Episode 43 - Hannah Macdougal

April 03, 2019 13 min read

Episode 43 - Hannah Macdougal

   

  

In this episode, Hannah Macdougall shares her impressive story of being an elite paralympian athlete representing Australia in various games and championships for both swimming and cycling. She has won numerous medals from Silver to Gold in several games for both sports. Hannah’s extensive experience and background as an athlete has allowed her to become a role model, ambassador, advocate and many more for different organizations

She holds a PhD in Athlete Well-Being, she is a Community Engagement Advisor with Victoria State Emergency Services, and her goal is to assist communities and people to achieve their highest potential.

In this episode we cover: 

  • Hannah's story starting with how she started to swim competitively and then shifting to cycling.
  • What made her switch from swimming to cycling.
  • Something people don’t know about Hannah.
  • Her preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
  • What she would have done differently knowing what she knows now.
  • Hannah’s advice to young athletes today.
  • A funny story about her experience while public speaking in schools.
  • How she is managing her work-life balance.

Photo of Hannah Macdougall by Arnaud Domange © 

Links

Transcript:

FELICITY: 

This is Episode 43. Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque.  

I have here today Hannah Macdougall, an elite paralympian athlete, who’s a Doctor in Well-Being, Community Engagement Advisor with Victoria State Emergency Services, with specialties including Mental Health, Resiliency, Motivational Speaking, Elite Performance, Research Skills and Methods, and Communication. Through her blended experience as an elite athlete and latest evidence-based research, Hannah seeks to assist communities and people to achieve their greatest potentials. Hannah is a dual Paralympian, previous World Record Holder has captained the Australian Swimming Team at both the World Championships and Paralympic Games and completed a PhD in Athlete Well-Being. 

She’s represented Australia on an international level since 2001 in numerous international, national and state competitions in both swimming and cycling. When Hannah isn’t training, she is an inclusion advocate, on mindfulness and wellbeing ‘pracademic’ and community engagement advisor at the Victoria State Emergency Service. With a focus on providing accessible and life-long tools based in mindfulness meditation, Hannah inspires and empowers multiple communities to take positive action, not only today but into the future. Hannah is currently aiming to represent Australia at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games in the Time Trial and Road Race. 

Welcome, Hannah. 

HANNAH: 

Thank you so much for having me, Felicity. 

FELICITY: 

It's lovely to have you. Your background and experience includes volunteering being an athlete role model for Red Dust Role Models; an ambassador for Access All Abilities, an advocate for START Foundation; a presenter for Just BU, what a great name that is, Just BU; an ambassador for Travellers Aid Australia, Women Sport Australia; and in the athlete leadership team with the Australian Paralympic Committee as a Paralympic Education Program Presenter for over 7 years. You’ve got a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sport Management, and you’ve been an elite athlete with the VIS for nearly 18 years, a Motivational Speaker at Star Amp Global, and a Facilitator in Training with Smiling Mind, and now as a Community Engagement Adviser with the Victorian SES Services. Your athletic achievements are quite awesome.  

You’ve done, in 2002 and ’03, the World Record International at S10 Women’s Backstroke; 2002 to ’18, Vic  Scholarship Holder; 2004, Athens Paralympic Games – you won the bronze medal in the 4 by 100 meters Female Medley and fourth in the S10 100 meter Backstroke; in 2008, the Beijing Paralympic Games – Team Captain for the Australian Paralympic Swim Team, and competed in 100 meter backstroke and 200 meters; in 2017, you did the Cycling Round Australia National Championships – first female amputee to compete in the ‘able bodied’ Women’s Time Trial, that’s epic; 2010 to 2018, Australian Para Road and Track Cycling Championships – 3 Gold, 7 Silver, 14 Bronze in the Women’s C4 classification; and then in 2016 and 17, the UCI Para Track & Road World Champs – 4th in Individual Time Trial and 5th in the Road Race; and in 2015 to ‘17, UCI Para Cycling Road World Cups –1 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze medals in the women’s C4 road race and time trial. 

Well, that’s an absolute epic calendar of experience and results, Hannah. Please share your story, tell us how did you start swimming then switch to cycling and everything in between? 

HANNAH: 

Well, how long do you have? It has a, when you kind of, read it out like that, you reflect, it’s like, “Oh yes, there’s been quite a few experiences and adventures along the way. So in terms of how I started, swimming, to be cool, Australian culture I suppose, we grew up going through to learn to swim, sessions at the Harold Holt Swimming Pool, and then progressed into school, and I loved it, I was a little fish. I was always trying to hold my breath underwater, and do handstands and cartwheels, and was definitely a water baby, and along the way, I progressed from swimming lessons into squads and then, it was actually the result of one of my physical education teachers when I was in primary school, that encouraged me to have a race and I made it through to the state championships for swimming.  

FELICITY: 

Wow. 

HANNAH: 

And in that race, so I was in for, so that was when I was about 10 years old, so little tuck up. And I remember it so clearly, it was just when they bought in the one start rule, so before they bought this in, you could have up to two startsbut this was the first time they bought it in so I was just pissing my docks. I am standing behind these blocks against all of these other girls who I just looked up to and thought they look like giants. Anyway, the gun goes off, and I dived in, and I got to the 15-meter mark where the full start rope would be, expecting to feel it just to have my worst fears confirmed. But I didn’t feel it, but I couldn’t see anyone else, so I kind of have the worst imagination that they were all hopping out of the pool and just standing there laughing at me, still swimming, so I stuck up my head after 15 meters, I'm like, “Where’s everyone?” and I looked and I’m like, “Oh shit. I’m actually winning this race.” So I stuck my head back down and finished the race and I ended up picking up the golden silver at that state championshipsSo there’s kind of two little pieces of plastic where I canyou’re not too bad at this swimming, and so I went from there in terms of getting a coach and progressing through the ranks to state to national to international levels and then got to travel the world with the swimming team for a really long time. 

FELICITY: 

What a great confidence booster. 

HANNAH: 

Oh yes, absolutely. And that's what sport has been so helpful for, in terms of helping to build self-confidence, and body image and communication, learning how to make friends, and maybe also how to psych out your competitors. So there's a little of psych in there as well. 

FELICITY: 

You've got a good poker face. 

HANNAH: 

Sometimes. Sometimes it's a bit of a grimace and paint face like it was on the weekend in the Mansfield Tour on the bike, but, yes, it's been a wealth of experiences from swimming and then switching to cycling now for past nine years. 

FELICITY: 

Okay. And what made that switch for you for being so successful in swimming to try cycling? 

HANNAH: 

Yes. It was a combination of a few factors. And the main one, just being there was a whole lot of burnout there. And unfortunately it got to the point where I just hated the sport in terms of being in that water, going up and down the black line, and I've lost the passion for it. So I knew I still wanted to be a paralympian, just not in swimming, and I figured if you're diverting so much of your time to something, then you've got to love it. And loving it doesn't always mean feeling, gooey-gooey, mushy-mushy about your sport, and being excited, but you've got to have that underlying drive and commitment and so that was just lost reasoning. So literally process of elimination in terms of what else can I do, and I know my forte is not hand-eye coordination so all ball sports were definitely out. And my leg is so stumpy, he's quite long and skinny, and so I guess stress fracture is pretty easily at the bottom of it, so all kind of running sport were out because of that factor. So it literally left is cycling and rowing, and rowing was another early morning water-based sports. So I said okay, let's try cycling.  

FELICITY: 

Well, that's the process elimination, Hannah. 

HANNAH: 

Yes. But it's awesome to love sport again, like it's been a crazy, crazy journey full of surgeries and missing out on two Paralympic games due to injury and being first reserved, so we are gunning for Tokyo, and that is for sure.  

FELICITY: 

Wow. Well, I wish you all the best with your training for that and also qualifying. Your quote is: ‘Ride with a smile, and ride with a purpose, you ride in the moment.’ Your coffee is a double espresso on a race day and turmeric latte at other timesfood is dark chocolate and veggies and berries, and your favourite colour is yellow. What is something that people don't know about you? 

HANNAH: 

Well it's not common knowledge that Harry Potter and I share the same birthday, being the 31st of July, and there was a time period in his life that we were the same age, so I think that's pretty exciting. But there is something that’s pretty cute; so being an amputee, I have one foot to compare that one foot to… 

FELICITY 

Yes. 

HANNAH: 

And I have a freckle in the middle of it, and so until I was probably about five years old, I assumed that everybody in the whole world had a freckle in the middle of their foot. And it wasn’t until I think I was at swimming lesson one day and we were doing our kicking and I looked at the girl next to me and like, “Excuse me, why don’t you have a freckle on the middle of your foot?” And she’s like, “Ahhh.” And my dreams were dashed.  

FELICITY: 

Yes. Well, that’s hilarious. So, you’re now focusing on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games as you said; let’s talk about that. What preparation do you need to be selected and riding your A game? 

HANNAH: 

Yes. I love a leg-cellent pun in there Felicity. Good work. So in terms of being selected, there’s six spots, six female spots for the Australian female Paralympic team… 

FELICITY: 

Okay. 

HANNAH: 

That we need to quality, status qualify last year and will continue to qualify those spots this year. And so then essentially, it’s a matter of being a medal contender for the Paralympic games, so literally, being on the world championship this year, next year, and given the competition level in Australia and the strength of our squadyou’re probably going to have to either be a rainbow jersey gold medalist or maybe you might get in with a chance with a silver medal. So that’s how good like the standard is to be able to qualify. So it’s pretty impressive. 

FELICITY: 

That’s amazing really. 

HANNAH: 

It’s just insane, like the quality of the ride is, in Australia, across all of the different classifications in Paralympic sport, I mean we look back at the Track Road Championships which were a week and a half ago, and the girls, I mean you have Emily, there was, I think at least 3 rainbows for the girls over there in various time trials and pursuits in these kinds of things. So yes, they just did an amazing job, so we’ve got to bring it on at in the world championships later in the year, at the Road World Champs. 

FELICITY: 

Yes. Well, that gives you something to gun for I guess, and you’re really clear on what you need to achieve, so that’s good. 

HANNAH: 

That’s for sure. The bar is high and that’s where we’ll be jumping.  

FELICITY: 

Exactly. So after the games, will you have a break? 

HANNAH: 

Definitely. It’s been a really massive couple, four-year cycle, I mean, we’re training for the past couple of weeks, I've been doing 500+ K on the bike, and that’s a 30 hours of training would include gym, and the rehab, and the recovery, and all that kind of thing. So, yes, there will definitely be a break in there, that’s for sure. I think, I don’t know, somewhere kind of maybe in Greece, or something on an island for just a bit of good food and wine, I reckon. 

FELICITY: 

Or a bit of sunshine. Sounds good. 

HANNAH: 

Yes. 

FELICITY: 

I think that’s the thing that gets a bit underestimated perhaps is when you’re training so hard, like you talk about the hours that you’re putting in, there’s also all these subsidiary things that need to compliment that, like you say, whether it’s massage or whatever recovery you’re doing, there’s also all those ancillary things that lead to that. 

HANNAH: 

Yes. Yes, I mean making sure that you’re eating the right things, from meal preparation, and then soft tissue therapy; I've actually got an appointment tonight for acupuncture, so I got to be a human pin cushion. And then I started doing some Tai Chi and Qigong, which is really useful just to help recover, so yes, it’s kind of a full-time job in that sense. 

FELICITY: 

Yes, definitely. Looking back, is there anything you would do differently knowing what you know now? 

HANNAH: 

I’d say it’s a really tough question, that one, because you know, generally when you fall flat in your face, either like literally because you’re being taken out by a crash or whatever, or metaphorically speaking, you do learn a lot from those mistakes and those failures, and they shape you into the person you are today. So, I mean, looking back I probably would tell my younger self that, for me, it’s been a big progression in terms of being comfortable with my body, and learning to give it a little bit of love and not trying to fight so much about it, or fight with it, I should say. And then also, that less is more, and to not try and jam 10 lifetimes into one perhaps. Just smell the roses every now and then. 

FELICITY: 

Yes, not so many things I often say I wish there was ten of me, and I totally understand you, and you’re very vibrant and love life, so I can see that it’s great, but it can also be a trap because you try to fit too many things in. 

HANNAH: 

Yes. Like there’s just so many wonderful opportunities, I'm coming to learn, it’s being true to yourself and doing justice to the things that you do commit to and so more of a quality; quality over quantity approach in doing less things but doing them really well, rather than spreading yourself too thin. 

FELICITY: 

Yes, definitely. What advice then would you give to young athletes today, Hannah? 

HANNAH: 

The sporting landscape has changed a whole lot since I was probably in that space myself, but I think, my tag line in terms of that vibe with a purpose, so essentially make sure that you’ve got your goals and they’re underpinned by your values, and that they’re in alignment, I think that’s really critical, because motivation for sport, it’s kind of like a little bit like a lover; sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. And you know when it’s there, you’ve got to make the most of it, but when it’s gone, that’s when the commitment comes into it. So there’s commitment, and if you have that commitment, you value the direction you’re going; I think that’s really critical. So running with that purpose, and then running with a smile, that was one of my big lessons from bumming out at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games; I was second in the world going into it and I was the Team Captain and everything was just looking great, but just put way too much pressure in myself and didn’t even made the final for that run and I kind of forgotten along the way that sport is supposed to be fun. So how can we inject a little bit of vitamin F into life and into sports as athletes. And then finally, the whole, the peace around being in the moment, so that bringing mindfulness to when we compete; I’ve generally find when I focus on outcomes, that’s detrimental to my performance, so it’s like, “Okay, well what can I do literally at this moment in time that’s going to be helpful for me to achieve that purpose?” So just bringing it back to the here and the now. 

FELICITY: 

Fantastic. Yes, something about the expectation of yourself can really, I guess, sour the whole experience, kind of, set that intention and then when it doesn’t actually, eventually it can be quite disappointing. 

HANNAH: 

Yes. And generally, if you see an athlete got a gold medal, yes you can count that on one hand, but then you need at least another ten hands to count how many times haven’t been on that podium. So literally, what we see is the public, is the tip of the iceberg, and there’s a whole lot of all other stuff that’s going on to help them get there. 

FELICITY: 

Yes, absolutely. Is there a funny story that you can share with us from your journey along the way, Hannah? 

HANNAH: 

There’s a couple of them. When I go out and I do a bit of public speaking with schools, and particularly primary schools, and to help just normalize people of all abilities, I like to take my leg off and show them that it’s literally just skin and bone underneath the prosthetic leg. And so most of them are like, “Oh no. No, no, but you’ll bleed everywhere.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, it’s just skin and bone.” And like, “But oh, it’s your wearable leg, you can’t take it off.” And I’m like, “No, no we’ll be fine.” But to ease their anxiety a little bit, we just play a game and I challenge them to shout out what animals they think my leg looks like.  

FELICITY: 

Oh, great. 

HANNAH: 

So, I generally get things like giraffe and antelope and anteater, etc. and an elephant’s trunk as well, so generally things that are kind of tall and skinny. And then I had one little boy, bless you socks, he called out, “Oh, that looks like an elephant, Miss,” and I was just like, “the trunk?” And he was like, “No, the whole of it,” and I'm like, “I need to go on Jenny Craig then mate. I must have put on a bit of weight.” So yes, the kids that you get to work with are just beautiful and pretty special to be able to share that with them. 

FELICITY: 

Absolutely. I mean it’s great that you can be such a fun role model as well for them to be able to interact with you and feel comfortable and learning more about Paralympic athletes. It’s fantastic on what you go through and what you need to do within a day to day level of life. 

HANNAH: 

Bringing it, yes, making it real, and giving them something to think about and hopefully a little bit of a leg up in their own life. 

FELICITY: 

Yes, that’s right, part of the pun. 

HANNAH: 

Beautiful. 

FELICITY: 

So you also work, and how do balance that into your life? It seems you’re so heavily into training for the Tokyo Olympic, so how does that work out for you? 

HANNAH: 

Well, I generally get up at five o’clock each day, to get in a good couple of hours of training before I start work, and I'm only doing part-time. So I've got a really supportive Boss and team at the State Emergency Services who allow me to have that flexibility to be able to do both. And the support that I get from them in terms of, not only for the work that I'm doing in the Community Engagement and Development space at the SES but also then to pursue the sport and aim for Tokyo. I'm super, super grateful for because there are not many organizations where you’ll find that level of support and that personal support too. I mean I've started last year, and after four weeks, jetted off to the World Champs, and then here’s my Boss sending us a message, like him and the whole team, sitting there, watching the TV, cheering for me at the World Champs. So it’s absolutely beautiful so I'm really grateful. 

FELICITY: 

Yes, that’s lovely to have that support and fantastic that you’re able to combine that really, because I was wondering how you could manage it with so many hours of training that’s a credit to you, and wonderful that they support you in that way as well. 

HANNAH: 

Definitely. Definitely. 

FELICITY: 

Well, I'd like to thank you for joining me today, Hannah. It’s been really fascinating learning about your journey and I look forward to following you and hearing about, I hope you achieve what you wish to with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics; it’s a massive commitment. And our listeners can find you on your website at www.hannahmacdougall.com.au. You’re also on LinkedIn, so we’ll put that link and also your Instagram at our show notes so people can find you and follow you there. And yes, we wish you all the best for your preparation for next year’s Paralympics. 

HANNAH: 

Thank you so much. Really, really appreciate it. 

FELICITY: 

You’re welcome. 

Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.  

 


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