Swallowing the bitter pill of disappointment at the 2016 Rio Olympics, boxer Shelley Watts revealed her battle with depression and the fight back to the ring this week.
At a business breakfast, hosted by the National Australia Bank in Port Macquarie Wednesday March 22, Shelley was raw and honest about what it means to wear the uniform of an Australian Olympian and her battle to get back into the ring.
From the extreme high of Commonwealth gold in Glasgow in 2014 to the crushing first round loss at Rio, Shelley shared how she is rebuilding her iron psyche for a future inside and outside the boxing ring.
Success and resilience were the key elements in her talk. Shelley compared success to an iceberg; the 20 percent people can see above the surface, belies the 80 percent of hard work, training, late nights, risks taken, struggles, persistence, discipline, sacrifice and courage it’s taken to achieve a perceived success.
Resilient people, she said, while generally motivated, goal-focused and optimistic, also understand that failure is a learning opportunity rather than a loss. They also know when to ask for help and call of their family, friends and colleagues for support.
When Shelley was living in Laurieton and training on her own to gain success in the boxing ring, she created a wall of motivational quotes to train her mind to think differently. Conquering any self-doubt about her ability to become a world-class boxer took as much mental training as it did physical.
“The wall of quotes was the first thing I looked at as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning,” Shelley told the audience.
“I was training my sub-conscious as much as I was training my body. I made a vision board inside a folder so that no matter where I was, that side of the training could continue.
“At the time my favourite quote was ‘While you were sleeping in, your opponent was training harder than you’.”
Shelley said her favourite quote now reflects her philosophy post-Olympics: “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus and keep aiming.”
The vision board and visualisation techniques are still as much a part of her training now building her fitness at a gym in Wollongong with a new coach, Nudge Meili at Forte Boxing Academy.
Meeting her new coach was serendipitous. Nudge, a boxing coach, barber and life coach noticed Shelley’s social media profile was uncharacteristically quiet post-Olympics. He sent her a private message offering the chance to talk.
Shelley happened to be in Wollongong running a workshop. They spoke for two hours. Nudge asked Shelley what she needed to get back into the sport.
“I needed a coach and a base to get back into boxing again and I need to be settled.
“He approached Mark (Lucas, owner of Forte Boxing Adacemy) and the next thing I knew Forte were welcoming me with open arms. It’s only been six weeks, but look out, by the time the Tokyo Olympic rolls around there are going to be some pretty special things come out of Forte.”
For the first time since Rio, Shelley said she feels settled in her new surroundings.
Bowing out of the Olympics after a controversial split decision, Shelley lost her training facilities and services at the Australian Institute of Sport, funding and sponsors gained leading up to the games.
“So I’m pretty much starting from scratch again. But I think that’s a good thing. At the time I didn’t think so but if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have met the amazing team at Forte Boxing and my coach.
“It’s amazing to have Nudge, Stevie Anton, Mark (Commonwealth Games boxer-turned-professional Mark Lucas) and Ash Sims in the gym to be able to work with them. I don’t have to train by myself anymore.
“Whether you’re an athlete or a business person sometimes you need something else to fight for to drive you on. I’ve found that in the team there. They support me 100 per cent. If I make a mistake, they don’t question or judge me, they help me change it for next time.
“It’s only been six weeks, but I feel comfortable there.
“I’m living at Albion Park Rail which feels like Kew, Shellharbour is just down the road for the beach which is like Laurieton, and just 25 minutes up the road is Wollongong which is like Port Macquarie. It feels like home.”
Speaking to the business breakfast in Port Macquarie, Shelley said, was a pretty special experience.
“I get to speak with people all the time, that’s one of the amazing parts of this journey and this fairy-tale I get to live, but to be able to do this at home makes it a bit more special.
“For mum (Cheryl) to be in the audience too was great because, while she sees stuff on social media and in the media, she doesn’t get the opportunity to hear this kind of thing first hand is really important.
“The reception that I got today writes home that I do have some important messages to share and it means I’ll work harder to create that brand and package for other people to be able to hear as well.”
Outside the gym Shelley is building her public speaking profile. She runs ‘Sporting lessons in a business world’ workshop with BlueScope Steel and is developing proposals to partner with sponsors to support her journey to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and beyond to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“I want to work with sponsors in a partnership. I don’t want to be the kind of athlete that takes and doesn’t give,” Shelley said.
“The beauty of doing these public speaking engagements shows that I do have something to give to companies.
“I want to expand myself as a business and speak at schools, speak to young kids and develop that side of my business, as well as through Strong Chicks (Shelley’s social media and empowerment movement with Australian netballer Sharni Layton) working to empower young women.
“To get feedback from the audience today that they are going to relate what I said to their colleagues, their team members, their families and, more importantly, their children is really special. It feels amazing to know you’re making a difference to people in some way, shape or form. It’s pretty awesome.”
Boxing-wise, Shelley is honest about the journey ahead to get into peak form.
“I’m feeling good, I’ve only been training for about eight weeks. Nudge and I are working on a lot of things to change and develop myself as a boxer. That’s important because if you stay still and stagnate, knowing you were at the top of the game, everyone else is going to catch you.
“Being number one doesn’t mean you can’t change and develop further. We’re working. It gets frustrating at times because after seven years in the sport and achieving what I have, you’d think I’d know a lot about the sport but I have so much to learn from Nudge.
“That’s part of the reason I love it. I’m challenged every single day in the gym. I’m learning new things and I feel like I’m awkward and what I’ve done in the past doesn’t matter for what we’re trying to achieve in the future.
“I definitely need to get the weight down and the fitness back up. I was surprised by how much fitness I did retain, considering I didn’t really rain for four months. It’s nice to be back into a routine.
“The Commonwealth Games is a year away. I’ll try and get into the ring and fight before the qualification event which is the Australian titles in November.
“But right now the focus is getting the weight off. I put on a lot of weight after the Olympics. I had depression, I was not in a good way and I took that out on food. I literally ate everything I could see. While it was a great experience to be able to do that, I’m dealing with the effects now. It’s not the easiest habit to have to shake off but, I know I can get it down and I know that I’m going to be a force come the time I do hit that weight.
“I have to get back to 60kgs, there are no weight options outside of that for the Commonwealth Games. There is a 15kg gap to the next weight division.
“But I’ve always been a 60kg fighter, I just haven’t been very sensible with food. I think it’s important to tell people that. When you’re an athlete people think that you’re this almighty person but we’re just individuals like anyone else. I struggle with food every day. I’m slowly but surely beating that.
“I’ll literally work my arse off. I know that by the time I get there I’ll be strong and ready to go.”