Swim coach to the stars
|from left: swimmers Sarah Katsoulis and Bobby Hurley with Tracey Menzies
Tracey Menzies is perhaps best known for coaching Olympic champion Ian Thorpe during the later years of his career. However, there is much more to Tracey than meets the eye.
A talented swimmer herself, Tracey competitively swam at national level under Doug Frost (Thorpe's original coach). Her dreams of one day competing for Australia in the Olympics were shattered when, in her mid-teens, she was diagnosed with glandular fever, chronic fatigue and iron disorder. The combination wrecked her body, and Tracey was unable to continue swimming.
A change of direction
Devastated, Tracey changed her focus, studying photography at university before then completing a degree in teaching. While she was studying, a part time job at a Sydney swim school, Sutherland Learn to Swim kept her busy. Here, her passion for the water was rekindled.
"I started teaching mums and bubs to swim because I love to give kids skills for life," Tracey says. "That was where it all started, I moved up to coaching squads from there. I credit my career to having really good mentors, plus the club was very good at identifying talent such as Ian. I worked pretty hard as well."
|Tracey with Tommaso D’Orsogna
Some career highlights
Tracey says there have been many great moments for her during her years teaching and coaching swimming.
"Helping a 60-year-old man who couldn't even put his head under the water and blow bubbles to finally swim, to seeing the look of joy of parents' faces when their child takes their first stroke... it's just amazing," she says. "The Olympics was pretty fantastic too; obviously I went with Ian [Thorpe], and more recently I went with Tommaso D'Orsogna to London, who brought home a bronze in the Men's 4 x 100 metre medley."
Coaching Ian Thorpe
After falling in love with squad training, Tracey then took on a job as the assistant of Doug Frost, Thorpe's original coach at Sutherland. This is where she got to know Thorpe, who then caused controversy by choosing Tracey as his coach rather than Frost in late 2002. Faced with public backlash after the appointment, Tracey remembers her doubts about whether Thorpe had made the right choice in her.
"Coaching Ian was a big learning curve for me," she says. "He saw something in me that I didn't see in myself, so that was a huge gift to me. I bring that belief with me when I'm coaching others now. I teach people to believe in themselves."
Since Thorpe's retirement in 2006, Tracey has also coached ironman Ky Hurst, and Olympic medallists Kirsten Thomson and Craig Stevens.
A move to Canberra
In 2009, Tracey made another career changing decision – to take up a coaching post at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. This was a huge choice for her in more ways than one.
"The move to AIS was a great opportunity to improve my skills as a coach, and the expertise around me has really helped me," she says. "However, at the time it was hard to decide because it meant I had to uproot my family from Sydney to make the move to Canberra."
She admits that her two children, Thomas, six, and Zara, four, and her husband Jason, were a little reluctant to make the move, but are now settled and happy with life in Canberra. The move even proved to be a good thing for Jason, a former Ironman, who Tracey says has gotten back into his water sports and marathons "in a big way".
While coaching at Sutherland, Tracey also spent time as a PE and art teacher at East Hills Boys, coincidently the same high school Thorpe attended.
"I miss teaching at times," she says. "I miss the people and the place, however I feel it was a good foundation for what I do now. Coaching is still a form of teaching, there are life lessons that were taken from one to the other."
After many years imparting her knowledge on eager young ones, Tracey sure knows what's important when it comes to guiding someone, whether they be a swimmer or student.
"I focus on a few specific things," she says. "Their skill components, developing the person so they believe in themselves, building confidence and trust, and instilling a sense of ownership of what they do."