Breaststroker Jenna Strauch has spoken for the first time about the debilitating illness that sidelined her swimming career before a stunning four-second PB and a ticket to the World Short Course championships in China this month.
The Bond University student’s breakthrough performance at the Australian Short Course Championships in Melbourne in October was affirmation of her determination to rebuild her health and swimming career.
Now 21, Strauch was a promising 15-year-old on the cusp of senior national selection when she was struck down, spending the better part of two years in and out of hospital beds.
“In 2013 I made junior worlds in Dubai. I was 15 or 16,” Strauch told the Gold Coast Bulletin.
“Over there I contracted three parasites, and we don’t know where they came from.
“I was so sick. I was in and out of hospital for over a year and a half.
“There would be week stints, day visits -- they just couldn’t get rid of it. One parasite was masking the other.
“I had salmonella poisoning for nine months before they were able to treat that.”
Strauch said the illness sapped her strength and made swimming impossible.
“Swimming at that time was not even an option, although I kept trying,” she said.
“It was a lot to deal with as a kid and it taught me to grow up really quickly.
“Everyone in swimming has something. Some people get injured, I got sick and those are the cards I was dealt.
“I didn’t want it to define my swimming career, or me as a person.
“There were plenty of tough times and it would certainly have been easier to give it away.”
Strauch was malnourished and struggling physically, but the support of her family never wavered. They had backed her when, as a kid in Bendigo, she had received a scholarship in Melbourne.
The family moved to the big smoke to give her every chance to succeed but her father had a business in Bendigo and would drive two hours every weekend to be with his family.
The family’s ability to sacrifice, commit and persist was driven into Strauch’s psyche.
“I was determined to get back in the pool,” she said.
“From there it was a two-year build just to even get back to a decent level of swimming.
“By the end of VCE, secondary school, in 2015 I was able to train to my full capacity again and it was then I decided I wanted to move to Queensland.
“Ever since then, I have become better and better. I’ve always had a passion for swimming and I just felt like I wasn’t finished.
“There was a lot of different emotions to ride through and being sick wasn’t easy on me or my family. My family has been incredible throughout.”
Strauch is studying Biomedical Science at Bond University and believes the facilities and the coaching there helped her achieve selection in her first senior Australian team.
She is now eyeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“It wasn’t until I came to Bond that I found myself excelling again, the sun, outdoor pool, and change is exactly what I needed to breakout of that sick period in my life” she said.
“It was a very hasty decision. I spoke to Rich (Bond swimming coach Richard Scarce) on a Tuesday and flew out on Saturday.
“I literally packed up my life in four days and it is the best decision I’ve ever made.
“I’m really thankful to Georgina Reinhart for the scholarship (the Georgina Hope Rinehart swimming excellence scholarship) and the opportunity, it has been amazing and is helping me achieve my dreams.
“Winning the national title, there was a lot more reward and satisfaction in it than there might have been had I won in 2013 as a youngster.
“My parents were there watching which meant everything to me, because they went through everything I did as a kid.
“As a kid I used to watch Leisel Jones on TV and I decided I wanted to do it too, my goal now is the 2020 Olympics.”