.
Jenna Strauch (Class of 2017)
Swimming: 200m breaststroke
Heats: Wednesday, July 28, Tokyo Aquatics Centre
Semi: Thursday, July 29
Final: Friday, July 30