Ever since she was a young girl she wanted to go to the Olympics, but Tamworth-born Rio Olympian Gemma Etheridge could never have dreamt of the whirlwind she has been swept up in.
The Tamworth-born Rio Olympian was, along with former Australian batsmen Simon Katich, the special guest at the NIAS4Life launch, and inaugural NIAS4Life Sports Luncheon in Tamworth on Friday.
About 18 months in the making NIAS4Life is about creating a legacy, as former Executive Officer Peter Annis-Brown explained.
One of the driving forces behind the establishment of the foundation, he said it has three core goals: to increase their membership base and form a core alumni; to fundraise for the direct benefit of both existing and future athletes with 100 per cent of the proceeds raised going to the athletes; and assist in continuing to raise NIAS’ profile within the regions’ communities.
Etheridge told the audience how ever since she was a young girl she had wanted to go to the Olympics, but she thought she’d missed out.
Then rugby sevens came a calling, and as they say the rest is history.
Or folklore as the case may be with the Aussie women claiming the sports first ever Olympic gold medal and with it projecting the womens sevens to unheralded heights.
The weeks since have been a whirlwind Etheridge said, the 29-year old even finding herself being paraded in front of almost 100,000 before the AFL grand final.
“That was an amazing experience. I’m surprised not more of the girls took up the offer, but it’s something I never thought I’d ever get to do,” she said.
It hasn’t been all glamour though, and she joked that she had been brought back to reality pretty quickly coming back to her parent’s Limousin cattle stud at Walcha “and helping out with bull sales and things like that”.
She spoke about relief as being her initial feeling when that final siren sounded, mainly that all the hard work and rehabilitation she had to endure had paid off.
It looked like her Olympic dream might be over when four months out she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament four months.
“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do was mentally prepare myself and get back to even be selected and the gold medal was definitely the icing on the cake,” she said.
She is enjoying a bit of extended leave and isn’t quite sure what the future holds.
“I’m contracted until the end of the year and we’ll work out how the body goes from there,” she said.
Whatever happens, she has helped create a legacy for womens sevens with the Aussies exploits prompting an explosion of interest in the game.
“I really hope the success we’ve brought does continue to grow the sport and womens sport,” she said.