New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) scholarship athlete Brittany O’Brien philosophises that, sometimes, it takes strength for an athlete to face their fear and decide whether it’s healthy to continue forcing themselves to overcome something that terrifies them.

The 25-year-old, who is in Berlin as a member of the Australian team competing at the second World Aquatics Diving Cup, made a dramatic career switch two years ago when she stopped competing in the 10m platform event to take her place on the 3m springboard.

O’Brien, who enjoys a mammoth social media following, speaks with a disarming frankness when asked about the crisis of confidence she’d experience on the edge of the tower’s platform knowing it was a loooooong way down to the water.

Indeed, her honesty about experiencing fear in an event that most people would not even dare attempt could help other athletes who feel they have to do something that scares them simply because they believe it’s expected of them.

“It was a few years in the making,” said O’Brien about her career change. “I had a few moments when I had those mental blocks [at the top of the 10m tower], but it really hit me after we returned to training from the [COVID] lockdown.

“I hadn’t been up on the 10m for a while and something in my brain just didn’t like it. Maybe it was because of a lack of training . . . the routine . . . because once you get used to it, [the 10m] isn’t as scary.  But I’d lost that.

“Those few months of trying to get the dives back was so draining. I eventually thought ‘no, it’s not for me.’”

Rather than watch the talent rich O’Brien abandon the sport, the NSWIS diving program’s Head Coach, Chava Sobrino, convinced her to focus on the 3m springboard. However, O’Brien found she needed to work overtime to master the intricacies of the event in which she is now representing Australia in at Berlin.

“I hated it at first, and my first competition was awful . . . dreadful . . . and it ruined my confidence,” said O’Brien. “It was very different. However, once my confidence grew and I got used to it I loved it.

“You need extra strength in your legs because the added element of the springboard means that if you’re even the slightest bit nervous you get the jelly legs, and that affects the take-off. It is all about learning to control yourself.”

O’Brien, who finished a commendable 15th in the 10m event at the Rio Olympics after being called upon at the last minute to replace an injured teammate, said if there was a lesson anyone could take from her revelation it’s the importance of adaptability and understanding the ebb and flow of elite sport.

“Overcoming adversity could just be a matter of adaptability,” she said. “I’ve learnt if there’s an obstacle there’s always a way around It. I mean, I found another route [to continue diving].

“If my career can help anyone, I would like to inspire them by showing the bad and the good of my journey . . .  that the ups and downs are normal.”

“Being able to push through any rough patches and being able to get back and do it again can be seen as a form of courage in sport. Obviously, you’re not going to always have the performance when you’re competing, and I think that’s when keep trying is the most courageous thing you can do.”

O’Brien and fellow NSWIS athlete Kurtis Mathews joined the Australian team that competed in Montreal last week to experience more international competition before the Australia’s Olympic selection trials in June.

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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