“Only as much as I dream can I be.”

That message, which is tattooed on the body of multiple Olympic medallist Melissa Wu, is a public acknowledgement of her metamorphosis from a young diver who could be so overwhelmed by pressure it was impossible for her to function, to a self-aware and mature athlete who is considered by many as one of Australia’s most resilient and robust competitors.

As Wu prepares to qualify for what would be her fifth Olympic Games campaign, she spoke about the significance behind the tattoo’s message in her enlightening five-part NSWIS Lights Up documentary series which can be viewed at NSWIS.com.au.

“My tattoo . . . ‘as much as I dream can I be’ . . . it’s important to me because I think as a young athlete, I struggled a lot with self-confidence and self-belief,” said Wu. “And I had a tendency to choke under pressure in competition.

“That tattoo, I guess, just marks a bit of a change in perspective for me and a bit of growth – and maturity – as an athlete. Realizing that, basically, the only limitations are the ones that I put on myself.

“I think that my biggest competition is actually me most of the time.

And it took me a really long time throughout my career to be able to overcome that competition anxiety and be able to perform under pressure. Coping with pressure now ‘in my old age,’ as I say . . . it’s something I really struggled with a lot from a young age.

“It’s not something that I just clicked my fingers, and it went away. I had to work really hard at it, and I still have to work really hard at it.”

Wu said the one thing she could not have realised as a young athlete was time and experience, along with learning from numerous challenges, would provide her with the tools she needed to overcome that anxiety.

“I think as you mature as an athlete and having put the time into it, I realize that it’s something that you’ve got to sort of expose yourself to a lot to get better at it,” she said of her personal growth.

“You can’t just learn it from somewhere else. And I think just having that experience of competing over the years, trying different things that work – and don’t work. Learning what works for me is the biggest thing that’s helped me get over that sort of anxiety of competing, or that being able to perform under pressure.

“I always try and look for different experiences, or different knowledge, and seek advice from other people that might just give me a different perspective.”

Wu, who has won an Olympic silver and bronze medal, said the importance of ‘resilience’ can’t ever be underestimated.

“Resilience, to me, is, I guess, just being able to overcome the challenges and the hurdles that life throws at you,” said Wu. “It’s usually fitted in a bit more of a negative light. It’s something that you’ve got to sort of overcome . . . it’s a negative that you’ve got to overcome.

“And, so, [it’s because] resilience is something that that you have to build up that I actually think that it’s kind of a positive thing because I think that without having those things to overcome, you never end up pushing yourself or challenging yourself or reaching the heights that you probably don’t even realize you could hit without having those bumps along the way.

“So, I think – sometimes – the bump in the road [is good] because you’ve built up this resilience to be able to cope with whatever life throws at you.”

Wu delves into the layers of complexity she has lived with as a diver. For instance, when she speaks about the ‘fear’ that has accompanied her throughout her career it had nothing to do with the white knuckled terror most people would expect from someone who is teetering on the edge of a 10m diving board.

“If you have a lapse in focus, it can potentially be a little bit dangerous. But beyond that, I think throughout my life I’ve experienced fear going into competitions and that fear of letting others down or not getting the result that I wanted to get. And I think over time I’ve learned that fear is not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s sort of because you know that you’re in with a shot. You know, you can do well, you’re invested in it. And I’ve learned how to change a perspective on fear and realize that actually it’s helpful and you can use it to your advantage as long as it doesn’t snowball into that kind of self-doubt and a lack of self-belief.”

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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