Not that she’s counting, but, as of today, Wednesday, April 17, water polo ace Bronte Halligan is well aware it is only 100 days . . .  or three and a bit months . . .  or 14 weeks . . . or 2400 hours . . .or 144,000 minutes . . . or 864000 seconds. . .  away from the opening ceremony of what should be her second Olympic campaign.

The prospect of a second Olympics is a remarkable adventure for Halligan, who, along with eight fellow New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) scholarship athletes – Zoe Arancini, Keesja Gofers, Sienna Green, Sienna Hearn, Danijela Jackovich, Tilly Kearns, Genevieve Longman and Ruby Swadling – was selected for the Aussie Stingers pre-Olympic camp and just completed two-week tour of the USA.

The effervescent member of the Australian Stingers squad smiled while revealing in her five-part NSWIS Lights Up documentary series that her first step towards becoming an Olympian was taken 20 years ago when, as an Infant school-aged child, she watched the Athens Games on television with her mother as swimmers Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill, Grant Hackett, the Australian team’s now Chef de Mission and cycling great Anna Meares, NSWIS’s respected High Performance Coach Advisor, and Australia’s most successful male Olympic cyclist Bradley McGee, and shooter Suzanne Balogh contribute to Australia’s haul of 17 gold medals.

Bronte Halligan igniting the Olympic dream.
Bronte Halligan igniting the Olympic dream.

Halligan, now 27, recalled that even though she was only years of age at the time, she appreciated the enormity . . . the special magic . . . of the Olympics. And when she saw how engrossed her mother was in the spectacle it inspired her to make a pledge that would require vast amounts of energy, commitment, resilience, and extra large dollops of self-belief to realise.

“I said to my mum: ‘You know, I’m going to be a kid to take you to an Olympic Games,’” said Halligan of the discussion that set her path. “I was fascinated with the Olympics, I still am. It’s such a celebration of all the sports, to have all these world class athletes in the same area to be celebrating sport is just so cool.”

One advantage Halligan had in her favour was being born into a sporty, extremely competitive [but loving] family.

Bronte Halligan attending UCLA, pictured with her parents.
Bronte Halligan attending UCLA, pictured with her parents.

Almost a quarter of a century after he played his final game in the National Rugby League, Halligan’s father, Daryl, is still revered at the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and in New Zealand footy circles. As further testimony to the benefits of the family rivalry – or perhaps their universal disdain for doing the washing up – her sister, Devon, would eventually represent the Land of the Long White Cloud in surf lifesaving.

“Growing up it was really competitive,” said Halligan. “That was the biggest value that we got instilled in us. We played card games as a family [where] it was the loser had to do the dishes. So, we’re just the most competitive bunch.

“We’re all striving to be better versions of ourselves through that competitive spirit, and, really, just honing in on becoming a good person or becoming a great athlete is kind of the two values that my dad instilled in me . . . that’s how you are in the world . . .  to be a good athlete is to be a good person.

“And certain values that go with that: dedication, time, commitment, values, were just things that were taught by my Mum and Dad leading by example rather than, you know, explicit words that were said. So, they were good competitive spirit values.”

Bronte Halligan, Tilly Kearns & Zoe Arancini
Bronte Halligan, Tilly Kearns & Zoe Arancini

And while her siblings embraced the unabashed Kiwi flavour of their family home, ‘Aussie’ Bronte dreamt of the day she’d sport Australia’s green and gold battle colours – and she never flinched, even as she copped it when the Wallabies were invariably steamrolled by the All Blacks!

“Growing up I had Kiwi things printed all over our house,” she said. The Haka . . . like we have a big canvas with all the words for The Haka written all over it, and [there were] different connections to New Zealand – our whole [kitchen] benchtop is designed like a big Pāua shell, which was green.

“It’s just my parents are so proud to be Kiwi . . . my Dad played for them, so obviously that comes into it; my older sister also competed for New Zealand Life Saving.

“I always say this, I truly feel Australian! I was born here in Sydney, so my siblings, we were all born in Australia, and I’ve just had that connection to Australia from a young age. I don’t know why, but I’ve always felt a little bit more of a connection to Australia than the rest of my family. And I’m so proud to be able to compete in the green and gold when I get .”

While Halligan has already reach tremendous heights in water polo – including her being a member of the Australian Stingers team that finished fourth at the last world championships and competing at the Covid marred Tokyo Olympics – she revealed her introduction to the sport was inglorious.

“I was kicking and screaming at my first water polo try out as any classic kid would, sometimes,” she laughed. “I was quite high-level netball at a young age, and I had representative netball training, and I was running late for the water polo tryouts down at Andrew Boy Charlton on the northern beaches.

“I was so embarrassed to be late . . . I don’t know . . . I didn’t want to get into the pool. I’d never played this sport, I didn’t know anyone, I was so embarrassed to be late – about 20 minutes late – and the girls had already swum, and they were passing the ball around.

“So, I was kicking and screaming; I didn’t want to get in. My mum was like ‘come on, put your suit on, get your cap on, you’re getting in the water!’ And Istill  was standing outside the pool and crying.  I’m not kidding – she physically picked me up and threw me straight into the pool!”

And while Halligan eventually found her water wings (“I wasn’t a naturally coordinated kid in that sense”) it jolted her to learn at 16 she was making inroads in the sport that could help her fulfill the ‘Athens pledge’ she’d made to her mother.

“As a kid I didn’t even know what water polo was,” she said. “When I started water polo I didn’t know it was an Olympic sport. It wasn’t brought to my attention until I was at an under 16 nationals. My team had just won and I got voted the most valuable player at those nationals and someone came up and said: ‘You could go to the Olympics for this sport’. It gave me direction, 100 percent. And since that moment it’s been like ‘OK, let’s do everything I can to get to an Olympic Games’.”

While the Australian team’s Paris-bound Water Polo squad is still to be announced, in 100 days; three and a bit months; 14 weeks; 2400 hours; 144,000 minutes or 864000 seconds, Halligan should get her second opportunity to take her mother to the Olympic Games.

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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