Life After Olympics with Holly (Lincoln Smith) Young

Another vicious 4 year cycle of hard core training and spartan way of life, is coming to an end with Tokyo Olympics being 9 months away. For some this will be a new experience which they will hold dear for the remainder of their lives, while for others it is the end of a long and glorious journey. As one journey ends a new adventures begin, but the transition is not always easy.

Welcome to the new article series ‘Life After Olympics’ where exclusive for wateruknow, we bring you the series of interviews with one of the best former water polo players from our country and in the world as we talk about their lives and retirement from the sport they played for so many years.

Today, with us is Holly (Lincoln Smith) Young, 2 times Olympian, and one off the best and most talented center forwards, not only in Australia but also in the world. She has produced one of the most magical moments in sport with that last second back hand goal during the Olympics. Yet every road to success has its ups and downs.

Holly, If you had to tell us about your favorite moment and also about the hardest moment in your career what would that be?

“I will start with the not so good… The not so good memory was our sixth place in the 2016 Olympics. The quarter final loss against Hungary was heartbreaking and something I don’t think I will ever forget. I still don’t know how the team, coaches and support crew managed to keep training and then play out two more games after that loss.”

“I have so many favorite moments – the travel and the friends you make but my best moment was winning Bronze in the London 2012 Olympics. We had to fight so hard for that medal , going in to extra time in the quarter finals, semi finals and then the bronze medal match. It was relief when that buzzer went and we knew he had won but also so much excitement. I had so many people in that team that I learnt so much from and who I had watched play at previous Olympics and to stand on the podium with them and some of my best friends was so incredible.

Were you ever in a situation where you could not see the light at the end of tunnel and how did you manage to over come that?

I think you have to see the light at the end of the tunnel or you wouldn’t be able to keep going. I had my bad times but they never out weighed the good which is what kept me going for 2 Olympics. I fell in love with water polo from the very first game I played and I still love it 3 years after I have retired. During the hard times you always have this belief that it will get better and it will all be worth it. You also have a squad of girls that carry you through your hard times and the times you aren’t motivated. You aren’t just doing it for yourself you are doing it for the girls, the coaches and your friends and family.”

Finally, after your long and successful career, the time came to move on. Would you agree that being at that level, you live a little bit of an institutionalized lifestyle? There is a lot of sacrifices, as your life is heavily dictated by water polo programs, but also you are surrounded by your water polo family all year-round:

My parents always instilled in me how important balance is. I have a great group of friends, a husband, an incredible family and I also got my degree and worked while training and playing. I think that balance helps keep you grounded. I also think because I had some hardships in my life I always had perspective on life and what water polo meant. I am so grateful for everything that came from my water polo career but I never just saw myself as an athlete or just a water polo player.

How did you find that transition?

Transition was hard in ways. Straight after I came back from Rio I had to have thumb surgery for an injury I sustained 1 week before the Rio Olympics and that was hard because it wasn’t like previous injuries where I was so motivated to do my rehab and had calls from physios and doctors and coaches. It was just me and trying to find motivation to do the rehab and get it back to strength was difficult. I think it will always be hard because there is no way to describe that feeling of lining up for a game, singing your national anthem in your Australia robe. It is so incredible, and I am so lucky to have experienced that but in real life it is a hard feeling to find. Trying to figure out what next when you have had those emotions and those experience’s is tricky. Since becoming a mum to Jacob I have found it and then exceeded those feeling but unfortunately I can’t earn money looking after him!!!I never talk about it, and people only know I am an Olympian from my husband, friends and family and when they find out they ask a lot of questions!”

Playing water polo for so many years at such high level, and then becoming a mother, I’m sure is no easy task. Your body must have endured a lot of physical stress. How are you holding up after everything ?

“Water Polo was very hard on my body, It really was the worst part for me about the sport. Any one in the team would know it was one injury after another. I had my 2 shoulder surgery – the second I was told was career ending but then when I came back from that the injuries another from a disc in my back, to tearing my oblique, concussion, tearing my muscle off the bone on  my right thumb, dislocating my finger in the first quarter of the quarter final in Rio. And those injuries were just the last 3 months of prep. It made training for an Olympics not just hard but almost impossible. I felt guilty for my team mates and my coaches and my loved ones for seeing me go through it. And my team for having toe carry me and make up for me at sessions and games. As bad as that all sounds it was actually all worth it. I could never die wondering. I would hate to be be sitting here wondering ‘what if’. My hands affect me the most now, I have a lot of arthritis in my hands and fingers from injuries. Makes it hard to lift Jacob and change nappies but other than that my body is holding up pretty well considering!”

Holly with her son Jakey, enjoying a happy moment together

Everything you achieved, it is truly remarkable. Now that those days of water-polo are long gone, could you tell us about your favorite things you love to do as a family. Is the young fella as talented in water as her mother and would you recommend him a similar path if you could influence his way?

“I call Jakey my sunshine – he just makes life so good and makes me so happy. He is cheeky and has an infectious smile that lights up his whole face. He is also a little weirdo and makes me cry with laughter all day. He is obsessed with the water – we go right out the back at the beach and he will snorkel or we take the surf board out and catch waves together and he giggles the entire time. He loves his scooter and play dates with his best little mates but I would say his heart is in the water, its so beautiful to see. James and I love taking him swimming and to the beach and special weekends of baby chinnos and too much bacon for Jakey. I just want him to be happy but he is quite strong and so amazing in the water I can see him following in my footsteps. If that’s what he wants I would support it 100%. Can also see him being a footy player, he’s a good runner and I have no idea where he gets that from!